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Do I need to learn Chinese characters or writing Chinese?
By Study Adviser: Carter
Name: Carter Gu
Degree: Master of Teaching Chinese as a second language
Graduated From: East China Normal University
Research Scopes: Chinese as a second language
Experience of Teaching: 5 Years
Position: Study Adviser
Location: Beijing
.Some students of ours always explain a requirement to us. ‘I only want to learn how to speak. I do not want to spend more time on reading and writing. I think Pinyin is enough for me to communicate.’ They think Chinese characters are difficult to learn and they maybe do not need to write and read. Now I have to explain more about relationship among listening, speaking, reading and writing.
1, Pinyin is easy for a foreign student to learn, but Pinyin is not enough to communicate with Chinese people.
a) Not every Chinese person can use Pinyin. Pinyin was taught in Chinese primary schools just after 1980s. So Chinese people over 40 years old cannot use Pinyin.
b) Except Beijing People, most of Chinese people cannot speak very standard mandarin. So most of Chinese people cannot use Pinyin always correctly. As you know, Voice Recognition for English is already used widely. But Voice Recognition for Mandarin is still in the laboratory of IBM because there are too many dialects in China and people outside Beijing always speak dialects, not standard mandarin. For an example:
Say hello - 你好 – ni3 hao3 (Standard Mandarin Pinyin)
Guangdong / Cantonese
Wu han
ni3 hao3
Nong2 hu2
Lei2 hou2
Ni4 hao2
Ni4 hou1
(Notes: The Pinyin of non-standard mandarin is not confirmed.)
In China, out of Beijing, people of every place pronounce differently. Pinyin of mandarin also cannot be used to communicate with them. Non-Beijing People maybe type incorrect Pinyin to you and make you confused.
c) Different from English, a Pinyin word generally has 4 tones. A Pinyin with one tone always can represent more than one Chinese character. Especially some students just type Pinyin without tone. It is very difficult for Chinese people to understand. Generally we need to spend a long time on guessing. For an example:
wo yao xue zhong wen -> 我要学中文
我 -> wo3
If you just type ‘Wo’, at first, I have to guess what you want to say between wo1 wo2 wo3 wo4
In Chinese, pronunciation of many words are the same. One Pinyin can represent many words.
Wo1: 窝(nest) 倭(an old name for Japan) 喔(moo of Cock) 涡(turbo) 蜗 挝 莴etc
Wo3: 我 etc
Wo4: 卧 沃 握 龌 etc
要 -> yao4
yao1: 妖 邀 腰 么 夭 吆 etc
yao2: 姚 瑶 窑 遥 etc
yao3: 咬 杳 舀 etc
yao4: 要 药 耀 鹞 etc
学 -> xue2
xue1: 薛 靴 削 etc
xue2: 学 穴 etc
xue3: 血 雪 鳕 etc
xue4: 血 穴 etc
If you use Pinyin to type a whole sentence without tones or characters, I have to use permutation and combination or matrix method of Math to calculate or guess your meaning.
2, If your purpose is communication in Chinese and practical Chinese, not for exam, I think, whatever level you want to achieve, you at least need to learn besides Pinyin,
a) Pronunciation: pronounce what you want to say correctly
b) Speaking: Express correctly by sentences
c) Listening: Understand correctly
d) Reading: Able to read Chinese characters and sentences.
(Note: In China, you cannot find Pinyin in the street. If you cannot read characters when you get to China, you even are not able to understand information board, direction board, Name of Bus Station, etc)
e) Writing: Able to use Pinyin to type on computer at least. You can chat with your teachers and classmates or write emails to your friends in China at least.
(Notes: Pinyin is only a kind of phonetic symbol, similar to phonetic symbol of English, for an example: Chinese --> . It can help you to remember pronunciation, but it cannot be used to communicate. )

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