Saturday, July 2, 2011

Can You Speed Write in Chinese?

I don’t know about you but to me Chinese appears to be a very difficult language to write.  A number of people that I have spoken to tell me that while Chinese is a difficult language to learn it is almost impossible for a westerner to learn how to write in Chinese.  The problem is that Chinese does not have an alphabet, as we know it.  Chinese characters are based on drawings of real objects.  Therefore, the Chinese word for man looks like a stick man and the Chinese word for house kind of looks like a house (but not really). 

This leads to the question, “is there a Chinese dictionary and how in the hell does it work?”  This of course leads to the next question that once you see the Chinese character for man how do you learn how to pronounce it?  This project was quickly becoming much bigger than I anticipated and I think I will but this research on my “to do” list for a later date. 

Anyway to demonstrate just how complicated the Chinese language is, consider this;  The extended Chinese character set (including ancient, seldom-used glyphs) includes upwards of 100,000 characters. A modern and well-educated Chinese person may know 20,000 characters at best, but this is still a staggering number.  To be able to read a newspaper comprehensively you need to know about 6,000 characters.  Most Chinese agree that you need to know about 3,000 characters to be considered fully literate.  This is mind blowing when you consider we only need to learn 26 letters.  I’m beginning to think that you need to have an IQ of 150 just to learn the Chinese language. 

But, back to the original question; “can you speed write in Chinese?”  In order to answer this question I devised a little test.  I wrote down the sentence. “the red rabbit jumped over the high fence” and asked our tour guide, Shanshan, to write it in Chinese.  While she was writing it I timed her.  It took her 15 seconds to write this sentence in Chinese.  I then asked her to time me as I wrote the same sentence in English. 

When I got to the word “rabbit” I internally calculated that I had already used up about 7 seconds and I started sweating bullets.  I thought’ “ can this really be, can a Chinese person write the same sentence faster than me?”  I needed to step things up.  No way was I going to come in second in this race.  I started writing faster and by the time I got to the second “the” I felt I had only used up about ten seconds.  Feeling confident I cruised through the last two words.  I felt I had crushed her when I yelled, “stop”.  I was floored to hear Shanshan yell “14 seconds” right back at me.  I only beat her by 1 second, how could this happen?

I then looked down at what I had written and it appeared to be; “the ned rabit yuped oer the nuh feces”.  I wasn’t about to tell Shanshan  that I had left out about 30% of the letters in the sentence.  For all I know, Shanshan left out 30% percent of the characters or maybe she had really written, “Gerry is an idiot” 

I feel pretty confident that I can beat any Oriental in speed-writing as long as no one checks my work!

1 comment:

  1. This doesn't sound like the Gerry I know. What did China do to my father????