Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #4.4: I am not sure whether my child should study simplified characters or traditional characters…

October 2, 2010

4.4 Main Article

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Situation #4.4: I am not sure whether my child should study simplified characters or traditional characters.Reality: Traditional and simplified characters came about due to historical and political reasons. Most traditional compound characters have a phonetic component that sometimes gives a clue to their sound and a semantic component that sometimes gives a clue to their meaning. During the simplification process, simplified characters have not consistently preserved these two components in the formation. Moreover, some simplified components in certain characters are not always simplified in other characters. Overall, simplified characters have been changed based on a mixed set of rules. On the other hand, it is plausible that the fewer number of strokes in simplified characters makes writing easier for some children.

No research, probably due to historical and political reasons, has been performed to conclude which styles are easier to learn. However, there is research that shows that cognitively, simplified characters demand more visual skills than traditional characters. Simplified characters do not distinguish themselves from each other to the extent that traditional characters do. This extra visual demand makes it more difficult for beginning readers, who tend to focus on the entire character visually, to recognize the characters quickly and accurately.

Some other factors can be considered as part of your decision. China and Singapore use simplified characters, but Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia use traditional characters. Anything pre-World-World-II is written in traditional characters. Therefore, one may not be able to read any literature from that time period that has not been converted to simplified characters. Simplified characters, however, have fewer strokes, so it can be easier for a child to write, depending on when she starts writing. There is still much controversy of both sides claiming to be the better writing system, but your family should make a decision based on your mission and your child’s learning style.

Considerations:

  • Which Asian countries am I associating my family with? Which version do I use? Which types of reading materials and environmental prints (e.g. street signs, menus, grocery labels) is my family likely to encounter?
  • How can I understand the different advantages and disadvantages of these two writing systems better in the realms of controversy among regions? What are the latest debated factors?
  • How can I find out the main reason our Chinese school uses one writing system over the other?
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