Are Chinese people forgetting how to write?

When foreigners learn Chinese, they often struggle getting to grips with writing the characters. There are around 50,000 characters in modern written Chinese, but in order to be considered literate, an adult needs to know only 3,000-4,000 (a 1,000-2,000 character vocabulary would allow you to comfortably read a Chinese newspaper).

However, more and more Chinese citizens feel they are losing the ability to write by hand, and many are signing up for exams to try and combat this.

The HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – literally Mandarin level exam) test was originally aimed at foreigners learning Chinese, but was introduced for Chinese nationals in several cities and provinces in 2007. Because so many people use computers in their work and hardly ever pick up a pen, their written literacy skills are in decline – this is true all over the world, not just in China.

When typing Chinese characters rather than writing them by hand, a person types the sound of the character (a bit like spelling a word out) then the computer suggests possible characters for that sound from which they choose the appropriate one:

It’s a bit like multiple choice, whereas if you were writing the same word by hand, you would have to think of the character yourself.

The Shanghai Language Commission conducted a survey among university students, which found that while many know what the characters should look like, they are unable to handwrite them.

A very similar thing is happening with English usage online – setting aside the international variations in spelling, we are seeing more and more instances of incorrect spelling in all types of published text. People just aren’t sure how words should be written anymore, and the auto-correct spelling functions built in to computers can often send us down the wrong path.
Perhaps the future will see more relaxed rules around spelling – take this example which has been doing the rounds on email and social networking sites over the last couple of years:
Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Are grammar and spelling still as important as they once were? What is your first thought when you see a typo or spelling mistake? Is handwriting becoming a dying art?
Let us know what you think.

By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies. For more information, read our Privacy Policy

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close