English spelling vs Hanzi
… he covered himself with his buckler, couched his lance, charged at Rozinante’s full gallop and rammed the first mill in his way. He ran his lance into the sail, but the wind twisted it with such violence that it shivered the spear to pieces, dragging him and his horse after it and rolling him over and over on the ground, sorely damaged.
I love a good tilt at the windmill, and part of me believes in the righteousness of the fight, so I keep reading, even though I’m pretty sure I know how it ends. The blog is also fun because nearly every entry could be written practically identically for Hanzi. In fact, just for kicks, here’s her latest entry with a few substitutions:
It is not only teachers of English Mandarin who have to help students to learn to spell write characters. Spelling inconsistencies add Character writing adds to the work load of all teachers. Teachers of all subjects tend to feel obliged to correct spelling errors character mistakes. Doing so is often school policy. Spelling Character uncertainties regularly disrupt the concentration of students when writing essays or answering questions. The spelling mistakes they commit do the same for teachers. Having to keep stopping to correct spelling errors makes it harder to concentrate on what students have written, in English Mandarin as much as in other subjects.
I hesitate to call the correction of spelling mistakes ‘a waste of time’. For as long as current spelling conventions hanzi remain the accepted norm, schools have to teach them. Parents and employers expect them to do so. What is utterly beyond doubt however is that the vast majority of English spelling Mandarin errors are caused by spelling irregularities*: bed, fed, led – said, head; end, bend, lend – friend; fun, run, sun – one, son, and so on for nearly 4000 words.
Apart from causing spelling errors and adding to teachers’ marking loads, English spelling hanzi inconsistencies also make teaching children to read and write less rewarding. In most other subjects, one of the great joys of teaching is to help children understand something – seeing a light switch on in a child’s brains. Having to force them to learn facts which make no logical sense is more difficult, more frustrating and less rewarding, for pupils and teachers alike. It constantly offers opportunities for failure rather than success.
* I agree, the Mandarin parallel kind of falls apart here. You’d have to change the examples and terminology. Since it’s on my mind today, I nominate 练 vs 炼 for membership to the Unnecessary Distinction in Hanzi category. Both say liàn and both mean, roughly “exercise” — as in 训练，锻炼.
See Randy Alexander’s Yǔwén blog for more details on script-learning by native Mandarin speakers.