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The Maple Leaf Rag

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Mapleleaf Man


January 24, 2012

I've been doing some research on Chinese writing. To almost every Westerner, the Chinese written language is very difficult to learn. You guys had an advantage when you learned it. You were young! I guess if I had started when I was five or six, it would have been easier. 

But, as it turns out, it's not just difficult for Westerners, it's difficult for Chinese people too. (I always add the word 'people' after Chinese but some people just say 'the Chinese'. I don't know which is correct.) It seems that with computers and keyboards and cell phones, many Chinese are forgetting how to write the characters. If you don't write on paper, only on a computer or cell phone, I think you would forget the characters over time and it seems that this is true. Remember that we only have 26 letters to learn. You have thousands!

Here are some questions that I have about your written language: 

If you forget how to write a character, how do you look it up? 

Do you have Chinese dictionaries? How are they ordered? I mean we have alphabetical. What do you have? 

What about encyclopedias? How do you look things up in a book? In a library?

Does each character represent a sound? When you are learning the characters, are you learning sounds at the same time? Is it easy to learn which sound is which character? I mean you already know how to speak Chinese when you start to learn the written language, right?

Did you know that the early Chinese symbols actually looked more like what they mean? The later ones are 'stylized' but the early ones, from what I learned, were very basic, almost like heiroglyphs.

When you put characters together, do they make a new sound, a combination of other sounds?

Ignoring grammar, do you use more characters than letters to say the same thing from English in Chinese? I know that the word order is different and that I can't put my English words in the same order as a Chinese translation but do you use more characters to say more or less the same thing?

Those are my questions for now. I will think of more, I'm sure. Part of the reason that I love China is because it is so damn old! Your culture, your language, your buildings and villages, everything. Chinese is the oldest written language and the basis for Japanese and, perhaps, Korean. It's pretty cool, I think.

Thanks for reading!

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06:41 PM Mar 02 2012

Mapleleaf Man

Thanks for the comments. It's comforting to know that learning Chinese is hard even for people in China! 

10:56 PM Mar 01 2012


I'm a Chinese. I'm very glad to answer your questions about our language.

It's difficult, yes, even to us .We should learn to write the characters from an early age. We learn the character and the phonetc simbol at the same time. In fact, in the kindergarden,we start to learn some songs and lyrics and the writing of some simple words. But in the primary school, the learning space becomes much faster.

We use less charaters to express meaning than westerners. If you read  ancient Chinese poems, they are very short. One character can express many meanings,which confuses us too, when we learn it in Chinese course.

I will write more. 



09:25 AM Jan 28 2012

Marshall Islands

Wow! I just watched the flash movie on evolution of chinese idiograms into sonographic characters of japanese. Amazing. Story of M letter in roman alphabeth is equally astonishing

06:22 AM Jan 28 2012

Mapleleaf Man

Thanks for your comment. I discovered this site which has some very cool videos about Chinese characters. Very enlightening. 


01:50 PM Jan 25 2012

Marshall Islands

Mapleleaf... Since I'm learning chinese, I think I can shed some lights on some of your questions. I'm sure you know about pinyin romanization. In my chinese-english dictionary, chinese words are arranged according to pinyin alphabetically.

Owing to heiroglyph-like nature of chinese, you can easily remember a word, at least in comparison with a western language. For instance if a word is about an organ, you are likely to see a "yue" character on the left.