Saturday, January 21, 2006

OK, I'm going to stop prattling on about this soon but I guess I have realised a couple of ways that the character system does have an efficiency over an alphabetised system. Though the Japanese, the Taiwanese, the Mandarin and Cantonese speakers all talk a different language, they can all read (less so with Japanese) text that is written in by a speaker of another tongue. The other point is that it's condensed. I suppose this can be compared with writing in high or low base maths. Writing in base two, I only have to know 2 numbers to write anything but a single string can be very long. Writing in a high base means I need to know more numbers and how they fit together but a number is much more compactly written even though the two systems contain the same amount of information. Chinese is a very high base language so consequently you need to remember more to use it but it doesn't take up much space on a page, just more in your brain! I'm still trying to figure out how written language is ordered in the brain of someone who speaks a character language, but that's another story.

I was also clearly generalising when talking about English schools. My experience was that I was taught French from the age of 13 for three years. I never got very good because I was never forced to practice much and three years of non-intensive learning isn't enough for me to learn a language fluently. I never got very good at Russian because I got so tied up with all the grammar that it never became natural. There are schools in England that teach languages from a much younger age and much better than I think I was taught. (The language teaching did suit some people at my school but not me).

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