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Advice for memorizing Chinese characters

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kevin_zhongguo
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United States
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1 posts - 1 votes
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 1 of 11
03 March 2009 at 8:15pm | IP Logged 
Hello everyone, and Dr. Arguelles.

First off, I admire your work, and the fact that you have been kind enough to share all of your advice to this large community. I would an honor if you would take the time to answer a couple of questions I have, and I will try to be as detailed as I can about myself.

I am 16 years old, I am homeschooled and take the classes online. I am a native Spanish speaker, from Puerto Rico, and I am also a native speaker of English, as I was brought up with both at the same time. Since I was 14, I have been trying to learn a third language, which is Mandarin Chinese. At first, I started by myself, using the tools I could find on the net. At that time, I was able to read pinyin fairly easy. And basic expressions. For the past year and a half, I have been taking Chinese classes with my homeschooling class providers. There has been some success, but in my opinion the courses are very classroom-ish, not mush grammar comprehension, etc. My goal is to be very well-versed in Mandarin Chinese by the time I am 20 years old. My pronunciation is pretty fair, and I can read sentences of vocabulary that I know with ease. However, my problem is the characters. I have a very hard time memorizing characters, and in reality all I end up learning is the pinyin, which is not what I want at all. So my questions are:

1) How should I tackle my character problem?

2) With a limited budget, and a Chinese class that is far from fair, what can I do to learn it on my own?

3) And last but not least, how much time a day and week should I use to study Mandarin? I have everyday to study, at least for now, I don't know what the future will entail.

I would really appreciate a response, and if anybody needs any more details, plus ask!
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 2 of 11
05 March 2009 at 7:53pm | IP Logged 
I firmly believe that the best way to learn characters is to write them out by hand using the same large square graph paper that East Asian children use when they are learning them. You can start with individual characters from some sort of a book for the most common several thousand, but with your background you can soon graduate to writing full sentences or text passages. There is no need for this to cost you very much money if you have access to a decent library. As for the time commitment, well, you must write several pages a day, each and every single day. I do not know how many hours a day or a week that will total, but to make serious progress in a language like Chinese you should probably manage at least an hour a day, every day. If you can budget even more, you will obviously learn more and faster.

Alexander Arguelles
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Sprachprofi
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Speaks: German*, English, French, Esperanto, Greek, Mandarin, Latin, Dutch, Italian
Studies: Spanish, Arabic (Written), Swahili, Indonesian, Japanese, Modern Hebrew, Portuguese

 
 Message 3 of 11
05 March 2009 at 9:49pm | IP Logged 
May I add my two cents?

If you find it difficult to remember characters, especially after a few weeks, maybe your mind is seeing them as a series of almost-random strokes. Seeing them from a philosophical or historical point of view will help you remember them if you have an analytical mindset. Instead of 5000+ shapes, you only have to remember a maximum of 500, and the rest are combinations that you'll soon find logical. Get a book explaining the etymology of characters like "Cracking the Chinese puzzles", or at least one that dissects characters for easier memorization like "Learning Chinese characters", and see if that works out for you. I've tried both approaches for 6 weeks each and that one just performed a lot better.

EDIT: I believe it may be an issue of a) learning types and b) how often you are using the characters after having learnt them. My hand remembers how to write a lot of very common characters like 我 and 你 instinctively, and after those 6 weeks of writing characters over and over there were a lot more characters that I could remember like this, but after a couple months of dedicating myself to my university studies and hardly getting any Chinese study in, a lot of them paled in my memory. I can still call them up by thinking of the make-up though, so for me that method is more useful for long-term memorization. Anyway that's my explanation for why Chinese children etc. seem to fare disproportionately well with the writing-over-and-over method (as compared to foreign students) - Chinese people will have the chance to use the characters every day for the rest of their lives, while I only have a limited amount of time to dedicate to Chinese and I don't live in a Chinese environment.

Judith Meyer

Edited by Sprachprofi on 06 March 2009 at 2:04am

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ChristopherB
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 Message 4 of 11
06 March 2009 at 1:57am | IP Logged 
I might add another suggestion, namely to acquire a spaced-repetition system (SRS) like Anki. I cannot imagine learning Chinese characters any other way as effectively and quickly. The truly great thing about SRS is that your cards are prioritised according to your ease in recalling them, so you end up focusing on cards you do not know well (or keep forgetting) while the cards you do know well will still pop up again, but after longer intervals so you are always able to review every character you have studied without neglecting them. This is especially important when you start getting into quadrupal figures, since reviewing thousands of characters would obviously otherwise be extremely impractical.

My method is essentially the same as that of Khatzumoto (who claims to have reached a near-native level of Japanese in 18 months). Basically, I have Anki show me the keyword(s) that relate to a certain character and my goal is to produce the character by hand. I then rank my ability to produce it from 0 to 4. The ones that receive a 4 initially appear a week later, then if I am able to recall it with the same ease, it appears two weeks later, and then three and so on. The lower you rank a card, the sooner it appears. I myself have managed to acquire around 600 since last November doing this, most of which are ingrained in my mind like white on rice.

This is Khatzumoto's explanation:
http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/how-to-learn-kanji -using-an-srs

Christopher Button

Edited by ChristopherB on 06 March 2009 at 2:00am

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kevin_zhong
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United States
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4 posts - 4 votes
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 5 of 11
06 March 2009 at 3:49am | IP Logged 
To Professor Arguelles and others,

Thanks for replying. Prof. Arguelles, I think 1 hour a day is pretty manageable. When you say pages, do you mean like 2-3 pages per character?

Sprachprofi, I have some knowledge of radicals etc., so I don't see a mess in every character, rather I try to find parts of it that are familiar.

ChristopherB, actually, I do use Anki. I got to Prof. Arguelles website because someone posted it in the Anki Google Forum. :-) I will take a look at Khatzumoto's explanation.
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ChristopherB
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 Message 6 of 11
06 March 2009 at 6:25am | IP Logged 
Also, for where to actually get the characters, Cracking the Chinese Puzzles is a really fantastic method for the reasons "Sprachprofi" points out - the characters are exhaustively explained by means of etymology (word origin) and arranged either thematically according to function or by radical (ie. water). It is unfortunately quite difficult to get a hold of (I have the abridged version which, although it contains just under 6000 characters, only explains 3650), and so a more easily obtainable method might be James Heisig's fairly recent Remebering the Hanzi which is currently only available as first volumes for both traditional and simplified.

Christopher Button
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ProfArguelles
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 Message 7 of 11
06 March 2009 at 7:41pm | IP Logged 
No I most emphatically do not mean writing 2 or 3 pages of any given character over and over again.

If you are working on roots or radicals or something like the 500 most common characters, then you might want to try establishing some sort of pattern, e.g.,
write the first 10, then
write the first 20, then
write the first 30, etc.
When you have written the first 100, then
write 10 - 110, then
write 20 - 120, then
write 30 - 130, etc.
When you have written 100 - 200, then go back and write 1 - 200, then
10 - 210 etc., etc., etc.

After you have about 500 down cold, then it is preferable to begin writing sentences or text passages rather than continuing with individual characters.

Alexander Arguelles
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jeff_lindqvist
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 Message 8 of 11
07 March 2009 at 2:38am | IP Logged 
If I might add my two cents, I got inspired by your scriptorium method and decided to give it a try.

I quote myself (from Specific type of Chinese character book, 2008 22 October):

Quote:
I use "Writing Chinese" together with the volumes 1 and 2 of "Chinese with Ease". My current method is to write out the characters for a lesson 15-16 times (depending how much room there is on the line), then I go to the actual lesson and copy everything: lesson number, header (if any), each line of the dialogue, the exercises and fill-in-the-blanks (in characters instead of pinyin). I also say every character/word/phrase loudly - before, during and after, so, pretty close to the scriptorium method so often mentioned by professor Arguelles


I learned much from this method.

Shadowing is more than just listening, reading aloud is more than reading silently, and scriptorium is also more than reading silently (even aloud).

Jeff Lindqvist

Edited by jeff_lindqvist on 07 March 2009 at 7:31pm



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