Typos, Be Gone!
by Chou Sing Chu Foundation
Typos, short for typographical errors, refer to mistakes in writing or printing words. For writing Chinese words, it also refers to the wrong combination of characters. Chinese words have evolved through millennia to produce unique scripts like the Seal, Cursive, and Regular, and coupled with the cultural nuances that have evolved in the various locations independently over time, the modern Chinese language has taken on a different level of sophistication. In this modern globalised world without rigid cultural borders, learning Chinese words is a challenge that goes beyond the differentiation between the “traditional” and “simplified” scripts. Writing without typographical errors, therefore, is fundamental in stepping into the world of Chinese words.
Telling the Words Apart
Just like the famous idiom describing the ancient Chinese tale where the imperial invigilator mistakes the candidate Feng Jing (“冯京”) for Ma Liang (“马凉”), the placement of the radicals in Chinese words makes a huge difference that not only confuses, but also creates embarrassing moments.
The common typos in Chinese writing can be grouped into two general categories: First, adding strokes to or omitting strokes from the words. For example, writing “歩” instead of “步”, which is similar to misspelling “welcome” as “wellcome” in English. Second, the inaccurate use of words that do not reflect the intended meaning. For example, writing “班马” instead of “斑马” is comparable to the misspelling of “soup” as “soap” in English.
When students lose points in examinations due to typos despite doing well in the other sections like comprehension and composition, it is demoralising as it feels like a waste of their hard work. For example, using the incorrect radical for “听说’读’写” by writing “听说’渎’写” produces an entirely different meaning.
Learning Through Life
Typos are usually caused by a lack of understanding of Chinese words, or confusing similar-looking words. Through the following two steps, it is entirely possible to strengthen one’s vocabulary and improve one’s ability to identify similar-looking Chinese words at the same time.
(1) Read More, Learn More!
Chinese words started off as pictographs, using stylised pictures to express the meaning of each word. Understanding the interesting anecdote behind the formation and evolution of every Chinese word can help us to learn better through association. Once familiar with the “look” of the Chinese word and understanding its proper usage, getting it wrong will be history.
In our everyday life, we may come across many typos in magazines, advertisements, and signboards, amongst others. These errors are actually our “language teachers” outside of school!
(2) Write More, Practise More!
In this day and age, we rely on various language apps in our computers and smartphones, but this reliance has inevitably affected our ability to differentiate Chinese words. Students are still required to write their answers in their examinations, and forgetting how to write certain Chinese words can definitely affect their morale, as well as their interest in learning the Chinese language.
In fact, there is nothing to be afraid of! All that is required is to write more and practise more! Make it a daily habit to copy a paragraph of Chinese text, or do the exercises in Practising Your Way to an A diligently. Get your hands moving, and your brain will follow suit. Then, you can bid farewell to the typos!