Year One: Beginning Chinese

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Frequently Asked Questions

Should I consider going to China to learn beginning Chinese?

Although some programs in China offer first year classes, I don't recommend because Chinese teachers in the United States often know the needs of beginners better and the environment is not too important for a beginner. If you can only stay in China for one semester or one summer in your 4 years of college, the ideal time should be for Intermediate or Advanced levels.

I just want to learn speaking Chinese, so I don't need to learn Chinese characters.

Well, you can do that. As I know, however, there is a great chance that you will regret when you want to reach a higher level. To learn Chinese characters is not so difficult although hand-writing is really difficult.

Some say if you don't use pen to write but use computer to typewrite, you will not be able to memorize Chinese characters. Is that true?

Some experiments show just the contrary. Computerized learning of Chinese characters will enhance students' ability of recognize more Chinese characters. Now in China, most people use computer to write. There is no reason for our students to ban computer input of Chinese characters. However, hand-writing is surely a plus since calligraphy has been a significant part of Chinese cultural heritage. The key point here is on this beginning level, it is not worth spending too much time on hand-writing.

I understand there are two writing systems: traditional and simplified. Should I know both? If so, should I start with traditional Chinese characters since, as some suggest, it is much easier for one who knows traditional characters to learn simplified characters?

You don't need to learn both in this stage. Knowing both is a goal for advanced learners. You may start with either. Nowadays there are more people to start with simplified characters since there are apparently more people in the world to be using simplified characters. When one reaches advanced level, it is not too hard to learn the other writing system by intensive reading. With computer, to converse one into the other may be as easy as a single click (depending on your computer settings and software). If you are interested in Chinese history and intend to read of many classical writings, to start with traditional character will be a better choice.

Should I try to understand the meaning of each characters of which a word consist?

Better not at this stage. I would suggest intermediate learners to start doing so because then you will have enough characters/words to make analysis.