Which is easier? Traditional or simplified characters? | 繁簡迷思:究竟繁體還是簡體字較容易學習呢?

An interesting question, but one that is potentially politically sensitive, is the following: Which is easier (or harder) to learn? Simplified or traditional characters? Simplified characters are taught in Mainland China and Singapore, whereas traditional characters are taught in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Traditional characters were simplified over a period of time in the mid-1950s. Of the most common 2000 or so characters in use, about 50% are the same and 50% are different in look between simplified and traditional. Simplified characters have on average about 20% fewer strokes than traditional ones.


O.k., but so which is easier? The data so far suggests to us that it is easier for beginners to learn to read traditional characters but to write simplified ones. Traditional characters have more visual features that help to distinguish them for beginning learners. More features help them to stand out. It's almost similar to looking at different drawings of 2-dimensional objects such as faces. A face with a mustache, glasses, and an earring will be easier to distinguish from one that is plain just because there are more features that you might notice as you look at it quickly. Simplified characters have fewer such features, and this may make them more difficult to distinguish for those who are just learning Chinese. An interesting ERP study carried out by William Wang and James Minnett that compared college students from the Mainland as compared to Hong Kong found that when characters were presented very quickly in time, even before conscious processing had occurred, Mainland Chinese tended to show changes in the brain that indicated that they detected a change when the characters had been altered by either adding or deleting a stroke from each real character. In contrast, when exposed to the same stimuli, Hong Kong Chinese students did not show the same pattern; their brains did not seem to "notice" small alterations in characters. These findings were true when these students were exposed to the exact same characters (i.e., ones that are the same for traditional and simplified script). These results and some that were similar in a behavioral study carried out by our lab on children suggest that those learning to read simplified characters may learn to process them by focusing more on each individual stroke whereas those learning to read traditional characters may focus more on distinguishing characters holistically.


On the other hand, beginners also appreciate the ease with which simplified characters are written, as compared to the more cumbersome numbers of strokes required to write traditional characters.


So the answer to this basic question of which script is easier is fairly balanced: Compared to traditional script, simplified script is easier to write but more difficult to read for beginners. Both scripts have advantages and disadvantages.


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這也許是個有趣但富政治敏感性的研究題目。華人社會中,使用簡體字的地方包括中國大陸及新加坡;使用繁體字的包括香港及台灣。正體漢字(繁體字)於五十年代中進行簡化。在2000隻常用漢字中,被簡化的文字大概佔50%。籠統來說,簡體字比原有文字大概少20%筆劃。

究竟繁體還是簡體字較容易學習呢?過往研究顯示,繁體字有助初學者學習閱讀中文,而簡體字則有助初學習學習書寫。繁體字的字形較簡體字的複雜。相比之下,繁體字包含更多視覺特徵(visual feature)讓初學者更容易辨別文字。就像辨別肖像畫一樣,視覺特徵(例如鬍子,眼鏡,耳環等)能協助我們辨別肖像,辨別文字的過程也一樣。因簡體字的視覺特徵較繁體字少,中文初學者會發現辨別簡體字比辨別繁體字困難。一個由William Wang 及James Minett 領導的腦電波誘發電位(ERP)研究顯示-內地大學生生比起香港本地生更能察覺漢字字型中微小的變化(例如多或少了一劃)。測試過程中,研究人員會向參與者以快於意識加工(conscious processing)的速度展示漢字。內地生的腦電波會因微少的字型變化而有所改變,香港學生的腦電波則沒有――就像察覺不了任何轉變一樣。我們亦針對兒童做過類似研究,結果亦然。由此可見,慣用簡體字的人較著重以筆畫分析文字,而慣用繁體字的人則會以整體字型來分析文字。

綜合而言,字形簡單的簡體字有助初學者學習書寫;富視覺特徵的繁體字則有助初學者學習閱讀。因此,繁簡體對漢語學習可以說是各有益處。

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