Learning Chinese is a slow process – especially when you’re tying to balance it with being a full time teacher, having a social life and repeatedly watching the entire series of New Girl from start to finish. Once you’ve got past learning all the sounds, mastering tones and started actually engaging in somewhat sensical conversation, then comes the next hurdle – the characters. I started learning to speak before I started teaching myself to write for the simple reason that reading and writing is less useful to me – much like any language acquisition.
Kids here in Taiwan learn characters through repetition. They’re required to write them out again and again and are tested until they know them back to front. It appears mundane but it works. And frankly, there are few other ways to go about learning traditional characters. You can learn the radicals, which do help you remember certain characters, and you can watch all the cool animations but at the end of the day, as with most things, practice makes perfect, and writing them again and again is the only viable way to be practicing.
I have to admit I found it incredibly tedious when I first started learning them. There are so many little lines and dashes and squares and this line has to be longer than that line and they all just looked so difficult. But then you start to get the swing of things and you can look at characters and see lots of little ones make them up, and you can tell how you should go about writing them. And then, lo and behold, writing out characters again and again starts to have a flow to it and requires less concentration and somehow in ten minutes you manage to fill a whole page of squares and you feel incredibly relaxed.
There’s no denying it though, whilst right now I find, when I have the time, writing out characters repeatedly somewhat therapeutic, I often consider that there are 50,000 of them in existence. Fortunately, only about 3000 of them I’ll actually need, but this is still not an easy task. There are many little squares yet to be filled.