Until now my focus on learning Chinese has been conversational Mandarin. Since my last trip to China in May, I realised that my next challenge was going to be learning to read Chinese. Properly. Sure, I had picked up, say, 100 characters by then without even trying, but I wanted to be able to read signs, newspapers, etc.
So I've spent a bit of time reading up on various methods of learning to read, and eventually I've chosen one to focus on. In future I will log my efforts and my results.
I don't live in China, so I don't need to be able to read Chinese. This is a personal goal - and I know that life is likely to get in the way, often. If it comes to limited time availability to learn, I'm going to choose conversational Mandarin over reading.
I work really long hours, so I have limited time to learn Chinese. If I progress slower than you think I ought to be progressing, don't let that stress you. If you spend more time than me, and that's your goal, then you'll progress faster than me.
Is this really day zero?
Yes. Well no, not really. These are the reasons why not:
- I already knew about 100 hanzi before I began
- in experimenting with different systems, I learned 94 new hanzi - just to check that I liked the approach
- I will not judge myself by whether I simply know what the word means (for example, 中 is easy), but by whether I know the "story" associated with that character, so that the past doesn't matter
- the approximately 100 characters I knew before I began this experiment are not the first 100 in my book, so it's not really a 'chunk' of advantage
After trying a few methods (I'll write about this in a later post) I decided to learn to read using the approach taught in the book called "Remembering the Hanzi" ("Remembering the Simplified Hanzi 1", actually).
You can see the books' homepage here, and you can download for free the first 61 pages of the (simplified) book here. In summary, though, the key points are as follows:
- it was originally a system for learning Japanese Kanji developed 30 years ago, but was only adapted for Chinese hanzi in 2007
- book 1 covers 1500 hanzi, with another 1500 covered in book 2
- the system does not teach the pinyin of the hanzi (and so you won't know how to pronounce it), it rather teaches a method of association for seeing characters and immediately identifying the meaning
- it starts off creating a 'story' or 'visual image' for basic characters, and then builds these 'pieces' (what the book calls 'primitives') into more complex characters
- when you see a character, your mind splits it into the 'primitives' which make it up, which in turn creates mental images, allowing you to remember the meaning of the character based on the image that pops up
- it is easier than it sounds, and much more effective than it sounds.
Here are affiliated links to the two books on Amazon:
Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters
Remembering Traditional Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters
The next few posts ...
I'll let you digest the content of this post - while I pour myself a glass from a great bottle of South African red wine I opened earlier.
In the next few posts I will talk about the first 5 days where I learned 94 hanzi (with near-perfect recall a week later, with no revision during that follow-up week), I'll mention the other methods I considered before embarking on this, and I'll talk about the little epiphanies I've had since beginning this experiment.
You can take anything you want from this series of posts - just make sure you're subscribed to Mandarin Segments (go to the top-right corner of this page) to watch my struggle.
If you've tried this approach, drop me a comment and let me know how it's gone for you. If you previously decided not to use this method, let me know why.
And if you have some words of encouragement, don't be shy either.