Say Hello to Pinyin, Romaji and Hiragana!


Also, there’s a cool lesson here by some CUC alumni : Login - LingQ

Great north east accents, and a great story to boot.

Yes, this mistake in Pinyin shows up in that lesson. I used it as an example to show the superior word recognition of the Zhongwen extension.

But there are more important mistakes with simple words, like 真的 (really) and 那 (that), which are very common basic words beginners are likely to encounter very early on… and their Pinyin is wrong.

真的 is given as zhēn dì instead of zhēnde. Dì is the least common alternate pronunciation of that character. Same with 那 given as nuó instead of nà. Again, the least common alternate pronunciation is given when these characters are recognised individually. And importantly, these are not merely alternate pronunciations. They come with alternate meanings of the characters too. So, if mispronounced for the intended meaning, you will not be understood.

How is a beginner to learn with this? You see one thing, hear another, and possibly find yet another thing in a dictionary. Which are you to trust and learn from?

It would really be great if LingQ could integrate the Zhongwen extension into the Chinese lesson page for beginners. Of course, I already use the extension and hide the splitting and ignore this new addition of Pinyin anyway, so it’s all Gucci with me…

2-5 years? I don’t think so. It’s necessary to spend a lot of time with any script, without romanization, to become really comfortable with it. Most successful learners of languages with different scripts will tell you this. Advising people to use romanization for 2-5 years is not a good idea, imo. So call me a misguided hater if you want, but I will continue to disagree with your eternal-romanization method, or whatever you call it.

I actually agree that it’s more efficient to learn characters after you are somewhat comfortable with the word and it’s pronunciation. But forcing someone to stare at romanization for months or even years is ridiculous. Know that most successful foreign learners of Chinese have not used your method. Whether a method is “painless” is a matter of personal opinion. I would find it painful to use pinyin all the time; it would make me feel like I’m not using the real script. And to be clear, I’m not just saying that your method is more painful, but also less efficient (slower) than methods that wean the learner off of pinyin in a reasonably quick period of time.

2-5 years sounds quite excessive to me as well. Personally, I think as soon as you are familiar with Pinyin (all the possible sounds, tones, and tone sandhi) then you should be training to recognize the characters themselves alone. For me, the Pinyin is only used for initial learning of characters and later checking when necessary. So, if I remember it accurately, I only ever check the Pinyin of a given word once.

Having the Pinyin there along with the characters is a distraction to me and feels like having the answer on the front of a flashcard. I wouldn’t feel I’ve given myself a chance to be tested and see that I really know the characters and can comfortably and accurately read the script. Even now when there is accompanying Pinyin, my eyes are drawn to read the sentences in Pinyin instead of focus on the characters, mainly I guess to get the tones right.

That said, the one advantage in having the Pinyin above the characters (provided that it’s correct [see my posts below]) is that you’ll always get the tones right! However, I don’t think that benefit outweighs the benefits of unaided character recognition training.

But then again, I don’t have any research data to say that either method is more effective than the other in eventually being able to read fluently unaided after 2-5 years.

I guess I’m not stating what I “think” is right.

Or what “sounds” right.

Just stating what the studies say what works best, and this confirms with my own experience.

Neither of you two guys have any real experience with acquiring characters with pinyin over hanzi, or pinyin with hanzi. But I do have respect for your opinions generally. But they are simply that - “opinions”, not facts.

Perhaps best to argue with studies by world experts on Chinese language learning acquisition, that have run for over thirty years using many, many millions of subjects in the PRC (including adult illiterates in the PRC)?

Most foreign language learners “succeed” using the methods you advocate, despite what you advocate. But, frankly, the success rate is appalling for what you advocate.

Also, for the record, 2-5 years is conservative. The best approach is to extend this into high school - so more along the lines of 10 years.

This is the best outcome when compared with a) not doing this method, b) doing this method for 2-5 years or c) extending this method into high school (10 years).

It is interesting that people always want to defend a n=1, B-level result versus the actual results of 3 million+ control subjects who learn to C1+ fluency.

One of the quotes said; “I would not teach students a single Chinese character until they were relatively fluent — about two years.”

I don’t know what “relatively fluent” means, but I don’t know how you can get there without ever reading, as a non-native. I know people living in China who have learned Chinese for years and do basically nothing but talk to people. They live their lives in Chinese, their vocabulary and grammar is enough for them to express themselves in most of their everyday conversations, but is severely lacking beyond that, to where there is a lot of easy stuff they still don’t understand and are unable to express.

Perhaps that is relatively fluent. But to increase your vocabulary and improve grammar to understand and be able to express more and more, you need to read a lot of authentic native material. How much of that will have 100% accurate Pinyin over Hanzi? Probably none. The only thing that will likely have 100% accurate Pinyin over Hanzi is learning material, which is limited.

I don’t advocate rote memorization of individual characters either, or even learning to write them by hand, which is the “traditional method”. I think it is a colossal waste of time. I just read, look up the Pinyin and definition for new words, and continue reading. I may review the new words at the end, but mostly I learn the characters by seeing them again in my reading. It’s quite painless and very effective, in my experience. I’ve amassed quite a large vocabulary of recognized characters effortlessly this way.

Studies are on Pinyin over Hanzi and perhaps delayed learning of characters versus the traditional classroom method of drilling characters and learning to write early on. Of course it’s going to do better!

But how many studies have been done on the effectiveness of massive reading input on Chinese character recognition? Input-based methods are non-existent in language learning in China, and are not the norm in university classrooms for Chinese around the world either.

“I just read, look up the Pinyin and definition for new words, and continue reading.”

So do I. We are just arguing in agreement here. Or, at most, about how you look at the pinyin.

“I don’t know what “relatively fluent” means, but I don’t know how you can get there without ever reading, as a non-native.”

I understand the requirement is to listen a lot, talk if you want and read pinyin. So it is not without reading. Regardless, the studies of 3 million+ participants show that mostly pinyin for the first two years is the best approach.

“But how many studies have been done on the effectiveness of massive reading input on Chinese character recognition?”

The key study is the Zhuti Experiment in the PRC. 30 years, 3 million+ people. It is pinyin supplemented texts, with permission to write in pinyin anytime.

I always find detractors somewhat hilarious, when you consider detractors all write using pinyin input, and most learners will read looking up pinyin as they go.

“It’s necessary to spend a lot of time with any script, without romanization, to become really comfortable with it. Most successful learners of languages with different scripts will tell you this.”

This doesn’t make what you are saying correct. And repeating it, doesn’t make it more correct. For Chinese, the major long term studies show this isn’t the best way. Even for somewhat phonetic scripts like English, studies show this isn’t even true.

See more here: How Do I Learn To Read/Write Chinese? Do I Just ... - Lan...

“I always find detractors somewhat hilarious, when you consider detractors all write using pinyin input, and most learners will read looking up pinyin as they go.”

No one said Pinyin isn’t useful, but it’s very easy to learn quickly and then it’s just a hint at the pronunciation. I don’t think entire sentences need to be read in Pinyin for at least 2 years, and I would never write in Pinyin as a way to communicate. Many times it won’t even work and the characters are necessary to understand the message. Pinyin is just a hint at the pronunciation of a word when you don’t know it. Once you are familiar with Pinyin (pronunciation), you can start learning to recognize characters and pronounce them entirely without the use of Pinyin. This method isn’t looked at in this study. I think they are making too much out of Pinyin in this study because of what they are comparing it to.

The study you referenced states:

“After more than [fifteen] years [and over 2 million students], results show that the majority of students taught using this [``Z.T.‘’] method learn to read and write using Chinese characters faster and at a higher level than most students who are taught by more traditional methods.”

But what are those “more traditional methods”? They are learning characters individually by learning to write them out by hand early on. Of course that is a painfully slow way to learn characters, and of course their method of delaying handwriting and focusing on increasing vocabulary and reading ability will be much faster. That could have been concluded fifteen years and over 2 million students ago…

This study doesn’t compare the effectiveness of character recognition through their method of reading with Pinyin over Hanzi and through massive reading input with Pinyin used only for lookups to aid the initial learning of new characters and review when necessary.

Both methods delay handwriting of characters and focus on vocabulary acquisition. Without this comparative study, I don’t think it can be said that Pinyin over Hanzi is most effective, or more effective than the method I describe.

For some reason I cannot get my pinyin to work on one of my computers (running windows) but it works on my mac. Is this just a setting I need to change? Also, any thoughts of adding the pinyin option to the ipad/iphone app?

Actually, you are implying that the studies prove something that they don’t. Maybe I haven’t understood you, but it sounds like your saying the studies prove “western adult learners will learn to read and write Chinese characters faster and better than any other method provided they always read material with pinyin above the characters for a period of 2-5 years”. There is a big difference between what the studies show and what you claim. So imo, you are stating what you “think” is right, and your opinion is no more valid than ours.

Also, the implication that we somewhat hilarious detractors are choosing our personal experiences over a “3 million+ control subjects” study is a straw man.

Not at all. Most western learners struggle with tones, especially in the beginning, so the perceived homonym problem is very real.

Have you even read the studies Wulfgar?

Take it on notice – you are ignored from here on, mate.

No, I’ve only read summaries. If you post the actual studies here I’d be glad to go through them and paste the actual quotes that support my argument.

I’ve disagreed with you on several occasions, and I’m pretty sure this is the only time you’ve ever responded to me, so I guess it doesn’t bother me that I am ignored, mate.

I concur with iaing. Some extremely frequent characters, such as 给 and 那, do not get their expected pinyin transcript.

And when is 给 ever pronounced as jǐ? Hardly ever, like 0.01% of the time. It’s very low percentage and only occurs in certain character combinations. So why on earth would this thing default to the highly infrequent alternate pronunciation for so many common characters?

It seems to default this way when the characters stand alone. 那个 gets nàge if splitting is correct, but 那 gets nuó on it’s own, which is like a surname, and even then this rare minority surname is usually pronounced Nā… So, yeah, that’s a problem when an obscure alternate pronunciation is the default.

@kyleyamagishi What browser are you using? There isn’t any setting for the scripts. It should work. Do you not see the buttons? We will be adding the scripts to the iOS app soon. They are already available on the android app.

Internet explorer. The button is there, but nothing happens when I try to click it.

Great to hear about iOS. Looking forward to it.

Yes, there seems to be an issue with those controls in IE. We will get that fixed! Thanks for letting us know.