This is a ramble about how I am learning handwriting and drawing after passing my half century mark.
Learning Korean means learning Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Like a kid, I worked with lined paper and practiced my letters. I gained a proficiency at basic letters, but not the elegance of calligraphy. I expanded into learning Hanja, traditional Chinese letters used in Korea. Unlike the simple Hangul, the Chinese letters proved a challenge to even see the letters, let alone write them and remember them.
I suspect that I would learn much faster under the guidance of someone experienced with writing Korean and Chinese letters. My method is hands-on exploration. This has lead me to practicing handwriting in Korean and some Chinese letters, plus exploring Chinese brush painting, Japanese Sumi-e, and sketching.
It all links back to basic skills. I need to be able to hold the brush, move fluidly, and draw lines with confidence.
Why do most lack basic skills in handwriting?
“The majority of adults in the Western World do not progress in art skills much beyond the level of development they reached at age 9 or 10.” – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
When I was in junior high school, it was assumed the skills you would need to succeed in business were stenography and typing on a manual typewriter. Good penmanship was taught along with the alphabet in elementary school, but like art, it was assumed you had learned all there was to know as a child. Most skills develop into adulthood, but drawing and handwriting are not seen as essential. Cursive writing is no longer taught in schools, as computers are assumed to replace the need for handwriting. (This horrifies me!)
As I learn Korean and Chinese writing, I must learn basic skills.
Writing Chinese Letters is Essential
I see the incorporation of learning how to draw letters into the educational curriculum as a glaring difference between American and Chinese education. I understand now why historically, only the Korean noble class could read and write in Chinese, and that writing was not taught until several years of Confucian teachings were first presented. Learning Chinese letters is absorbing concepts of intelligence and culture. To write letters is an essential part of Chinese education.
Hubris to want to write
I humbly acknowledge it is pure hubris on my part to want to know how to write letters before I have learned the Chinese language. I am learning Korean, and Hanja is the Korean adaptation of Chinese symbols that depict not sounds, but ideas. I keep seeing Chinese letters as part of my Korean studies. However, having no frame of reference, my brain couldn’t hold the letters in my brain until I started looking more closely on how to write them down.
Handwriting trains the brain
New research shows How Handwriting Boosts the Brain, explains a Wall Street Journal article. “Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand, researchers say.” Writing it down activates the brain. You interact with the letters. Read more about it in the Educational Summit on Handwriting.
I’ve long known that I think differently when I write by hand than when I type. Knowing how to write in Korean brings me more intimately connected to the language.
Tracing the letters
As I learn the Heart Sutra, I am tracing the letters with an app. It is a first step in my goal of eventually being able to write the Heart Sutra in Chinese. Tracing the letters with my finger is a very calming and meditative practice. “Specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of graphic shapes” confirm researchers. To me, it just feels like Chinese is slowly sinking into my consciousness. I can recognize more Chinese radicals now. Knowing that my app ChineseSkill will ask me to write the character for each word I learn, I pay attention more.
How to get started writing
Hacking Chinese wrote an excellent article How to learn Chinese characters as a Beginner. I appreciated his encouragement “Learning Chinese characters is really hard in the beginning, simply because you have nothing to link the new information to.” Slowly, I begin to recognize the components that make up characters. The more I learn, the easier it is to look at Chinese characters. My brain is learning the symbols of Chinese, and how they can be put together.
Healing regrets, gaining confidence
I’ve had two regrets: that I never learned a language to the point I could speak and that I never learned how to draw. As I realize that I need confidence in writing for the letters to convey my feelings and have “life”, I find I need to go back to the basics of how to hold a brush or pen. I need the confidence that practice will bring. I did not foresee that wanting to have competent handwriting would lead me to doing warm up exercises for drawing and watercolor painting, but I understand now the fine motor skills and calm demeanor that I need to be focused on writing.
I am content that it will probably take me years to learn to write letters beautifully. I reward my letter practice with watercolor or pencil sketches in the margins. I am in no rush. This is a big project I am undertaking. I learn bit by bit.