Thursday, July 11, 2024

A discussion on Quora

6 years ago, someone on Quora had asked: Which is better when learning Chinese: characters without Pinyin or Pinyin without characters?

Yong Wen San replied as follows.

If you are serious about learning the Chinese language, then you should aim to shed pinyin from your system as soon as possible.

For the beginner learner, especially one who is not immersed in a Chinese-speaking environment, pinyin does serve as a useful tool for learning the pronunciation of characters and words in Modern Standard Chinese. But that is all it should be seen as - a tool to aid learning pronunciation. I take issue with anyone who makes the sweeping statement that you can “learn Chinese using pinyin”. That will only help you with the spoken modern Chinese language, and even then, it will only take you as far as some basic phrases - ordering food at an eatery, buying something from a grocery store, asking for directions, etc. If your ambitions in “learning Chinese” only go that far, then fine, you can stop reading here.

My comment: On what basis did this guy say the above? Did he do research to come up with such a statement?

I studied Mandarin using Pinyin to HSK 4 level and believe I can continue learning to speak to Grade 6 level, which is what I am doing now. I think it is very irresponsible for anyone to say something without knowing the facts.

Anyway, what is so wrong with studying both characters and pinyin? Why does it have to be one or the other?

Yong Wen San:

However, if you have even remotely loftier ambitions in acquiring a broader vocabulary, engaging in complex discussions, and reading more difficult texts such as newspapers and novels (and I am not even going into the realms of Classical Chinese yet), then let me tell you something: pinyin will not get you there.

My comment:

Why would a foreigner want to read newspapers and novels in Chinese? I don’t have time even to read a minute portion of literature in English and in Malay. Would I want to learn Chinese Characters to read novels in Chinese? I learn Mandarin to converse and discuss with the Chinese who don’t know the languages I know - English, Malay and Tamil.

Yong Wen San:

And here is my personal bias kicking in: Pinyin encodes the pronunciation of Chinese words according to Modern Standard Chinese (Mandarin). It pays no attention whatsoever to the other Chinese languages such as Cantonese, Shanghainese and Minnan/Taiwanese.

My comment:

This is exactly why  Yong’s forefathers tried to rid of the dialects in China.

Yes, Pinyin caters for Mandarin. There is romanization for the other dialects as well.

Yong Wen San:

Think about this for a moment: Before the advent of pinyin and its predecessor zhuyin fuhao 注音符號 (still used in Taiwan), how do you think Chinese language students learned to speak and read? That’s right, they just simply learned it.

My comment:

Of course, they simply learned it. But why then did the Chinese Government implement the use of Pinyin? It is because many Chinese in China could not pronounce words correctly.

Yong Wen San

Okay, I understand that without the benefit of immersion in a natural Chinese-speaking environment, you may not have that luxury, so pinyin becomes your tool. But treat it as that, just a tool. Use it to learn how to pronounce a new word that you encounter, and once learned, let the pinyin go.

The above is misleading. The Western world introduced romanization for Westerners to learn Mandarin. Why would China create Hanyu Pinyin for teaching in Chinese schools in China? Did China not have the benefit of a natural Chinese-speaking environment?

Without pinyin how would you know how to pronounce?

zhuàn​ to earn / to make a profit

zuàn​ to cheat / to swindle

Most Chinese who have not learned Pinyin do not even know the difference in the pronunciation of the two words above.

There are 100’s of such words but this is more than enough to make my point.

Many of the Chinese in Malaysia order 'exploded chicken' instead of fried chicken because the character for 'exploded' and 'fried' is the same.

  zhà   to burst; to explode / to blow up; to bomb

  zhá   to deep fry






1 comment:

Luqman Michel said...

Yong Wen San is from Malaysia and his Face Book account says he is a lover of: Languages, martial arts and classic cars.

I have commented on his Face Book and hope he responds.