Do I need to learn Chinese characters?
The short answer is YES!
If you ever want to be more than a beginner who “speaks a little bit of Chinese” then you should learn Chinese characters.
Why Learn Chinese Characters?
First of all, Pinyin did not even exist several decades ago! If you don’t know, Pinyin is how is the romanization of the pronunciation of Chinese characters and how many people use English to learn Chinese.
Native speakers of Chinese do not use Pinyin in any newspaper or books (except for really young children who have not yet learned the characters!). So any real use of Chinese outside of textbooks will NOT have pinyin to help you. Even textbooks for advanced learners shouldn’t have pinyin included unless necessary.
Note: Of course, pinyin is all available in all textbooks designed for beginner and intermediate levels. However, as the proficiency/pedagogical levels increase, some materials do remove the Pinyin part.
Learning Chinese characters to meet your Chinese language goals
Think about how learning Chinese characters relate to your Chinese learning goals. If your goal of learning Mandarin is to be able to communicate with Chinese people confidently and fluently for work or to live in the Chinese-speaking environment, then an advanced level of proficiency has to be reached. To achieve that, plenty of authentic materials have to be used and Pinyin will not be included in such materials.
What about taking the HSK? If taking the HSK Test is also one of your goals, you should definitely learn to read characters. There are 6 levels in the test and Pinyin is dropped starting from HSK 3. In other words, you will never be able to go beyond HSK 2-if you do not know any characters. That is, your language proficiency will stay as “beginner” if assessed by the official test. Undoubtedly, one can work on his/her speaking ability without the help of characters and one’s oral proficiency can be much higher than his/her reading/writing one. But if you would like to develop your language proficiency in a more balanced way, ignoring the characters is absolutely not a wise choice.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, it actually depends on your goal and reasons for learning the language. If you do not mind keeping your Chinese ability at the beginner level forever, that might not be a problem.:P
We hope you enjoyed learning Chinese characters. If your goal of learning Mandarin is to be able to communicate with Chinese people confidently and fluently for work or to live in the Chinese-speaking environment. Try out your Chinese with a professional Chinese tutor with a free trial class. Sign up today!