Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

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Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby John Yu » 16 Jun 2012, 09:47

I had dinner with a Chinese teacher from Chinese Culture University last night, and she told me about her research into developing a system for helping foreigners who learned simplified characters first go on to learn traditional characters. (Originally, she wanted to research the other way around, but her teacher or adviser was against it). She also shared some interesting insights with me - for example, going from learning traditional --> simplified is not necessarily easier than the other way around, as most of us believe. At least that's her opinion. She also showed me some examples of simplified characters whose roots in the original pictograph characters were just as legitimate as the traditional characters, thus proving that not all the simplified characters were randomly and carelessly thrown together, as some Taiwanese people claim. I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, I didn't understand everything she was saying, but still thought it was pretty interesting.
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Re: Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby ironlady » 16 Jun 2012, 21:22

What is she basing her conclusions about "easy" on? Has she done experiments with actual learners, or is this theorizing based on the opinions of Chinese native readers, who have a very different view of what characters are and how they are understood?

To a learner of Chinese, characters aren't the result of thousands of years of development starting from a pictogram. They're little blobs of black ink that have to be linked to meaning in order to allow reading to go on, or produced by hand or by a computer to allow writing to happen. They should not be the subject of too much separate study and over-analysis, unless the student is just interested in that and enjoys it. That sort of analysis has not proven effective in building literacy skills. If you're interested in it, go for it, but don't expect memorizing all the radicals, say, to vastly improve your reading skills.

I'd be very interested to know more specifics about her research and above all if the reading tests she is doing (if they are doing any at all) are tests of reading/writing in context, or simply reproduction or recognition of isolated characters. The latter doesn't really interest me much as I've seen very little transfer to reading/writing that isn't done more effectively through extensive reading of level-appropriate materials with plenty of context.
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Re: Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby R_jay » 18 Jun 2012, 19:21

I took her test today actually, how about that. It consisted of a list of simplified characters I was asked to write in traditional if I could, otherwise indicate the ones I knew and the ones I didn't. I was then asked to read sentences that had the characters in them and this part was recorded. My guess is she's looking at correlations between characters I knew/did not know on their own and my ability to recognize them in the context of a sentence.
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Re: Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby ironlady » 18 Jun 2012, 20:49

But if the task is to **write* the traditional, she is not only testing recognition of the simplified; she's also unwittingly testing the ability to produce traditional characters. It sounds like the instrument is too mixed up to measure only what she thinks it will measure.
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Re: Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby John Yu » 18 Jun 2012, 22:21

Yes, I think her test is about reproducing characters, not reading words in context, so it's probably not very useful for helping people achieve reading fluency. But I think what she's trying to do is understand the connections between simplified and traditional characters, and provide people who know the former with a systematic way of going about learning the latter.

I don't know. I learned traditional first, and sort of got familiar with simplified characters over a period of time through a combination of a 1 month class in Beijing, being required to do some translation work with simplified, reading some simplified Chinese books, and having to look up online information that was only available in simplified Chinese. But if there was a system for helping people make the transition from one type to the other, maybe that would save students trouble in the future?
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Re: Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby ironlady » 18 Jun 2012, 23:13

If she's looking at producing characters, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me (thinking of foreigners) to look at whether it's easier to learn to write (by hand from memory) Traditional and then Simplified, or first Simplified and then Traditional. Why would a foreigner (or at least, any substantial number of foreign learners) have the need to write both forms by hand from memory in the first place?

Most foreigners who use Chinese have a "base" character set that they might write, but more likely type fluently. It's much more useful for them to be able to recognize both forms, but writing them by hand from memory sounds to me like another "this is traditional knowledge and it's something you really must know though we can't tell you how you'll use it in the real world" things. (And it isn't even a traditional skill for native speakers; most of my grad school classmates couldn't do much with Simplified characters, even in terms of reading, though that might have been a bit exaggerated to try to get out of reading some really dry stuff.)

Unless, of course, this is a Dissertation Topic, which means it doesn't need any connection at all to the real world. :D
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Re: Simplified and Traditional Character Teaching Methodology

Postby ehophi » 22 Jun 2012, 03:58

I worked through the Simplified/Traditional problem in the following manner when I built my Hanzi memorization flashcard deck:

I joined a few CJK decomposition databases, and then I told the computer to prioritize the deck in terms of frequency and requisite components for characters of that frequency. That means, before learning the most frequent character (的), the program forces me to learn 口,囗,日,白,勹, and 勺 first. It does so for every character in the UTF-8 encoding. 囗, strictly speaking, only fits because it's decomposed as a mod on 口.

Some character decompositions, like that for 來, rely on decompositions for which the simplified 从, not the traditional 從, is listed as a component; but that's fine, because the program fronts characters like 彳, which becomes important for spelling words like 行, and similarly 凵 comes before 山, before 出, etc.

I could get a feel of how complex characters are "spelled" with simpler characters. Even if it's not etymologically sound, it's definitely helpful. I gained a lot of understanding about characters with this kind of side-practice. However, I needed a supplementary vocabulary list to give those characters their respective meanings. (凵, for instance, means nothing to me, even though I know its pronunciation [kan3]).

Here's a good one: 土圭寸封白巾帛幫.

But I tried to make Chinese character memorization similar to English spelling memorization, by giving a few steadfast rules for character recognition, and then outlining the interconnections between simpler and more complex characters. It is definitely helpful when I need to remember how to write more complex characters, like 臟 (as 月, 艹, 爿, 戈, 臣).

This method isn't foolproof. Some simplifications were just ill-conceived. 發 and 髮 as 发? Who was the genius who thought that up?
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