But there are thousands of homophones in Chinese!

Sorry, another myth. If you look at a dictionary arranged by Pinyin and tones without regard to characters, so that you’re only seeing the “spoken” language rather than characters, you’ll soon find that there are very, very few homophones in Chinese in terms of words (not individual syllables).  Language is about words, not characters. Characters are literacy. There was language long before people wrote it down, and people can communicate just fine without any reference to the written characters. There just aren’t many homophones, and the ones that do exist are mostly so different in meaning that there would never realistically be confusion. (Sadly, 買 and 賣 are the glaring exception, and are very high frequency vocabulary as well…)

When I first started learning Chinese, I found it easier to deal with characters than spoken language as well. Of course, I suspect that was because I wasn’t getting enough unpredictable repetition on the oral language items, since I was being taught in a very traditional way. Since I was a good test-taker and studied a lot, I could memorize the characters and do well on quizzes.

If you have enough repetition on new items so that they are acquired, they will “pop out” at you like the word “laowai” across a crowded restaurant. :D

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