Writing “biang”

My daughter has just finished first grade in a Chinese elementary school. I’ve been absolutely blown away by how many characters she has learned in her first year (that’s a topic of an upcoming post).

Just the other day, we were having a conversation (mostly in English) about what characters we thought were “hard.” It was interesting getting her perspective, because it was totally different from mine. We didn’t agree at all on which ones were “hard.”

That’s when I brought up the (non-standard) Chinese character “biáng,” a ridiculously complex character used only to write “biángbiáng ” (a kind of noodle). Anyway, she loved it, and after writing it a few times, can now write it from memory, and it actually looks pretty good.

Please excuse the “proud dad” nature of this post… I’m actually more blown away than straight-up proud. No one even encouraged her to learn to write this character. But here’s her writing the character from memory (bad video quality… sorry):

And here’s the finished product, after she added a bit of extra text to the top and bottom:

biang

42个笔画

[biáng]

好难啊!

Note: computers cannot display this Chinese character. It’s often written in pinyin, and even when it appears on menus in China, it’s either handwritten or some weird mismatched pasted-on character.

And yes, my 7-year-old’s Chinese handwriting is already better than mine. It only took one year.

Lesson learned: a lot can be learned in one year. Adults may not typically be able to learn like children, but it’s still inspiring to see what’s possible!

P.S. And no, the syllable “biang” is not even on most pinyin charts. Obscure character, obscure syllable!

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Very cool!

  2. Any thoughts on the difference between learning characters from how non-native speakers do it vs Chinese learners?

    I’m curious because I’ve spent several years learning Chinese now, but my handwriting is still incredibly basic. Do you think the Chinese system for teaching characters (assuming an ability to speak the words involved) is good? Or does it simply work because of the sheer amount of effort invested?

    I’m able to copy and 打字 but my handwriting from memory is atrocious.

    • So many thoughts… I will get into this in more detail in my follow-up post.

      To briefly answer your question, though: no, I don’t think the system is especially “good,” but it does work within its own context.

  3. Julie Rodrigue Says: June 27, 2019 at 3:18 am

    WOW ! Amazing!!

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