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Focusing in on the Characters

Looking to improve your written skills? This may be the textbook for you.

09·25·2015

Focusing in on the Characters

Looking to improve your written skills? This may be the textbook for you.

09·25·2015

While learning Chinese is not easy, there are more and more materials out there to help determined non-native speakers achieve a higher degree of proficiency.

There are of course the staple textbooks such as Integrated Chinese or New Practical Chinese Reader but also a growing amount of supplementary materials available from podcasts to short YouTube videos. That said, much of this material is orally focused. With the advent of the computer and pinyin, the writing of Chinese characters is losing its popularity amongst second-language learners of Chinese. In fact, some university such as Brandeis have simply written the art out of their curriculum entirely in favor of teaching the students to merely read and type the characters via their understanding of pinyin—the phonetic representations of Chinese characters—on the computer.

But not everybody has given up on the foreigner’s ability to handwrite the characters of the Middle Kingdom; Wan Yexin’s recent publication proves an act of defiance to the trend.

In the four part Chinese learning series A Chinese Language Course for Universities and Schools one book is devoted entirely to writing and recognition of Chinese characters (中国字认知, Zhōngguózì rènzhī). Divided into fifteen chapters, the books format is to essentially provide a brief introduction to the specific concept it wants to introduce followed by a variety of drills. The first chapter compares writing characters to planning a trip. You wouldn’t go to New York then Miami and finally Boston but rather New York followed by Boston with you last stop in Miami. Travelling straight down the coast makes a smoother trip, according to the books logic, and writing Chinese characters requires a similar logic.

Example of an exercise from the textbook

Example of an exercise from the textbook

The book’s drills force the student to more deeply consider the roll radicals play in the construction of characters; how to separate and combine them. Rather straightforward and repetitive, it drills its concepts into a student who genuinely engages the book’s content and will improve their writing. Both the advantage and shortcoming of the textbook are derived from its simplicity: it is not overflowing with useful information in the way that other textbooks are, but its simplicity makes it more manageable, ensuring a deeper focus on one element of the language instead of a scattered introduction to a variety of its elements.

The character recognition component of the A Chinese Language Course for Universities and Schools series is ultimately nothing more than supplementary material to a larger study of the language, but it is useful supplementary material allowing for a deeper understanding of both how to write and read as well.

If you feel like taking a dive into this book, you can find it in our online store.