The Benefits of Learning to Write in Chinese and How to Get Started

Typing Chinese

Learning to write in Chinese can be difficult if you’re starting to learn the language, but it’s a skill that’s just as important as listening, speaking, and reading. If you only focus on speaking and listening in Chinese, then you might also want to spend time in reading and writing.

Are you only focused on speaking and listening because you just want to communicate with native speakers? This is a reason that beginners often give for focusing on only two core skills. But, communicating with native speakers in Chinese also requires writing messages, such as typing emails and texts, and reading their responses.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on speaking and listening if you only plan to make your travels abroad more convenient and enjoyable, but if you’re a serious language learner, it’s important not to neglect reading and writing. In this post, I’ll focus on why it’s important to write in Chinese and how to get started.

Why You Should Practice Writing in Chinese

You might think it’ll require more time to learn to write in Chinese, but spending effort in writing will also reinforce your speaking and reading skills. It will help you retain what you’ve learned more efficiently and effectively. How so? Let’s say you’ve just learned a new expression or grammar pattern. Of course, it’s not enough to learn it; you need to apply it if you want to remember what you’ve learned. Using it in a conversation is one way to apply it, but if you also read it in an article and write sentences with it, you not only strengthen your understanding of its use, you also increase your exposure to it through different avenues. Through various points of exposure you’re better able to retain the new concept and thus, avoid forgetting it.

When speaking in Chinese, you’re only utilizing certain skills: practicing to pronounce words accurately and thinking on your feet. It’s often hard to record all the mistakes you’ve made while speaking with someone. Your partner may not point out every error you’ve made either. However, with writing, you can see all the errors you’ve made and review them more carefully. It’ll also allow you to see any common mistakes you tend to make and correct them.

The other benefit of writing is that you’ll need to know the characters well since there are many homophones in Chinese. If you’re typing Chinese, you’ll often have to choose the correct character from a list. As a result, this will help improve your reading ability.

Your grammar will also improve because rules are more strict with writing. Similar to English, speaking Chinese can be more informal compared to writing it. Certain words or expressions may only be appropriate for speaking or writing, and the only way to know the correct usages is to practice both skills.

Lastly, if you plan on taking the HSK exam, levels three through six test your writing ability, so it doesn’t hurt to start practicing early!

How to Get Started With Writing in Chinese

Hopefully by now, you’re convinced of the benefits of learning to write in Chinese. You’re probably wondering how to get started or what’s the best way to practice. If you haven’t signed up for an account on Lang-8, make it your first priority. Lang-8 is a website that allows you to post your writing and have native speakers correct it for you. In return, you help others who want to learn your native language by correcting their writing.

Lang-8 Website

Once you’ve signed up for an account, make sure to write a short introduction about your language learning experience, goals, and anything interesting you’d like to share about yourself. It’s also helpful to post your photo or avatar, so you’re more easily recognized and remembered among the sea of users. The next step is to add friends on Lang-8. My recommendation is to add members whose native language is Chinese and want to learn your native language. This will provide a mutual benefit to help each other.

Tips for Using Lang-8 and Getting Corrections

As you start out, keep your posts short and simple: no more than a few sentences. The task of writing in Chinese is less daunting when you only have to write short passages. Aim to write 80–100 words. It might be difficult at first, but as you do it more often, it’ll become easier over time. Also, by keeping your posts short, it won’t take much of your time to write and review your errors. After you’ve become comfortable writing a few sentences and have seen improvement in your writing, then you can attempt to write progressively longer posts.

Whenever posting your writing on Lang-8, make sure to include your native language translation. This will help people who are correcting your writing if they have difficulty understanding your meaning. Not everyone will know your native language for your translation to be of help, but for those who do, they will be better able to correct your writing. Without your translation, they may guess at your meaning and understand it incorrectly. At the same time, it will help people who are interested in learning your native language, so the task of correcting your work can be of benefit to them.

Also, review your writing once or twice and correct any obvious errors before posting. A common mistake learners make is typing the wrong character for a word. It’s especially easy to do, but if you double check and correct these errors, it’ll save time for the person correcting your work, so they can focus on the more serious mistakes. As a result, your corrections will be of higher quality.

When anyone corrects your writing, always thank them. If possible, return the favor and correct their writing. Although it may be difficult to correct everyone’s writing, you can at the least correct one or two posts.

The way Lang-8 works is the more posts you correct, the more points you get, which helps increase your ranking and places your posts near the top of the list. When you rank near the top, more people see your posts, and you get more corrections. This provides an incentive for people to help others.

It’s always good to have more people correcting your work because you can see multiple corrections and determine if the differences are stylistic or otherwise. Multiple corrections that are the same help confirm the error. But, if there are differences, then it may suggest stylistic preferences, or multiple ways of expressing the same meaning. Seeing these variations can help you learn different ways to write in a more clear and accurate manner.

Another reason to have more people correcting your work is because some people will explain their changes. This can be very helpful to know the reason for your mistakes, which will help you avoid making them in the future. Whenever you find an explanation helpful, add it to your “notebook” on Lang-8. This feature of the website allows you to collect helpful notes for later reference.

Lang-8 Correction

Use the “Quote” link to ask a question about a specific correction. Click the Notebook icon to save helpful explanations for later reference.

If there’s a change made by a Lang-8 member that you’re unclear about, you can ask him or her. Lang-8 provides a “Quote” link next to each corrected sentence. Click on this link to quote the change directly and type your question. This is a nice feature of the website that helps users save time and makes it easier to ask questions.

How to Make Writing Chinese a Habit

Hopefully these basic tips will help you get started with writing Chinese and get helpful corrections from native speakers on Lang-8. If you’re serious about improving your Chinese, then make it a challenge: post a short piece of writing every day for a month. Review all corrections and make note of any common errors you make. Periodically review all your mistakes and make sure you understand why they were wrong. A weekly review can help you avoid making the same mistakes again and over time help improve your writing ability.

By creating a habit of writing in Chinese and learning from your mistakes, you’ll begin to get a sense of how to write properly. In the beginning, you might think in your native language first and then translate it to Chinese, but this approach doesn’t always work because some expressions don’t have a direct translation. If you do try translating it, then you can end up with odd sentences that make little sense. The only way to avoid this is to think in Chinese and not in your native language. You may find this difficult if you’re not familiar with certain expressions in the language. But, the more you write in Chinese, the more you’ll be able to think in Chinese, and before you know it, you’ll be communicating like a native speaker!

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