Introducing Chinese Reading and Writing series
The entire Chinese Reading and Writing series focuses on one thing, and one thing only, which is to help beginner students learn a small number of Chinese characters and be able to read and write Chinese texts, such as sentences, conversations and narratives, and to do so from the very beginning.
The projected learning outcome is that, on completing the series, students will have built solid Chinese reading and writing skills, developed a deep understanding of Chinese writing systems, and experienced the delight of reading and writing Chinese.
What did not make into the book
In order to achieve the learning outcome outlined above, we know there are certain aspects of Chinese language which, as interesting as they are, do not directly contribute to develop Chinese reading and writing skills. For this reason, the following items did not make into the book pages.
Many people know that Chinese characters originated from pictures, and many love to use pictures to explain characters, such as using a walking person to explain the character 人.
However, using pictures to explain characters has serious limitations.
First of all, after thousands of years of evolvement, and thousands of characters created, we are at a stage that using pictures to explain each individual character is no longer feasible. Many top frequently used Chinese characters in modern Chinese do not make themselves easy to be explained by pictures. For instance, the number one frequently used Chinese character “的”, there is no picture that can fully explain this character, because 的 is a highly useful grammatical particle that does not have a fixed meaning and is not to be used alone.
Secondly, many characters look rather similar, even nearly identical, such as 人 and 入, 已 and 己, 天 and 无, 定 and 走, 直 and 真. Using distinctive pictures to explain each of these characters would be a very challenging task. And the result could be very confusing too.
Because of these serious limitations of using pictures to explain Chinese characters, there are no pictures to be found in the books.
Radicals can string a bunch of Chinese characters together, hence many people believe learning radicals can make learning Chinese characters easier. However, for people who have this claim, they always have a bias towards certain radicals.
The radicals which are frequently taught are limited to a small number of easily identifiable radicals, such as the person radical 亻, the water radical 氵, and the speech radical 讠. The majority of radicals are being ignored, including those simple radicals which are not obvious and are always buried inside of each character. For instance, hardly anyone can quickly points out the radicals in these highly useful Chinese characters 了, 乐, 午, 平, 半.
When selecting the most frequently used characters, we realised that Chinese characters do not have this bias, they would not care whether or not they have a popular radical. As we do not want to miss some of the most frequently used Chinese characters because they do not have easily identifiable radicals, we let the idea of teaching radicals go.
There is no mention of components of character in the book. We did not introduce 门 as a component to other characters, such as 们 and 问. We did not teach characters based on components. The reason is simple, that many frequently used characters can not be stringed together by components, such as these 事, 当, 么.
A second line of pinyin is not included in the books.
While pinyin does have many drawbacks, the primary reason for not including pinyin is that we want to present an authentic Chinese text environment for beginner students. Since they will not find any pinyin in newspapers, shop signs or restaurant menus, they will not see any pinyin in these Chinese Reading and Writing books either. Thus, they learn and practice how to negotiate with Chinese texts from the start.
What made into the book pages
No pictures, no mention of radicals or components, no pinyin, as none of them contribute directly to the ability of drawing word boundaries or understanding the exact meaning of a character or a word within a given context.
Once these conventional learning methods were cast aside, we knew exactly where our effort was going to be. We concentrated all our energy into using each Chinese character into meaningful expressions, so that students can experience the joy of reading and writing Chinese.
Everything which appears on the book pages has been scrutinised, and a well-designed learning path has been created (Learn more here: The learning path of the Chinese Reading and Writing series).
The complete Chinese Reading and Writing series include:
Language is gradually built up with one thing on top of another, systematically, and in a good sequence. This approach is paid off. Our students have made tremendous progress in their Chinese study and have had so much fun writing their own stories throughout the courses. We’re so proud of them!
What about pictures, radicals, components, and pinyin?
The connection between Chinese characters and pictures is a fascinating topic, so are radicals and components. And when used well, pinyin is extremely useful. There are plenty of resources available about them to get anyone who is interested fully informed.
Read the following articles as a start.
Strokes, components and radicals of Chinese characters
Chinese radicals - a fact sheet
When radicals do and do not give clues to meanings of Chinese characters
Pictures and Chinese characters
The connections between a Chinese character’s components, its pronunciation, and its meanings
The gulf between pinyin and Mandarin Chinese pronunciation
Is learning pinyin learning Chinese?
A beginner’s guide to pinyin pronunciations
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