Friday, February 19, 2010

Heisig - wherefore art thou now?

Nearly three months ago, I announced that I had finished working  my way through Heisig's "Book 1" on learning to read & write the first 1500 characters Chinese characters. I just wanted to update you on what I've been doing since them in terms of reading/writing.

Whether you're interested because deep down inside you're a voyeur, or because you're curious what may be in store for you when you finish book 1,  please keep reading ...

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.

The observations are quite simple:
  • I have done almost no revision using the Heisig book (although I did try for the first week after completing the book). I have not used any Heisig flashcards either.
  • I did become increasingly aware, while doing Heisig, of the importance of knowing lots of compound words, and have since put lots of effort into that - instead of revising Heisig.
  • I do try to read some tweets in Chinese, the odd Chinese website, and some Chinese cartoon & children's books I bought a few months ago.
  • Of the 1500 hanzi that I learned, I would guess that I know 500 really well so that I can read them without having to work out what it means, 500 I have to work out using the Heisig image system, and 500 I have probably forgotten and will have to re-learn (although that will be pretty quick I'm sure).
So basically, there has been a "polarisation" of those 1500 characters. Some of the characters have become increasingly firmly embedded, and others have faded away.

Of course I'm disappointed to have forgotten anything at all, but sometimes that's the reality of living in the Real World (tm) - and not having enough time to do what you want. However, don't confuse forgetting some characters with having wasted my time.

This has not been a waste of time. In fact, my time with Heisig still feels like a massive success.

I am now very comfortable using instant chat with my Chinese friends (Skype, QQ, Sametime), communicating only in hanzi. There is very little more satisfying for me at the moment than closing down a Skype window, for example, staring at dozens of lines of pure Chinese characters.  (Even now, a little self-satisfied shiver runs down my spine :-)

I'm sure I will spend time with Heisig Book 1 in future, actively revising. I just don't have time. Bit by bit, when I come across hanzi I don't recognise, I will look them up, remember the Heisig image, and they will become firmly embedded too.

And eventually, I'll take up Book 2. (Although at this rate, I might be ready for Book 2 before Book 2 is ready for me!)


  1. One piece of advice: Use an SRS, like Anki.

  2. Hi Erick, thanks for your comment. Actually, I do use Anki - I think it's an amazing tool.

    However, for Heisig revision, it just never got off the ground for me. I tried it, but I didn't really enjoy it - and much preferred the extra value I got by using the actual book to revise.

    Which is odd, beacuse I use Anki for compound words & sentences - so not sure why it didn't "gel" for my Heisig revision.

    Thanks again for your input.

  3. Please tell me you have MSN Greg O_O I want to chat with you!!! (in Chinese of course) :D

    I haven't been able to study Chinese lately and I've actually been feeling a bit unmotivated. So I know if I study with someone who loves the language as much as I do it'll be fun and a cool new learning experience (plus that we both learned in two different ways)

    I have Skype on my computer (it came with it) but I don't use it much. However, I totally understand what you mean with the lines of Chinese going down the screen. I love that feeling :)

    Keep in touch!


  4. Hey Kara. No MSN I'm afraid. I have Skype & QQ.

    Sorry to hear about your motivation. I've actually watched two movies this week in Mandarin off TV (Shanghai Triad, and Curse of the Golden Flower). Although they had English subtitles, I tried to ignore that as much as I could - which wasn't easy.

    Have you tried doing different stuff like that, to generate some excitement and some momentum?

    Good luck!

  5. 春节快乐!

    The polarisation seems to be a natural process. I think the ones that you are familiar with will become the ones that you use a lot, and so become more and more familiar. :-) So congratulations.

    Some headsup: Faye Wong came back to stage on the spring festival party on CCTV1 with a song called "legend"(传奇).

    P.S I have a question regarding the ancient English here. I recall that "wherefore art thou Romeo" means "why are you Romeo", so the structure of the headline of this blog post seems a bit strange to me. Could you tell me what this headline means here?

    Hope you well,

  6. 你好。北京怎么样?你现在很忙吗?

    I actually saw that Faye Wong video - really nice song!

    Your question about Romeo & Juliet made me smile. I'm still struggling along with conversational Chinese - nevermind the ancient Chinese classics. And you're here debating Shakespearian English with me! :-)

    I guess what I was getting at was that after a few months after finishing the Heisig book 1, is that book (or the influence of the book) anywhere to be seen? I've read many books that had no influence on me whatsoever, and so the question was whether the book could be "seen" in my life now. Hopefully it was clear - the answer is definitely yes!