Question from a Student (“Why Should I Learn to Read and Write Chinese?”)

Once, when I was tutoring Chinese to a 14 year old student, he asked me a question, which I had to think about.  

First, he said, “Learning Chinese is difficult.”  

I asked why he felt this way.  He said, “Well, I can understand learning to speak, but all the reading and writing is done by memory, so it’s hard.”  I nodded.

Then he asked me, “Really, when will I ever practically use Chinese to read or write in my life?”  

This boy was the son of a doctor and a businessman.  He focused on practical things, and he was very smart and driven.  

I thought, yes, his question makes a lot of sense.  He probably will not be writing letters in Chinese or reading Chinese books and papers unless he goes to live in China, falls in love with a Chinese girl or enters a field where he use his reading and writing. 

Then the answer came to me, and I said, “It is good to learn another language because it teaches your brain to think and see differently.”  

He thought about this, and we continued with our lesson.

7 thoughts on “Question from a Student (“Why Should I Learn to Read and Write Chinese?”)

  1. My situation’s a bit different than your student’s, I think, as I plan to use my Chinese as much as possible to speak with family and learn the culture (I’m an ABC, too – read your “About” page). Still, another answer to his question might be, “If you don’t, someday you’ll wind up in a Sanxia bus station with 30 yuan, an old cat, and a Chinese version of a friendly hippie. You think I’m kidding? That exact thing happened to some random commenter on my blog – all because she didn’t learn to read and write.” 😀
    Love your post, looking forward to exploring your site!

    • Hi Rene, your comment made me laugh because I can visualize it just the way you described. I went through some of your site, by the way, and I already found a couple of things that are helpful to me, so thank you for your posts. (I wish I had a Beijing accent. It sounds so beautiful.) Learning Chinese is a lot of fun, especially the reading and writing part because you get to “draw” the characters. This student of mine, btw, was left-handed, so it was challenging because I didn’t want to force him to write with his right hand. If you can imagine, it was a bit awkward for him to draw the strokes from left to right, but, in the end, he managed very well as a lefty and is still taking Chinese lessons and even teaching English at a Chinese community center. 我想他已”青出於藍” (Chinese idiom for student surpassing the teacher)! Thanks. I look forward to learning along with you!

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  3. Loved your basic premise, because learning ANY language does improve your ability to think in many ways.
    However, I would add that the economic engine of the very near future is centered in China, and there is already a wealth of rich cultural material available coming from there as well. Big Pharma in particular is doing gangbuster business in China, so if this young man has a future in either medical or financial growth, then it will involve China for much of the rest of this Century.
    Frankly, if you’re going to be bilingual in any language besides English, most people in the world know either some form of Spanish or a dialect of Chinese. In fact, the number of people whose first language is Chinese is more than double the population of any one other language’s speakers. As for the written forms, many are quite beautiful, and wouldn’t you like to know what’s REALLY WRITTEN on all those things you own which were manufactured there? 😉

    • Thank you for your comment, Kevin. You’re quite right that today Chinese is an extremely useful language to learn for many practical reasons and considered a valuable skill in the workforce. In addition, if you know how to even speak basic Chinese (mostly Mandarin) you could go to almost any country and find a community that you would be able to communicate with. I don’t think the value of learning how to speak, read and write Chinese escapes my former student, as he continues to excel in learning the language, but, you’re right – I could have come up with many more reasons in addition to the one I gave, and thank goodness, he’s more practical than I am! I’ll certainly keep your comments in mind the next time… 🙂

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