Swimming in Characters

Trip Start Jun 03, 2006
Trip End Jun 03, 2009

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I keep waking up in the small hours of the night with Chinese characters swimming before my eyes. Learning to read and, if necessary, write the Chinese language are one of the objectives of my study, but at the moment I feel like it's making me ill! I'm drowning under the sheer volume of new characters and to being constantly exposed to them every day.  It's fun too, but...! 

The teaching method is interesting because we're being asked to read and encouraged to write characters without ever being shown the method of doing so. It's very much teach yourself, and my wife constantly reminds me that my characters are a mess! When I ask for explanations, the answer is invariably along the lines of, "it's like that because that's the way it is."  This does not exactly provide solace or encouragement, but it does explain so much about why the Chinese are the way they are. Things that are received fact are not to be questioned, they are to be imitated. I sometimes wish I could switch off the inquisitive parts of the brain and simply copy and memorise to learn these characters, but that in itself is a remarkable skill in itself in which Chinese children are changed from a young age. 

Nonetheless, with hours of repetitive copying and reading, things are starting to go in. I can read more characters than I could 2 weeks ago and at the rate of 20-25 new characters per class there is not going to be any room for slacking off. It's going to be non-stop copy, repetition and memorisation just to survive. It is not exactly the model of communicative learning, but it is the Chinese way, and whilst I am going to continually seek alternatives, this repetitive routine may be the only way to deal with the learning of a pictographic language. After all, if you don't know the character it is almost impossible for a beginner to guess the meaning. The only way is to know - and they tell me I need to know 3000 to read a newspaper. I could be swimming for a long time!!!
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