How to teach written Chinese

I couldn’t agree with this critique of how Chinese is taught to foreigners more:

你好 is too complicated for a first hanzi lesson. Once you are ready for hanzi, 你好 is not the place to start. I know not every teacher of Chinese will try to get the students writing 你好 on the first day of class, but that’s exactly what happened in some classes I’ve heard about from friends. The teacher’s idea is: “Well, that’s the first thing you say in Chinese so you might as well write it too.” Actually, as long as you accept my idea to get the students’ verbal proficiency way ahead of their hanzi proficiency (see number 1), it won’t matter what the first thing they said was (way back then). You are now free to learn hanzi in any order you want.

I don’t 100% agree with the rest of what he says, but there’s no question that teaching written Chinese (in particular to foreigners) ought to centre on concepts and not on the spoken language they (usually but not always) happen to be learning concurrently. Part of the reason foreigners find Chinese characters so difficult is that they are operating under the assumption that written Chinese is like any other script. But as essentially every other script on Earth is based primarily on sound where Chinese is not, it stands to reason that the assumptions underlying education in and use of the script ought to be accordingly different. The first thing someone might say in a language which uses Chinese characters to write it (remember that this includes Japanese, which is in no way related to spoken Chinese) will vary from place to place, but the written language is based on Classical Chinese literature, not vernacular speech and/or its phonemes. Therefore, one ought not to convert what is said into written form but build up the components of writing based on their own structure.

That being said, “好” is not a difficult character to teach to a beginner, although obviously one ought to teach “子” (which Albert, quoted above, thinks ought to be taught as two parts, but I think is conceptually important enough to teach on its own) and “女” first. Although if you’re teaching them “女” (which, by the way, if we’re breaking down “子”, why not teach this as a “feminine” “variant” of “人”?), you might as well teach them these easy sexist classics (and I do mean “classics” as the first two are quite archaic) to go with it:

  • 奻:Argument (two women next to each other)
  • 㚣:Beautiful (a woman above another woman)
  • 姦:Sexual immorality (multiple women)

If you don’t think that’s sexist, bear in mind that it operates under the same assumption that creates “forest”(森)out of “tree”(木). So when you gather a bunch of trees together, you’ve got yourself a forest! When you gather a bunch of women together, you’ve got adultery and rape!

As long as I’m talking dirty to you (or rather writing dirty to you, since this is a musing on Chinese character construction and NOT spoken Chinese), I might as well teach you the verb “to fuck” in Chinese. Bear in mind that this is the verb for the active penetrative act, like the historical meaning of “fuck” in English, or like “sik-” in Turkey (or Uzbekistan, where “sikil-” and “siktir-” are also in use), but NOT in Chinese Türkistan, where they say “سىك قىلماق” (sik qilmaq, more or less “to perform a dicking”). So at any rate, here it is, the most lewd Chinese character I can think of, in three short steps:

  1. 入:To enter
  2. 肉:Meat or flesh
  3. 肏:To fuck (to enter flesh/meat)

If you’re a 老外 interested in learning written Chinese, I recommend you pick up (download) a copy of “A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese” by Paul Rouzer, which I mentioned in this rambling entry. I also recommend you visit Zhongwen.com, which is the first dictionary I plug in my brief list of useful online Chinese dictionaries (a brief description of what I feel are its merits is available at that link).

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