When I completed the written section of the French DELF exam a few years ago, one of the things that struck me was how rarely I even did that much handwriting in one sitting, even in English (i.e. an in-class written essay). My hand/wrist ended up feeling sore, and I left thinking that the next time I prepared to write the test, I should take some time beforehand to simply practice writing by hand more often. Around the same time, I heard a story about Hunter S. Thompson who, early in his career, sat down and re-typed one of the great American novels, The Great Gatsby; supposedly, he did it because he wanted to experience what it would be like to have the words of a classic novel flow through his fingertips….
Putting these two thoughts together, I’m find that it’s equally helpful for me to regularly “go through the motions” of practicing writing or typing the languages I study. If you’re learning a language that uses a different alphabet, I think regular handwriting practice is essential. As a beginner, it’s often hard to come up with your own prose to put to paper, so one strategy I’ve used is to copy/paste text into a document, enlarge the font, and print out a DYI tracing sheet so I can practice tracing.
After all of the characters in a set become familiar, I also like typing in Chinese, simply because entering the phonetic pinyin into the keyboard is a good ‘check’ of whether I can read everything in a passage. Going back to the idea of a language test, it’s worth noting that I was a bit confused the last time I took the HSK Mandarin test, because the computer-based platform they used (you do it online in a supervised computer lab in your city) employed a different system for inputting Chinese characters. I could still use the system, but it was clunky for me, so I’ll have to plan for that next time.
All that to say that typing or general keyboarding practice is something that may not appear as something worth your time, but I find it’s a compact exercise that I can do in just a few minutes. I’m not suggesting this is as an ‘all encompassing’ approach to language learning, but it’s something else to have in our tool belt.
I’ve been working on speaking the passage for the video in this post for awhile; however, a couple of weeks ago I put together a draft of writing/speaking the same passage. Since doing that, it’s become something I can doodle if I have a piece of paper. As I get more comfortable speaking the passage, I can pay more attention to the rhythm and intonation, and how I might use them in other contexts; similarly, as I get more familiar with the sentence patterns and subtle details of the characters, they start to stick in my head and become easier to recognize, and possibly use in other situations. Today’s video is v1.1– I’ll probably keep at it through a few iterations before moving on to something else.
The trick is settling on passages that speak to you for whatever reason– it might be a scene in a movie that makes you laugh; a sports commentator; the person doing the weather on TV; a comedian— it’s really up to you.