Monday, November 9, 2009

Learning to Read Chinese (3 months!) [pant pant]

Nearly there. Finished off today at 1278 characters - which is over 85% of book 1 completed!

This is an update on my experiment to learn to read Chinese. You can also read my original post on this topic, or check out all other posts on my experiment. After a bit of research I settled on Heisig's "Remembering the Simplified Hanzi" method - which is progressing really well.

I must admit, though, it's going slower than I would like. On paper it looks quite good - having learned 278 characters in just 9 days - which is over 30 a day for about a week. But it feels like I'm wading through treacle.

The stretch from 1000-1100 was relatively easy - the words felt concrete, lots of nouns, easy to create images. And while 1100-1278 wasn't that bad, now that I'm this far advanced I'm having to spend a solid chunk of time revising, and coming across more & more words which have similar keywords to previous characters I've learned. So it's taking quite a bit more effort, but I'm getting there.

And I'm still enjoying it!

As I've previously observed, although Heisig doesn't teach the pinyin, I already know quite a lot of words from podcasts & flashcards. And so, with little effort, I'm learning the pinyin along the way. By accident.

For example, I've [verbally] known the word "yǒu​ xiàn" for ages, but couldn't write it, and only sometimes could remember how to read it. When I discovered (Heisig #1151) that 限 means "limit" - all the pieces just fell into place.  有限 --> "has limit" --> finite.  And I now also know the pinyin for 限.

This kind of thing has been happening plenty along the way.

So, I'm into my last stretch. Just more than 200 to go ... maybe I'll try get it done by the end of next weekend?

Please do me a favour ... start putting the champagne on ice.  (You can do this 'virtually' by leaving me a comment below ... thanks :-)


  1. Hello,
    I just wanted to say I've been following your blog for a few months now. I've been interested in trying to learn to read & write but haven't found anything to get me started.

    I decided to follow your advice and I downloaded the first 6 chapters and I've really enjoyed it. I also ordered the book and it should come tomorrow. In addition, I signed up over at The books are on the site. So far it says I have "learned" 50 characters.

    Anyway, thanks for your blog and for the inspiration.


  2. Hey James - well done on getting going on this. I think you're going to have a great time as you watch your progress.

    Am pleased to have you following Mandarin Segments - and I look forward to more comments from you. Let us know how you're progressing!

    What do you mean "the books are on the site"? You can learn the Heisig-method through skritter?

  3. Thanks Greg. I hope to keep it going. Yes, you should check it out over at skritter. I'm using the traditional book but they also have the simplified one. You can go in and select all or part of the book. I went in and selected the first few stories and then sat back with the book and started writing. It really gets the characters in your head.


  4. Will go check it out - thanks for the heads-up.

  5. Hi Greg

    Great blog and great site. I've been following your posts since you first started (with Heisig).

    I've been closely following your progress with my own, although like yourself, I have work constraints that make it difficult to progress as fast as I'd like.

    I'm up to 838 characters in the traditional hanzi book, and have maintained an average of 15 characters per day since I began.

    At my current pace, I'm set to finish on the 23rd of December, perhaps a month after you, but still prior to the release of book 2.

    After this long-winded post, my question boils down to... are you intending to wait for book 2 to continue or will you look at other avenues to continue character study?

    (as a heads up, the latest I've heard is we shouldn't even start looking for book 2 until mid-january.)

    Once again, thanks for a great blog.


  6. In reply to you Luke, I wrote to Heisig recently and have been told Richardson has not finished his part of the second RSH book yet, when he does Heisig still has to finish off the stories.

    I am not sure about the RTH but I am guessing it is a similiar story.

    And Greg... What an achievement. I have had a lot on recently (hence the lack of good posts on my blog) but am trying to get back into the swing of things.

    I have linked to your blog in my latest daily proverb: Superhuman

  7. Luke - well done. 838 characters is awesome. And with an expected finish date of 23 Dec, that's going to be a great Christmas present to yourself.

    Once I've finished Book 1, I'm going to take some time to get more comfortable with those 1500 characters. I would rather push my retention rate up than learn more characters.

    I certainly won't be using any methods other than Heisig - it is fantastic, and I don't want to start creating images that might contradict with the imagary that will be provided in Book 2. So I'll bide my time, carry on struggling my way through Chinese comics & basic books (which I bought in Singapore a few weeks ago), BBC Chinese, etc.

    I guess I'll know when I'm ready for Book 2. "When the student is ready ..."

    And thanks for dropping by. If you've got any tricks or suggestions, you're welcome to leave a comment on my earlier post on visualisation techniques.

  8. Charlie - good to hear from you. I know your frustration when silly things (like work) get in the way of the interesting things (like Mandarin :-)

    And I'm flattered by the reference to Superhuman - thanks. To be fair though, the only difference between me and many others is that I spend half an hour idea learning characters, while others read the paper, or fiction. (I'll get around to that later. In Chinese :-)

  9. In response to your request on the champagne, I have virtually had two bottles to celebrate your progress:-)

    No doubt that you can transfer the remaining 200+ Chinese characters from Heisig book into your own mind. As always, I hope that you fly to Beijing and talk to me in Chinese using the compound words you have already built up along the way!

    Glad that you learned 有限. Even happier to see that you 把有限的生命投入到无限的汉语学习中。