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How to help children learn Chinese characters?

That is another one-million-dollar question (find out more one-million-dollar questions in this blog!). And I am sure this one has long intrigued linguists, biologist, psychologists, educators and alike as well, since Chinese characters, which comprise the world’s longest continuously used writing system, are often thought of as overly complex.

The fact is, they are complicated!

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First of all, let’s figure out which standard sets of Chinese characters children should learn, traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese?

Essentially, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese are the same language. The main difference lies in their written appearance, although the grammatical structure and spoken form are basically the same.

Traditional Chinese characters are currently used in Taiwan (Republic of China), Hong Kong and Macau. They were also used in mainland China before the People’s Republic of China (PRC) simplified them in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these characters are extremely complex, composed of more than 25 strokes.

When the Communists took power in Mainland China in 1949, the new government initiated a reform of written characters with the aim to eliminate illiteracy. The reform was based mostly on popular cursive forms embodying graphic or phonetic simplifications of the traditional forms.

Hence, simplified Chinese is, in fact, a simplification of traditional Chinese characters, mainly through the elimination of the complex variants and reduction of the number of the strokes of which a complex character is composed.

Some characters were simplified by applying regular rules; for example, by replacing all occurrences of a certain component with a simpler variant, such as

Some characters were simplified by changing the phonetic. For example,

Some simplified characters omit entire components and are very dissimilar to and unpredictable from traditional characters. Like,

And some were reformed by merging several characters into a newly created and simpler character. For an instance,

Finally, many characters were left untouched by simplification, and are thus identical between the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies.

In this process, some 13,500 traditional characters were replaced by around 7,000 simplified characters.

At present, simplfied Chinese is the official language of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or mainland China) and Singapore. In general, schools in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore use simplified characters exclusively, while schools in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan use traditional characters mainly.

Until this point, the question still remains: which standard sets of Chinese characters children should learn, traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese?

My advice would be to learn simplified Chinese rather than traditional Chinese. And here are my reasons:

Firstly, as you can see, it will take a significantly extra amount of time and effort to learn traditional Chinese, not to mention to master the full range of characters.

Secondly, as I said in Why children should learn Chinese?, China is rising. Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel predicted early in 2010 that China’s economy alone would hit $123 trillion in 2040, three times what the entire world produced in 2000 and more than twice the world’s current output. Per-capita income will be $85000, more than triple that in the European Union. (Data comes from Investor Business Daily, A10, Tuesday, January 12, 2010.)

With reported average GDP 9.5% growth of 10% (even in 2009, during a global financial crisis, China reportedly grew at an 8% pace and is predicted to grow 9.5% in 2010), that is a real possibility. Ten percent growth leads to a doubling of the economy in just seven years. At 2.5%, where the U.S. is now, it takes about 29 years. (Data comes from Investor Business Daily, A10, Tuesday, January 12, 2010.) 

Remember, simplified Chinese is mainland China’s official written language. Besides, outside Mainland China, most Chinese speakers in the world use simplified characters.

Therefore, from a strategical, economical, practical and cultural point of view, let your children learn simplified Chinese characters.  

Best4Future Bilingual Bookstore offers premium quality Chinese children's books, DVDs and FREE Chinese lessons!

Related posts:
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 1)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 2)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 3)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 4)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 5)

Tags: , , , , , | categories Bilingual Baby, From Lina | | datetime February 25, 2010 7:55 pm | comments Comments (4)

Comments

  1. 2
    peggie // April 13th, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Chinese charaters are kind like visual stuff. Making chinese characters into different pictures is a good method. For example, have children regard the chinese character”飞”(means fly)as a bird is flying with both wings. That would be more animated for kids to learn chinese.

    My advice would be to learn simplified Chinese rather than traditional Chinese.It’s more common and popular.

  2. 3
    Lina // April 20th, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    @peggie: Quite true! Roughly 600 Chinese characters, around 4% of the total, are pictograms—stylised drawings of the objects they represent. These pictograms depict the meaning of words in a pictorial way, thus help memorize and understand them. Besides, a lot of pictograms are the simplest Chinese characters. They help understand the meanings and structures of complex characters.

  3. 4
    Rob // December 9th, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Put the pinyin next to/under the word

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