Taking a cue from the U.S., China's state-run CCTV has started hosting spelling bees. Sounds fun, right? Except they've started to find that Chinese kids and adults are actually pretty bad at recalling how to write in Chinese.
Seventy percent of teenage spelling bee contestants and 90 percent of adults in the audience couldn't remember how to write "toad," a common character, Want China Times reports.
Chinese people have long noticed the effects of technology on their writing, as University of Pennsylvania language researcher Victor Mair blogged in 2010. It's always been difficult even for highly educated adults to recall how to write certain Chinese characters, but typing and texting undermine the daily practice that helped them keep up. (Whether remembering fewer characters is a cultural tragedy or just natural progress is up for debate.)
Nearly all Chinese typing and texting programs ask users to type the pinyin—China's standard Romanization system—for the character they want. The program then offers a list of possible characters for that Romanization and you select the correct one. It's much easier to recognize a character from a short list than to recall every small stroke that goes into writing it. Some programs do exist that ask users to begin sketching characters, which could help people better recall the correct pen strokes, but those are rare.
Last year, a team of linguists studied Chinese schoolchildren and found that 28 percent were severely behind in reading, an increase from single-digit percentages in the 1990s. Those kids who typed the most often were more likely to be behind in reading in school.
Maybe if spelling bees catch on, kids will get excited about remembering more characters. Meanwhile, last winter, when I talked with the research team that studied schoolkids, lead scientist Li-Hai Tan suggested kids don't learn pinyin-based typing until they're past elementary school.
Maybe if the title said, "Students in China" instead of Chinese Kids. When the headline says Chinese Kids are bad at something, it sounds like you are making a racial generalization about a segment of American Kids.
Otherwise, fascinating story. I think this fairly implies we could witness the evolution of a written language, or death of that language, in our lifetime. Interesting.
2x on the headline, but PopSci headlines often leave something to be desired.
As for the topic, maybe things are getting worse, but you have to realize that there are THOUSANDS of Chinese characters -- even in the "simplified Chinese". (From what I understand a PRC program to help with illiteracy). So, the spelling bee is fairly daunting.
Technology is just giving people a productivity boost, but at the cost of losing their pre-technology skills. The Chinese writing system does look like it is not very efficient and needs to be made more user-friendly. It reminds me of the system of western music notation, which is horribly inefficient.
I agree with HBillyRufus. However, the English spelling system with errors in 4200 words out of the 7000 most common words (according to Masha Bell's research) is a very inefficient system too. The English spelling system is completely flawed and a more regularized (phonemic) form needs to be introduced in a phased-in method (so at to not disrupt literate people) in schools starting in 2020, for "reading" 20/20! Spelling bees are sponsored by companies that have a vested interest in keeping the status quo, keeping all of those errors, not improving things. Who would buy a car that has 4200 faulty parts out of 7000 and blame the owner of the car of lousy driving (learner) and the mechanics (teachers) for lousy maintenance! It is high time the public wakes up and demand PROGRESS where it is due. Much more info at www.reforming-english.blogspot.ca/
"It reminds me of the system of western music notation, which is horribly inefficient." Please explain
Cursive handwriting is already a dead language in the US.