Writing Chinese by hand

Hope this is the best forum for this.

Basically, I’m curious as to how many people here, both native and non-native Chinese speakers, consider writing characters by hand to be important. How many here can write anything they can say? Personally, I’m learning to write traditional characters by hand (I’m up to about 1100) and I thought I’d just post the question out of interest, as it is a lot of work, and there seem to be dissenting opinions on various other forums I’ve visited as to whether learning to handwrite is worth the time one is required to invest.

I learned to write characters by hand over 40 years ago. I felt that writing them helped me learn them, and in those days we had no choice, there were no word processing computers. Today I do not know if I would do the same. I cannot write a single character by hand today. I have no trouble reading or using a computer to write Chinese, but cannot write by hand any longer. I
find that you have to keep doing it or you will lose it, unlike the language.

I also cannot write Hiragana or Katakana, or Russian letters by hand, nor Korean Hangul, never bothered trying, but I can read those scripts and write them on a computer.

As a Japanese native speaker, I often write chinese characters and japanese letters by hand. Unless, I will forget more characters.
Before being a Ling Q member, I was learning a lot, writing by hand and saying same phrases many times, at least five times, even a simple phrase. This method helps me to learn to speak and to write reflectively.

I do practice handwriting now and then, but mostly when learning. It is indeed a useful exercise, and in combination with, say, the “scriptorium” method as mentioned by professor Arguelles on the “How to learn any language”-forum and Youtube, I’m sure you could benefit a lot from it.

(By the way, I assume you are ChristopherB from that forum?)

I learn how to write kanji (I am learning Japanese, not Chinese), as when I write them by hand, I learn them better and faster. But I “type” kanji. I can’t write them like native Japanese.

Jeff, yeah that’s me.

I definitely agree it’s something you have to keep up each day. I find it helps quite a bit with retention, since some of the characters only have minor variations. Either way, it does slow down reading ability, since it takes longer for me to learn to write character and acquire it than way, than to simply recognise it.

It’s a matter of priority - there are so many aspects of language learning, and I’m not the right person to say that you’re focusing on the wrong activity (hey, maybe I’m doing it way wrong as well…).

A slightly related topic is that I have manually copied an entire Russian textbook - reading Cyrillic now is a breeze.

Yes I could as I’m native. Meanwhile I could write most of the traditional characters and read all of them.

The fact is, the kids in China, when they’re in the elemental school and middle school, are forced by their teachers to repeat copying characters again and again and again by hand for their everyday homework. This painful process usually lasts 6 to 10 years so that they could finally remember, 3000~5000 characters I think.

Inputting Chinese on computer is interesting. There are two mainstream input methods - input by pronunciation and input by strokes.

The former one is much more easier and you could use it as long as you know the pronunciation. It is very slow as there are many characters have same pinyin and you need to choose one by one. People are likely to use frequent character to replace a rare character that has with same pinyin. The latter is very fast - that is what I’m using, with it I can input 200 characters/min. But it’s hard to learn and require you to remember what a character looks like. Now you see why I could remember how to write them all.

Jeffzhn, what software do you use for inputting characters by stroke? Are you using 五筆字型輸入法?

I didn’t want to start a new thread, but I find this topic interesting. I’ve been practising writing Chinese characters by hand for about 8 months, getting to about 530 out of about 750 I’m working on. I don’t practise every day, but try to as often as possible for one to two hours. I can no longer go through the whole list in one session, but take between 70 and 200 per day that I revise. For the earliest 250 I learned I just have to slowly go over the list and occasionally write a character to check if my memory doesn’t deceive me. It’s a mental process in which I try to think of the character in my mind (visual memory) and put it together from its parts. Sometimes I can remember just one radical and by rewriting the character I try to strengthen the mental image. I usually pronounce the character and mostly learn two or three characters together that form a word.
I am writing this post to encourage other beginners, because it can seem useless at times to try to remember how to write a character. I just persevere. Sometimes it takes weeks before I can write a character (I know I could do better by doing nothing else), but then all of a sudden a whole set of characters are temporarily fixed in my mind, especially if I combine flashcarding, reading and handwriting the same group of characters for some time.
I keep forgetting how to write even seemingly simple characters, yet I can recognize them in context in a reading text. If I look at profile descriptions of LingQ members I can now read some simple sentences. I seem to have focussed on the most frequent characters and words because I use the “25 most important LingQs” and LingQs of the Day lists to gather new characters for learning handwriting. Actually I learned to write those first that came up on my flashcards, picking a few simple ones first and then adding those that I had trouble remembering by just looking at them. I think writing characters by hand also helps with typing Chinese characters. Fot that I enter the pinyin and choose from a short list of characters. Sometimes the intuitive method works quite well and I don’t even have to choose between characters for every word.
Please share your experience with learning Chinese characters.

When I learned characters I used printed flash cards. I would grab 10 a day at first and write them out on squared paper. I would write the first one down the left hand column, about 10 times, then I would write the meaning or pin yin pronunciation a few columns over to the right. Then I would pick up the next one and write it 10 times in the little squares, and put the translation or pin yin a few columns over to the right. Before too long I would run into the first one again and write it 5 times and then put the translation a few columns to the right again.

I started with 10 a day, and got up to 30 a day. I would often shuffle the cards. I did this for the first 1000. Thereafter I did not do this. However, I read a lot and I also wrote sentences in Chinese. I wrote an hour a day, every day. In 8 months I knew 4,000 characters.

I spent more than 5 hours a day on Chinese, mostly listening and reading.

Thank you Steve for your input. I would imagine that the beginning is harder, as I read somewhere (in this forum or somewhere else), after which it gets easier and then harder again because of the similarity of many characters. It’s probably best to do a lot of reading once you have a basic stock of characters.

You can input Japanese and Chinese characters by hand in Mac OS:


The first 500 characters I ever learned, I can usually write them no problem. I don’t know why, but some of them I literally had not written in two years and when a classmate asked me how to write them, I could easily do it. They just stuck with me forever. Also, when I was in China, and saw a character I didn’t know, I could usually remember how to write it for a few days, before I forgot it completely. Outside of those 500 core characters, they come and go. So I guess I can write maybe 800 by memory?
Some of you may know the book “Remembering the Traditional (or Simplified) Hanzi” or “Remembering the Kanji” well, it really helps it not forgetting how to write them!

I always hand-wrote my homework, and when I input Chinese text messages, I usually opt for the hand-written option to help me not forget. Oh, I also study Chinese calligraphy, so I guess that helps too.

but alas I forgot how to write a lot of characters that I knew for dictation tests. I would say I know between 1500-2000

Sorry Chris, I guess I didn’t quite answer your questions.

Yes, I think it’s important to be able to write Chinese characters, because there are situations when you have to hand-write them, like when you have to write a quick note, or maybe you want to label a shelf. and if you know how to write them, you definitely can recognize them when you input them into the computer. but with computers, cell phones, and electronic dictionaries, it made it not as important today as it once was. I’ve seen many Chinese people forget how to write characters.

Can I write everything I say? When I was beginning to study Chinese, and even maybe a year ago, yes, but now not so much since I was in China for a while, I learned so many new words so fast, I couldn’t keep up with learning to write them. Ironically, I didn’t write as much while I was there either.

So the bottom line is, if your goal is to write 5,000 Chinese characters by hand from memory, and you are passionate about it, then by all means yes, it’s worth your time!

"Yes, I think it’s important to be able to write Chinese characters, because there are situations when you have to hand-write them, "

This is not true for everyone, and has mostly not been the case for me. I believe that different people have different needs and therefore goals in their language study.

In my job being able to handwrite and read handwritten Chinese would come in handy. Very often in our meetings or seminars people use the whiteboard to write down things I cannot read.