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Should I learn Mandarin basics first through pinyin and worry about the characters later, or should I learn them together? Pros and cons?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Here is the way how Chinese kids start learning Mandarin in school.

They first learn Pinyin, then learn simple and basic characters, like 人,口,手,天,大,我,你,他, etc.

Pinyin tells you how to pronounce new characters. So learn Pinyin first.

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Which "school" are you referring to? Chinese is widely used throughout the world, and different countries usually have different ways of teaching Chinese. – Pacerier May 13 '13 at 7:03
@Pacerier By school, I meant elementary schools in Madarin speaking regions in China(PRC). – 孤影萍踪 May 13 '13 at 17:04

There is a key difference between learning the language as a native speaker, and learning the language as a second language. Native speakers of all languages invariably learn speaking and listening skills first, and only start to learn reading and writing at school, after the age of about 3 or 4. Learning a language as a second language, reading and writing have more prominence and can expedite some of the learning, but this also depends on a person's 'learning style'. Generally, combining all four communication skills is better.

To clarify what I am trying to say, my own experience of learning Chinese (and other languages) mixes all four modalities (reading, writing, speaking, listening). I find that learning the characters sometimes gives insight into the relationships between words (the semantics), that are not obvious from how they are said. Sometimes the process works the other way, as I see patterns in the written characters that are reflected in the sound.

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Get started the easiest way (romanization, aka "pinyin", only) but once you've learnt a few basic sentences it's not a bad time to start learning characters.

You eventually want to be learning characters and pinyin at the same time anyway, so you might as well start as soon as you can. Much of the reward you will feel whilst learning is in being able to read bits and pieces here and there.

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