Are you 'literate' in your TL if you can't write by hand?

Recently one of my Tweets sparked a lively discussion among Mandarin learners, teachers and the wider language learning community. I recalled an encounter with a beginner Mandarin learner who told me he didn’t consider other learners ‘literate’ unless they could write Chinese characters out by hand. The ensuing discussion raised several interesting questions about literacy and Mandarin learning. I wrote a blog expanding on my thoughts. Let me know your views: Can you be Literate Without Writing Chinese Characters by Hand? – I'm Learning Mandarin

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As a Japanese learner, I was once able to write all the “common use” kanji characters by hand, which equates to normal adult “literacy.” However, I have found it difficult to maintain this ability as it’s rarely necessary for daily life. Even living in Japan and working exclusively in Japanese, being able to read (and therefore type) characters is sufficient for me.

Even native speakers of Japanese often forget how to handwrite basic kanji characters due to lack of practice. Do Chinese people have the same issue? Japanese seems more forgiving as it has a phonetic alphabet as well, which people can use when they forget or don’t know the kanji character.


I started studying Russian 5 years ago. Certainly at least B1 in speaking, listening, reading … and I would even say typing. Only last month learned how to write in Russian and can only write “block letters”… not in script / cursive / italics.

But to be honest, I’m not sure what literate means. And maybe I’m not there yet. I could maybe write a simple composition in Russian but haven’t tried.

I started learning Russian before personal computers, so handwriting was our only option for written output. =8^O You can mostly get by without it now, but it’s a useful skill nonetheless. I believe I’ve heard that many native young people only use block letters anymore, but we’d need a native speaker to comment on that. I can and do write cursive Cyrillic.

Schools in the US have de-emphasized handwriting, but I think some of them are backtracking on that. My own kids can barely write legibly by hand. My youngest son had his dominant hand in a cast once when in grade school and had to write with the other. His normal handwriting was so bad that you couldn’t tell the difference. ))

Just now learning Russian cursive at request of my Russian teacher. Her opinion is that handwriting something helps your brain firmly embed the vocabulary. Have been able to write block letters for about a year. Am I literate? Don’t know.



Yes Chinese people have the same issue. This was covered in a recent fascinating documentary about the history of writing which I mention and link to min my blog.

You made me realize that I don’t know firsthand how it goes with handwriting in Russian schools these days. Younger ones have fallen asleep, I’ll ask them tomorrow.
But I know for sure, because of the economics, the majority of people and schools just can’t afford devices, so it’s still there. The thing is, handwriting is still present in hospitals, don’t we all admire such thing as the doctors’ handwriting? :slight_smile:

Just right now I’ve found a discussion of 2019 about future perspectives of such a thing in Russian schools, as “Пропись”.
That means the cursive was present in the schools back then.
It’s not so sacred though, as it probably is in China.