Why is it so important to learn Chinese characters when you study Chinese? Some people say it’s not important. For them, being able to hold a decent conversation is more rewarding than writing and memorizing the characters. No doubt, all people have different goals. But this week, we’ve found you 10 reasons to learn Chinese characters – and explain why it can affect your learning in a positive way.
When it comes to learning a foreign language, books and online articles are an important source of new information. Yet you don’t know Chinese characters, you won’t be able to read – and learn new things and new words.
2: Chatting with local people
Even if you don’t want to speak Chinese fluently and it’s enough for you to know the vocabulary within certain topics, you still can find yourself in a situation when you need to use WeChat and write messages. As Chinese pinyin is tricky, and many words have the same pronunciation, you’ll need to recognize the characters to write a message.
3: Making Progress
Once you pass the Beginner stage in learning Chinese, you might notice that you’re not making any more progress, and your skills are not improving. Not learning characters can be one of the reasons, as new sources of information become scarce (even if you watch videos, they come with subtitles).
4: Speaking Better
Some linguists say that on the journey of learning a foreign language, you need to develop reading skills first, and only then move on to speaking. In other words, in order to speak a foreign language fluently, at first you need to learn to read. The reason is that for communicating, we need a large active vocabulary, which we can get from books, from reading, and, consequently, from characters.
5: Passing Exams
If you want to check your Chinese level and pass an exam (HSK), you must know Chinese characters. Otherwise, there is no way to complete a reading or writing part. So, if you have a goal to pass the Chinese language exam in the future, you should start learning characters at the very begging of your way.
6: Practicing Calligraphy
Writing characters, especially with a calligraphy brush on a special piece of bamboo paper, can become a great hobby. It’s also a way to relax and meditate.
7: Developing Associative Thinking
When Chinese students pay attention to the characters from the first lessons, they soon begin to memorize the new words more easily. It’s because Chinese characters are made of recurring components called radicals, which we’ve discussed before. Every component has its own meaning, and you can make your life much easier by learning groups of words with the same radical. For example, the characters with radical “扌” (hand):
找 ♦ zhǎo (to look for)
扫 ♦ sǎo (to sweep)
打 ♦ dǎ (to hit)
抱 ♦ bào (to hug)
拉 ♦ lā (to pull)
按 ♦ àn (to press)
指 ♦ zhǐ (to point)
8: Traveling Confidently
When you travel around China (probably you are going to, if you want to learn Chinese) you must know the Chinese characters! They will help you avoid getting lost in the subway, or buy something terrible by mistake. Of course, many restaurants have their menus in English, but very often, their translation doesn’t help. So it’s better to take the matter into your own hands, learn to read menu items, and always know what you are ordering.
Besides, people in different provinces in China often do not speak Mandarin. They speak their own local dialect. In this case, you will need to use the characters simply to understand each other.
9: Checking Documents
This point is important for everyone doing business in China. Usually, when you sign any document, there is an English and a Chinese version of it. Which one is preferable for native speakers? Chinese one, of course! And if the English version has mistakes, typos or intentional differences, it will be your fault not to notice them.
10: Shopping Online
If you want to buy something online on a Chinese website, but have questions about the goods to the seller, knowing the characters means that you will be able to ask these questions in the online chat.
[If you’re wondering, where else (except for China) you can use Chinese to talk to people, here’s a post for you! Where in Asia do people speak Chinese?]
[There’re lots of words in Chinese language that have English origins! For example, 咖啡 (kāfēi). Do you know, what it means? Coffee! If you want to learn more load words like this, have a look at our post here!]
Hope these reasons have convinced you about the importance of learning Chinese characters. Do you agree with the list? And what other reasons for learning characters do you have?
Let us know in comments – or tweet us at @thatsmandarin!