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Old 07-16-2009, 09:39 AM   #46
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Oooh, you're a dragon! That's the best one. Maybe all your luck is being stored up for something big!

Yes, Chinese is an incredibly hard language. There's so much memorization involved: how to make the strokes and what order they go in for each character (very important!), how to pronounce it, the tone, and the meaning, of course.

Actually my husband tells me, at least among the people he knows, an interesting phenomenon is occurring. They study until high school and even into college to memorize how to write characters. But since he's graduated high school, he rarely writes things out by hand. With texting and computers there's not that many things done on paper anymore, and he has to think about how to write less-used characters. I think this is an interesting phenomenon of the digital age, and I have wondered if, in the next 50 years China will cease teaching the writing of characters, and it will become an art more than an essential skill.
I think a language should be an essential tool to connect and make things clear to another person.
If a language is so difficult that it takes you all the way to highschool, before you can actually do something with it, then perhaps the chinese should learn roman alphabet and (like the Japanese Kanjii) write their words in roman letters.
At least, I've been able to learn 3 languages before the age of 18, rather than becoming 30 something before I fully mastered one language.
I agree that any language can become so complex as you want it to be,and that one can study poetry and stuff many years after one graduates. But I certainly hope that Chinese kids at the age of 7 can write just about anything they can talk about using a keyboard?

I mean, one could deliberately make a language difficult, which could help in times of war, but that would be a real pain for the average worker...
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Old 07-16-2009, 09:41 AM   #47
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PS: I have a keyboard looking like that too on my EeePc. They have a language program called 'Pin-yin' or something... I wouldn't know what it means, but I can see the qwerty and Chinese signs on them!
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:04 AM   #48
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Sure it takes kids longer to learn to read and write Chinese than English, then again it takes a German all his life to learn German grammar! Chinese, on the other hand basically has no grammar. No tenses, the verb never changes, no cases, basically no plural forms, no changes for gender, nothing! It is almost impossible to explain to a Chinese speaker with no foreign language background the complications of cases in German. And they come back with the question, why? And they are right. You don't need grammar, it is just the way the languages developed in different ways, a reflection of the culture. Chinese is difficult in some ways, but incredibly easy in other ways.

It really would make no sense to start writing Chinese with an alphabet or a syllabary. Simply because of the structure of the language. If my explanation earlier in this thread didn't suffice, then I suggest you read up on it. And kids learn fast, even though it takes them quite a few years until they can read the paper, they can communicate in writing much earlier than 10. They just cannot write every word they can say. That is where computers come in. It is much easier to recognize a character when you see it than to remember how to write it by hand. And on a computer you always pick the right character from a list, you don't have to remember every detail. Children's books are usually with both phonetics and characters. For a Westerner the task seems much more daunting than it is when you grow up in that environment. The only way for us to learn to read Chinese is to read some Chinese every day.

Your Pin-Yin keyboard is for writing Chinese, yes. And what you see on the keys are the phonetic symbols of the Taiwanese bopomofo system. Those are the ones that Taiwanese children learn at a very young age, before they are taught Chinese characters. These symbols are phonetic, they only represent sounds and have no meanings, they are not Chinese characters. Sort of like letters (though some are sound combinations, like ang, ong, ao, and ou).

Last edited by HansTWN; 07-16-2009 at 10:20 AM.
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:19 AM   #49
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I think a language should be an essential tool to connect and make things clear to another person.
If a language is so difficult that it takes you all the way to highschool, before you can actually do something with it, then perhaps the chinese should learn roman alphabet and (like the Japanese Kanjii) write their words in roman letters.

At least, I've been able to learn 3 languages before the age of 18, rather than becoming 30 something before I fully mastered one language.
I agree that any language can become so complex as you want it to be,and that one can study poetry and stuff many years after one graduates. But I certainly hope that Chinese kids at the age of 7 can write just about anything they can talk about using a keyboard?
The literacy level of anglophone children is well below that of children whose languages are written almost entirely phonetically for years after they learn to read. Yet the United Kingdom hasn't acted to adopt an alphabet that unambiguously indicates English's 15-18 different vowels, and definitely more than 20 consonant sounds.

Also, Kanji is the Japanese name for what the Chinese call Hanzi... i.e.: chinese characters. What you must have been thinking of is Romaji. But to suggest that it replaced Kanji (or Hiragana/Katakana) is incorrect. The average Japanese can get by in a Romaji only environment, but a person that knows only Romaji would be largely illiterate in Japan.

If China were to abandon its current primary writing system, there is still no reason for them to adopt the roman alphabet. They have bopomofo.
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:29 AM   #50
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You know, I would probably buy this over the Kindle 2, considering the fact that it will probably be more restriction free than the Kindle.
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:29 AM   #51
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Ahi: bopomofo is only used in Taiwan. The Chinese use Pin-Yin, but the way they use it (no tone marks, they run the syllables together -- the city of Xian 西安 should be written as Xi An, xian -- 先 among others -- as one word is another common sound) it is not at all suitable to be as used a substitute for the characters.

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Old 07-16-2009, 10:38 AM   #52
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Learning Chinese writing takes, of course, a long time. But it is mostly a matter of constant practicing rather than superior intelligence!
Well, then I won't say I think they are really smart .... just a whole lot more disciplined and determined than I am.
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:39 AM   #53
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Ahi: bopomofo is only used in Taiwan. The Chinese use Pin-Yin, but the way they use it (no tone marks, they run the syllables together -- the city of Xian 西安 should be written as Xi An, xian -- 先 among others -- as one word is another common sound) it is not at all suitable to be as a substitute for the characters.
Thanks, Hans! I knew about bopomofo being Taiwan-based, but forgot. And yeah, I know what you mean regarding pinyin.

I guess mostly what I meant was that I'd sooner see China switch to something like bopomofo or even Hiragana-esque than to unabashed pinyin... particularly as China's star (despite all hurdles, it seems to me) continues to rise in comparison to the western world.

If they didn't switch to the latin alphabet while they had every reason to suffer from an inferiority complex, I doubt they'll do so now, being well on their way to returning to the position of being a preeminent power in the world.

- Ahi

Ps.: Do you know of any good and free (or cheap) repositories of CJK fonts, Hans? Ideally ones that cover even fairly rare characters. (i.e.: Unicode Extension B)
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:44 AM   #54
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Well, then I won't say I think they are really smart .... just a whole lot more disciplined and determined than I am.
Memorization used to be a far more prominent part of Western curriculums as well.

Presumably that is why Abraham Lincoln back in the day correctly and eloquently recited hour+ long speeches from memory, whereas most recent presidents use cuecards and teleprompters for even 15 minute ones.

Of course, nowadays we bemoan rote memorization and do not even consider the possibility that it might have any generalized benefit towards either intelligence or brain-functioning otherwise.

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Old 07-16-2009, 10:52 AM   #55
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I seldom need to use the rare characters, except for some strange family and first names used in China, I could always find the one I wanted among the 13000 characters the regular fonts offer. And being a Westerner, I have to ask my wife how to pronounce these very rare characters, anyway! The only font repository I ever bought for Chinese was many years ago from 全真. Chinese Windows now offers quite a wide range of fonts, which I find more than enough.

Interestingly enough the Vietnamese actually were successful with romanization. But they adhere to the strict rules I mentioned (see 1 and 2 again below). Vietnamese is a language which has its origins in Chinese and shares the same structure. It is as closely related to Chinese as French is to Italian.

1.)Every syllable is written as a separate word, even when two or more syllables make up one complete word.
2.)The tone marks are included.

Of course, Vietnamese has 6 tones, so not quite as many homonyms exist as in Mandarin with only 4 tones. Still some meaning gets lost, for example anh (first tone) can mean both Mr (先), or English (英), among others. Since there are no characters to distinguish the meanings you can only tell from the context what the writer meant. And it is a loss of culture, to some extent.

As much as it can be a pain to learn the Chinese characters, I can also appreciate their beauty and the historic value they represent. You are definitely right about the Chinese not planning to switch any time soon, that is a matter of national pride!

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Old 07-16-2009, 10:55 AM   #56
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Memorization used to be a far more prominent part of Western curriculums as well.

Presumably that is why Abraham Lincoln back in the day correctly and eloquently recited hour+ long speeches from memory, whereas most recent presidents use cuecards and teleprompters for even 15 minute ones.

Of course, nowadays we bemoan rote memorization and do not even consider the possibility that it might have any generalized benefit towards either intelligence or brain-functioning otherwise.

- Ahi
Rote memorization has its place, but I do wish that American schools would start teaching more critical thinking. Around here, sometimes it seems like all they teach (at the public schools no less) are Bible stories and creationism.

I like to memorize things .... long lists of things for no particular reason. Ruling houses of England, Books of the Bible, Sub-species of Typhoid. I think it keeps the mind exercised. However, I find that if I don't use the things I learn by rote memory fairly often, then tend to drop out of my mind early on.

I personally think critical analysis keeps ideas and information in the brain for much longer periods of time than rote memory. But, as usual, I only have my own experience from which to draw a conclusion.
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Old 07-16-2009, 11:02 AM   #57
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I seldom need to use the rare characters, except for some strange family and first names used in China I could always find the one I wanted among the 13000 characters the regular fonts offer. The only font repository I ever bought for Chinese was many years ago from 全真. Chinese Windows now offers quite a wide range of fonts, which I find more than enough.
Alas, for my purposes the only font I've found that sufficed thus far was Han Nom B (of seemingly Vietnamese origin, by the way):

http://vietunicode.sourceforge.net/f...ts_hannom.html

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Interesting enough the Vietnamese actually were successful with Romanization. But they adhere to the above strict rules. Vietnamese is a language which has its origins in Chinese and shares the same structure. As closely related as French and Italian.

1.)Every syllable is written as a separate word, even when two or more syllables make up one complete word.
2.)The tone marks are included.

Of course, Vietnamese has 6 tones, so not quite as many homonyms exist as in MMMandMandarin with only 4 tones.
How easy is Vietnamese to learn for an English speaker in contrast to Chinese?

Also, I've a weird question, Hans... do you think it would be possible for a person to learn to read Hanzi, without learning Mandarin? Are there enough partly phonetic words (or, I suppose characters even?) that not knowing what sounds they represent in Chinese would make learning to read without Mandarin more difficult?

As the (possibly very dumb) question above might correctly hint to you, I do not in fact know Chinese at all.

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Old 07-16-2009, 11:17 AM   #58
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Rote memorization has its place, but I do wish that American schools would start teaching more critical thinking. Around here, sometimes it seems like all they teach (at the public schools no less) are Bible stories and creationism.
Having partly grown-up under a communist government that gently and not so gently persecuted Christians, I do not share your concern over bible stories being told to children in school or outside thereof. And creationism I perceive to be an American export that has little merit, but ultimately is also of little consequence over the long term.

As for critical thinking, I think people who laud it have a tendency to overestimate its place in and significance to human thought-processes... which I believe to be far more rooted in habits--even for the best, brightest, and most critically thinking among us--than in highly-conscious and deliberate weighing and evaluation. With the caveat though, of course, that a right-thinking man can do his best to break himself of harmful habits and to establish for himself helpful and beneficial ones.

Upon rereading, the above may sound a bit argumentative, but is not intended to be so. Just sharing my own views, being well aware that you and I disagree, and are unlikely to convince one another.

Basically, I view human consciousness as a little man sleeping (possibly drugged?) inside a sensory deprivation tank well over 90% of the time, only occasionally when we are passingly shaken from established routine/habit finding the tank's doors opened with a computer terminal descending in front of him with a query: "What's the best way to proceed in this situation?" And, of course, once he types in the answer and presses enter, the terminal quickly ascends and back in the tank he goes to slumber until next time he is needed.

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Old 07-16-2009, 11:28 AM   #59
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A very interesting article on the difficulty of Chinese... or, rather, Chinese characters for the most part:

Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard

Some of it is insightful, some of it is... well, to me less than brilliant. But all of it is a very interesting read. And while I do not agree with all the interpretation, I've no doubt that the facts tendered by the writer are accurate.

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Old 07-16-2009, 11:29 AM   #60
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Vietnamese is extremely difficult to pronounce. Not because of the 6 tones, but because they have so many similar sounds (for example several d's, several g's, 3 different u's, many combination vowels). And unlike in Chinese, where almost every word consists of 2 syllables, in Vietnamese almost every word consists of only a single syllable. And Vietnamese is unlike Western languages. Everybody can understand a foreigner speaking English, even if his pronunciation is terrible. In Vietnamese nobody will understand a word unless you get it just right. Made even worse by the fact that so few foreigners speak the language, so locals really do not know how to make it easier for the poor non native speaker. But knowing Mandarin, you have a very good basis and can learn it rather quickly. And, of course, learning to read and write Vietnamese is a matter of hours, instead of years. Just the rules of pronunciation, a few special characters, and you are set. You may not understand anything, but you can say everything you see out loud.

As to the second part. You might be able to learn a few simple characters, the numbers 1 to 10, for example. But if you know nothing about the language, the sentence structure, how could you go deeper? It wouldn't have to be Mandarin, every Chinese dialect (Cantanese, Hakka, Taiwanese, etc) uses Hanzi as its written form. Without sounds, how would you remember anything? Just remembering 5000 symbols without knowing how to form a sentence? Maybe someone with a photographic memory. And Hanzi is not something you learn and then you will remember them for the rest of your life. I know Taiwanese and Japanese who lived in the US, had no exposure to the written language for a year or so. And even they forgot a lot of the Kanji/Hanzi. As a Japanese you would remember the Hiragana and Katakana, but not every single Kanji you have ever learned.
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