How important is writing, really? My decision not to learn to write Chinese characters

It wasn’t until I moved to China that I even considered I could ignore the writing side of Chinese.  My initial plan was just to learn Chinese, and that meant all four cores of the language – reading, writing, listening and speaking.  After all, that’s the way it is with most foreign languages.

But then I found out my classmate in Yangshuo wasn’t bothering to learn writing at all.  How can that be? I thought.  How can you learn a language without writing it? Turns out, you can still learn it more or less fine. When living in China, your most important skills by far are listening, speaking and reading.  And in this age in which we live, most people type Chinese (whether it be on the computer or on the phone), and to type Chinese all you need to know is pinyin and recognising the characters.  After all, how often do I even have to write English by hand these days?  Pretty rarely, and usually no more than a few words.  Writing Chinese is so difficult – even native Chinese people, including my Chinese teacher, frequently have to look up how to write some words.

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Studying towards the HSK test

The thing about the HSK tests is, they’re kinda easy.  Or, at least, your level does not need to be anywhere near as good as the test descriptions would lead you to believe.  For example, the official website says:

Test takers who are able to pass the HSK (Level V) can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, enjoy Chinese films and plays and give a full-length speech in Chinese.

I’ve passed this level, and cannot read Chinese newspapers and magazines, and struggle to enjoy Chinese films and plays (I’m guessing it doesn’t count if you do these things extremely slowly and have to consult your dictionary every few seconds).

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