Anyone that’s studied Chinese for period of time has come across the learner that one might dub “the anti-character snob.” While striving for oral perfection, the anti-character snob eschews the (admittedly infuriating) world of hanzi and deals solely in pinyin. There are even tales (unconfirmed, as this writer doubts these exist on the mainland) that some institutions offer programs that don’t teach characters, or add them in as a sort of after-thought, like it might someday be useful to be able to know what you’re going to eat at a restaurant before it comes to the table.
Today we’re going to shatter the myth that you don’t need to learn the characters; that it’s good enough to speak. This myth is perpetuated even by the Chinese themselves (“你会说就可以了”, have you heard this sentence from the mouth of a Chinese person before?)
According to the Internet World Stats project, 28.7% of all internet users are English speakers and that this number has increased by over 200% since the start of the 21st century. Those high numbers are to be expected: the internet originated in an English-speaking country and many English-speaking countries have better access to technology than others.
What’s more interesting is that 20.4% of internet users are speakers of Chinese and that in the last 8 years, this number has gone up by nearly 900%! At this rate, Chinese-speaking users of the internet will outnumber English-speaking ones in the near future.
There’s news for the anti-character snob crowd: the Internet is here to stay as the medium of world communication. As more and more Chinese-speakers use the internet, more and more information will be stored in Chinese characters on it, and some portion of it will be useful. The speed limit on the information superhighway might seem a bit too fast for you if you can’t manage to pump out a few characters into the Chinese-language dominated search engines of the future.
Alright, so there is some exaggeration. English probably isn’t on the way out despite a decrease in the number of native speakers. Also, we should also look at the language of the internet’s content, rather than simply what language the users speak. But at least one would hope a few stubborn anti-character snobs can be converted and made to see the future (as written in Chinese characters).
[Author’s note: I possess no ill-will towards anti-character snobs. If you’re offended, just break out your 幽默感 and laugh a bit.]