The different ways of using languages

sailor (Ocean & Mountain)

Many westerners don't realize that the Chinese language has a very unique feature regarding the spoken part and the written part. 

For the spoken part, the Chinese language is actually a language family. This family consists of dozens of spoken languages. Examples of them are Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka. Many of these languages could not be understood by each other. For example, Mandarin speakers don't understand Cantonese, they would have oral communication difficulty if they visit a Cantonese town. The distance between two spoken Chinese languages could be as far as that of English and Spanish.

However, for the written part, all spoken Chinese languages share only one set of written system. There is only one written Chinese language. All Chinese language speakers are able to recognize and understand this written language. In the same example, Cantonese speakers can communicate with Mandarin speakers using pen and paper without any problem.

How could this be true? The reason is very simple: The written Chinese language represents meanings, not sounds. A character has its fixed meaning, but has different sounds depending on the spoken languages. We recognize and remember characters by their shapes, not their sounds.

This means we actually use Chinese more in a written way, and less in a spoken way. It may be OK when we learn and use Chinese. But when it comes to learning and using other languages such as English, the situation becomes very different.

Many Chinese, especially those who know two or more spoken Chinese languages, tend not to read out loud when they are reading. This habit actually becomes an issue when they learn English. Because English is a language representing sounds. If we don't read out loud, we would not be able to remember it easily.

In conclusion, as native Chinese speakers, we should be mindful to practise reading out loud in English more often.

2016-3-21 -05:00
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