Learn the characters first? or speaking first?

Peng   Saturday, July 12, 2003, 02:38 GMT
I am from Taiwan.Now,I am living in America and working in Mexico near the border(So,everyday I go abroad to work! :))

As I realized the most typical way to learn a foreign language is to learn
the characters word by word ,then the whole sentence.But you may be reminded the natural way how we learned our language when we were children.So,the way we were learning a language maybe violate our instinct.

At first,I think it's difficult for a foreigner to learn Mandarin,especially learn Chinese characters.However,the most impossible thing is that a foreigner can speak Mandarin fluently without learning Chinese characters .But I've changed my mind since I heard an officer in American Embassy talking in fluent Mandarin with a native speaker ,like " I could fully understand your words,but I can't verify(understand) your documentation"
You maybe think the officer speak better than read .It's nothing especial!
But,have you guys even done this way?learn a second language and end up speaking better than reading?
Ryan   Saturday, July 12, 2003, 18:26 GMT
Peng, the normal "western" way to learn Chinese is to learn it with "Romanized" letters. I think that people do not learn how to "read" Chinese until a couple of years later after learning to speak it. Westerners find non-phonetic characters cumbersome and inconvenient, although Chinese is convenient because it lets people who speak basically different languages in China to be able to read the same writing. Even many Japanese can read Chinese and understand it although they could not speak a word of Chinese to you unless they took classes in it.

Guofei Ma   Saturday, July 12, 2003, 20:22 GMT
In the People's Republic of China, most schoolchildren learn Mandarin phonetics using "Romanised" Pinyin (e.g. xúexìao= school) instead of the traditional Zhuyin learnt by students in Taiwan. I once saw a mainland boy write Romanised Pinyin in his diary when he didn't know the Chinese character for the word he had in mind.
Jim   Monday, July 14, 2003, 01:33 GMT
Learning Chinese characters is a daunting task. I know about a hundred or so but the thing is that they are not phonetic so they aren't much use when your trying to memorise the pronunciation.

If the script is phonetic, my advice would be to learn the characters first. Whenever you write words in that language use the script of that language and never romanise (unless you are constrained by something like time or medium).

When I started learning Japanese this is what I did. It's a method that's worked well. You want to be able to read and write. You want to be able to pronounce things correctly. Roman letters can just get in the way.

Chinese characters, on the other hand, are a different story all together. They are no guide to pronunciation. If I were learning Chinese I think I'd use Roman letters to study the pronunciation. I suppose I'd use Pinyin ... or maybe I'd invent my own spelling.

I'd make a stab at learning (more) Chinese characters but I think I'd be more concerned, at first, with listening and speaking. Chinese characters aren't a lot of help when it comes to listening and speaking.