Fighting Illiteracy

Started our university class today. Just meets a couple times a week, so it really won’t hurt our regular schedule much. Small price to pay… So I guess I officially started studying writing today. Not nearly as scary as it was when we first got here. By now, we’re really familiar with lots of characters as we’re constantly surrounded by them and everything we read, even if it has pinyin, includes the characters. For example, I read the Bible in pinyin several chapters a day, and underneath the pinyin is the character. And you’d be surprised how many characters you pick up just from passing your eyes over them that many times.  It’s quite a change from our last semester class. Besides us, everyone’s a beginner (I hope). No one in our class can put together a sentence in Chinese, and I’m trying not to let the teacher find out we can – it’s a lot easier like this! I really can’t imagine trying to learn everything at the same time most of these students are doing – reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They have to do it all, with the least amount of emphasis placed on speaking. The class is hardly a waste, though – by the end of the semester we should know at least several hundred of the most common characters.  Today we learned about the strokes that make up every character – each kind of stroke has its own name and the strokes are to come in a certain order. There’s some general rules – generally from top to bottom, generally from left to right. But there’s still some things that don’t make tons of sense. But, hey, I’m one day into this study, so I’m not going to panic that fast.  

The whole concept of the written Chinese language is confusing at first to foreigners. Each character really has its own monosyllabic name and meaning. So in a sense, any word using more than one syllable in Chinese is really a compound word, as each character forming the word contributes a part of the total meaning. Pinyin is just a phonetical writing system that makes the hassle of learning new words a mite easier. It includes markings that indicate which of the five tones the syllable is. There is some disagreement over whether or not Chinese is a monosyllabic language. I’m hardly an expert, but I’d probably argue that it’s not, since the total meaning of the compound words is more specific and stronger than the sum of their character-parts. Just in case you get on Jeopardy…

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