8/7/11 12:42 pm
This morning I was at the gym* and suddenly it dawned on me that I could learn written Chinese without actually learning any spoken Chinese. So far I have been hesitant about learning to write Chinese. Learning to speak Chinese is daunting enough already, and I thought it might just too ambitious to learn both. I didn’t really get the point of written Chinese anyway, I mean, 1000s of characters just to be able to write? How inefficient! Why not just use an alphabet? So much easier, if you ask me. You’d only need to learn about 25 symbols, plus some diacritics and voilá, you can write Chinese. Easy as pie (well, if you’re any good at baking pies, of course).
But this morning I had an epiphany. The main advantage of written Chinese is that you don’t actually have to learn the spoken language. There is no connection between the spoken and the written language, like there is with an alphabet. An alphabet symbolizes sounds or syllables, and uses those as building blocks for words. Chinese characters (as far as I’m aware anyway) have no relation to sounds, just to the meaning of the word. Which means you don’t need to know the actual word in Chinese, but you will understand the concept from the written character. This is one reason why the Chinese are not likely to give up their “complicated” way of writing, as it’s the only way that people from all over China, who speak many completely different languages, can communicate with each other. So if I would learn at least a couple of Chinese characters, I could actually communicate with Chinese people without speaking a word of Chinese. How awesome is that? And then I thought, what if the whole world would just learn Chinese characters, we could all communicate with each other in writing, without speaking each other’s language! It’s like a secret code, how exciting! According to what I’ve read, you only need to know about a 1000 characters to be able to understand 90% of written Chinese. I think that’s quite reasonable. You could learn two new characters every day for a year and a half, and you’d be able to understand pretty much everything. Not bad, eh? A lot less effort than learning to speak a new language. I daresay there are very few languages you can learn for 90% within a year and a half with only 15 minutes a day. This could totally work!
*I always get my best ideas at the gym. Maybe I should go more often?
cross-posted at www.rapturina.com.