Part 2A Traditional Chinese Teaching Methodology
In the previous tutorial we discussed how Chinese characters work. In this presentation, we’ll be explaining the traditional methodology used for teaching Chinese characters to both native speakers and foreign learners. We will then discuss the typical frustrations that arise from using this traditional approach and examine the cause of these frustrations. After that, we’ll let you in on a little secret that will show you how to quickly learn copious amounts of Chinese characters in a fun and interesting way! When growing up in a native speaking environment, the student’s journey towards literacy.
Begins in kindergarten. Before they start writing Chinese characters they are first taught phonetic symbols so they can write the pronunciation of Chinese characters. In Mainland China the students are taught the pinyin phonetic system, and it uses the Roman alphabetic symbols A Z. In Taiwan, students use the zhuyin phonetic system, which are the traditional Chinese phonetic symbols. The zhuyin phonetic system is better known as bo po mo fo. After learning the phonetic symbols, the student is immediately thrown into the deep end to being learning wholeltbgt ltbgtChinese characters.
For the first week or so, the teacher will show the students how to write characters that have fewer strokes so that they can begin to learn the order of which lines to write first this is called stroke order. The teacher will stand in front of the classroom and write a big Chinese character on the blackboard. The teacher counts every time one stroke is finished. As the teacher writes and counts, the students follow along with their fingers in the air. After practicing this as a group for a few times,.
The students then write the character in their practice books 10 times or so. They will turn this in as homework and will be tested on the new character. If they make any mistakes on their homework or tests, they will have to do punishment writing , which will require them to write the character over and over again. The goal is to ensure that the student absolutely learns how to write the character and never forgets it. This teaching approach is called rote memorization. Before the little ones finish the first and second grades,.
They will have already memorized between 800 and 1300 complex characters! This is a very busy period in a 7yearolds’ life! By the time they finish the 6th grade, they will have already memorized 25002700 characters by rote about twothirds of the most frequently used characters. Also, at some point in the 5th or 6th grade the teacher will have introduced the concept of radicals. Radicals are more accurately translated as dictionary section headers. Now there’s obviously a need for a dictionary of Chinese characters, but it would have to work very differently from a western dictionary.
In a western dictionary words are listed alphabetically, but since Chinese characters contain no letters to be organized by, this system wouldn’t work so well. This led to the creation of an interesting cataloging system that was based on the intrinsic building block nature of Chinese characters. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should watch the first tutorial in this series A Thorough Introduction to How Chinese Characters Work. As you recall from that tutorial, most characters are formed by combining several simpler pictographs. This radical cataloging system organizes Chinese characters.
In the dictionary based on the smaller parts that they contain. Every Chinese character is classified under one radical section header in the dictionary. For example, there is a section header for tree and most Chinese characters that contain this pictograph can be found under this section header in a dictionary. Thus, if you encounter an unfamiliar Chinese character but you are able to recognize the tree radical within the unfamiliar character you could go to the tree section of a Chinese dictionary to locate the unfamiliar character. Then you could learn how to pronounce the character.
And also learn its meaning. So as I was saying, when you’re an older elementary school student who has already learned many characters that contain the radical tree , the teacher would point out, See, this part is ‘tree’ and it’s a radical. This isn’t taught to students too early because it’s assumed it would overwhelm the young student they don’t need to know what section header the characters they are learning are classified under in a dictionary. All they need to do is memorize how to write the whole character correctly.
Along with its pronunciation. All emphasis is strictly placed on learning how to read and write ltugtthe characters they will need in their daily lives. Foreign learners of Chinese are taught Chinese characters in pretty much the same way as first and second graders. The difference is that very little time is spent in class on writing. Instead most students have a character practice book where they can trace Chinese characters to learn the correct stroke order. It’s a selfstudy endeavor wherein the student copies the strokebystroke, lineswoopslash illustrations presented in the workbook.
And then practices writing it freehand in the provided empty spaces. This is turned in for homework, and of course there are always quizzes on the new characters. Just like beginnerlevel native students, foreign students aren’t told about radicals or character composition. The goal is purely to get the student to quickly recognize a few words for use in daily life via rote memorization. The student’s job is to memorize the correct sequence of lines and try not to mix up the characters. This can be pretty confusing in the beginning,.
Especially for characters with lots of strokes. It’s easy to accidentally add an extra line or two, and just as easy to forget to write part of the character. Using rote memorization to learn Chinese characters is an effective method to ensure that the student never forgets how to recognize or write a character. It has proven to work quick successfully for over one billion people! However, any person with experience studying Chinese in this way, both native speakers and foreign learners alike, can attest that it is a dreaded and monotonous chore.
Most foreign learners would also add stressful and frustrating. This is because characters are taught as whole pieces with emphasis placed on writing thousands of meaningless lines in the correct sequence. Now this approach has worked for one billion native speaking people who spend their entire lives immersed in a Chinese speaking culture and see Chinese characters on a daily basis, but a foreign learner of Chinese is coming from a very different situation and with a very different mindset. After watching the previous tutorial A Thorough Introduction to How Chinese Characters Work ,.