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Writing wrongs of 'character amnesia'

By Wu Zhi and Liao Jun   (Shanghai Daily)

10:00, December 11, 2012

(Xinhua Photo)

Each time college student Li Beibei can't remember a Chinese character, she uses pinyin to look it up on her mobile. A campaign is underway to address what some call a crisis in the mother tongue, report Wu Zhi and Liao Jun.

A campaign is afoot in Chinese schools to improve children's literacy, as educators have warned that young people are increasingly having problems writing and reading Chinese due to their extensive use of electronic devices. Their learning is also made more difficult because of a general lack of attention to traditional culture.

Since this fall, elementary schools in central China's city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, have required 420,000 students to read classical texts for 20 minutes every morning and practice writing Chinese characters for 20 minutes each afternoon.

The "Get Close to the Mother Tongue" campaign began in the city's Wuchang District in 2010 and attracted the attention of the Ministry of Education earlier this year. Now the ministry plans to roll out similar campaigns elsewhere in the country to counteract a widespread problem sometimes called "character amnesia."

Pinyin, a writing system that transcribes Chinese characters into Latin script, is the most widely used input method for phones, computers and other electronic gadgets. Pinyin only requires users to recognize characters as they are typed using the Latin alphabet; users do not have to write characters out physically.

Children who have been raised with computers and mobile devices have become less reliant on handwriting. As a result, some have trouble writing some of characters, particularly those infrequently used.

Although Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is a well-known figure, few students are able to write the character for chi in his given name. Some students also have difficulty remembering how to write the traditional form of er - meaning "two" - in commercial or financial contexts.

As consoles and iPads replace books, educators worry that children's language skills are becoming feeble.

When writing school essays, some students omit regular characters in favor of symbols and English abbreviations popularly used in web forums and text messaging.

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