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I'm designing a curriculum to teach middle school students elementary Chinese. When I started learning, I began with Traditional Chinese characters and pinyin together on day one. I'm not so sure the typical student would like getting thrown into having to remember both pinyin and characters.

That being said, I was going to start off teaching basic grammatical structures and vocabulary using pinyin only. Have them practice those words and get used to pinyin as its own entity. Once they're very familiar with pronunciation of pinyin along with the tones, I will later introduce characters (which would force me to reintroduce the pinyin as they learn the basic characters).

But I'm debating if it would be better to just start off with both?

What are your thoughts on learning? Did any of you start off learning pinyin, then phase in to characters later on?


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3 Answers 3

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When I was first learning Chinese, we were using the New Practical Chinese Reader series of books. In them:

  • Dialogues and vocabulary are presented with both characters and pinyin.

  • You were only expected to memorize a subset of the characters used in a given chapter (e.g., in the first dialogue, you only had to learn how to write 你, 好, and 吗 or something like that).

  • Eventually you get weaned off pinyin for the dialogues and in some of the vocabulary parts.

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Uh... I had them as well. They were awful. The problem is that they tried teaching chinese by letting the student memorize phrases and static constructs, which is not a good way to learn a language IMHO. One should focus on teaching ways to compose sentences with context and flexibility and not cardboard-cutouts. –  FUZxxl Oct 17 '13 at 19:07
@商榮沛 IMHO, it's useful to get to "I can have a conversation" as quickly as possible, even if you have to memorize a bunch of stuff to get there. Of course you need a comprehensive approach to grammar and vocabulary to get beyond the basics, but I see it as best to start from both ends (phrase-book approach and building-block approach) and meet in the middle. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Oct 17 '13 at 19:57
They are also very useful for understanding Chinese. I feel that way too much time is spent trying to make sure that students can say and write words they have actually never seen or heard. If understanding is also a goal, fixed patterns make more sense, at least in the beginning. –  Olle Linge Oct 19 '13 at 0:43

May this help you: As a member from a non-english spoken country, we start to learn english by words, not by phonetic transcription, because the phonetic transcription is less funny but more difficult to remember. in my opinion, you should start with characters.

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This comparison is quite flawed, I think. The distance between written and spoken English is so much shorter than between written and spoken Chinese. –  Olle Linge Oct 18 '13 at 2:28
Actually, people in China won't learn how to pronounce all characters, like English spoken people. Most of characters can be tried to pronounce by a part of them. Some are not, like in English there are words like "island", should be remembered separately. –  Allen St.Clair Oct 19 '13 at 6:48

Personal experience: I'm chinese, when i goto school, i could speak a lot of Chinese already, and i started with ping ying and characters together,ping ying helps to let me know how to pronounce a character and help me link the character with the "words" which i already know. I mean, when i see an egg, I know that thing is pronounced as "dan" and i just don't know how to write it. so they put 蛋 beside a picture of egg and ping ying "dan". so what i do is link them together, an egg=蛋, and both of them called "dan". This is little bit different from English.

when i start picking up my Japanese, as i was already at my 21, what teacher did is to ask me to study the Hiragana and Katakana. we learn these tool first, and later use it to study to pronounce these "words" in Japanese.

what i think is, if people already knows how to speak, just need to learn how to write, pingying and character together is a shorter cut, but if people don't know Chinese at all, better study pingying first.

the more important thing is to let ppl know how to study this language themselves.

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