Sunday, December 8, 2013

Heisig Book 2 - now finished! (this is how)

Today I completed the 1500 characters of Heisig & Richardson's Book 2. (Actually there are 1519 characters in this book, including the bonus ones.) This takes me to a total of 3019, which is about as far as I plan to go.

I finished Book 1 about four years ago, and was happy for quite some time not to bother with Book 2. Then about 1.5 years ago, I tried starting Book 2, but failed. By the start of 2013, I had decided I would begin again - but the difference that time was that although I managed Book 1 in just over 100 days, my decision in January was that I would take my time, and focus on finishing the book by the end of the year.

And that's what I did - I stuck with the slow-and-steady approach, and completed the book in 11.5 months. And it feels great! (you should try it one day)

Although there is something to be said for throwing yourself at it - like I did with Book 1 - it does take a bigger time commitment and certainly more focus. My first attempt to begin Book 2 was too intense, and that's why I failed. The second time I was ready to focus on just 5 new characters a day - and that succeeded perfectly.

There is no Book 3 - and to be fair, even if there were, I think I would be focusing on actually reading books now, rather than memorising new characters. So for 2014 my focus will be books and not textbooks.

It's not even noon here in HK right now, so perhaps a little early to go out and drink champagne. But I will do that this afternoon.


  1. Greg,

    Congratulations on reaching this milestone. I've stopped and started Heisig Book One myself a few times, and want to give it another push. I was hoping you could perhaps shed some more light on your routine, in particular the revision process, e.g. did you revise first then learn new words for the day; if you found it necessary to change default timings of Anki or another SRS program that you used. Also, I'd appreciate your input as to what point -- if at all -- in Book volume one you would incorporate self-studying with a textbook like New Practical Chinese Reader? Did you find that you reached a critical mass of character knowledge to begin supplementing your studies with the traditional textbook route? Thanks again for sharing your inspirational story.


  2. Hi Isaac. I am busy writing my routine down in detail and will post that soon - so hang on a little longer :)

    As for your next question about incorporating textbooks, I will give you my personal opinion - but YMMV.

    Basically, even though 1500 characters (a whole book!!) may seem intimidating - it certainly did to me - it's really not that bad. It doesn't make sense to me to get part-way through the book, and then start to add something else, to distract yourself, to dilute your efforts. Just do Book 1 - completely. Then you can play with other stuff, when when you're finished - but in the meantime just focus.

    To me, Heisig is about learning the characters, and something like NCR would teach more - including grammar, etc. So use Heisig first, then move on to NCR. After I did Heisig 1, I messed around with comics and kids books and built on what I knew. But it reached the point where I realised I needed more than 1500 characters, so I did Book 2.

    First one, then the other. How does that sound?

  3. Hi Greg,

    Sounds like a reasonable plan -- I guess I'm just gonna have to exert a little self-control. A part of me will have this urge to further test the effectiveness of Heisig by trying to speed through a textbook since character learning has always been my weak spot, but your guidelines make sense. Thanks for the reply and I absolutely look forward to reading your detailed routine.

    1. Isaac, I'll just make a couple of extra points.
      * Firstly, as you stated originally, you have already tried a few times and not completed the book. So the first observation is that, whatever you have been doing, you need to try something different if you want different results :-)
      * Secondly, it's worth trying to understand (for yourself) why you didn't succeed in completing the book before. Were the time commitments too great? Were you distracted by other books? Did you get bored? Were your visualisations not clear enough, so you felt you weren't remembering? Once you have a better understanding of what has gone wrong in the past, you can adapt and make sure that - this time! - you DO complete Book 1.

      Hope that helps.

    2. This certainly helps. I realize now that my poor visualizations were at the root of my inability to complete the book. It led to a lot of frustration as I saw myself endlessly revising and hitting "soon" on Anki for every other character. I will no longer be treating Heisig's text as sacrosanct, instead I'll look to adopt some of the approaches you outlined earlier in your Oct '09 post on tips and tricks for Heisig visualizations which I rediscovered! Great stuff. Thanks again for additional comments on this matter, it's greatly appreciated!

    3. Issac, thanks for the dialogue. Let me finish off with a few quick comments … Firstly, using Heisig *is* the shortcut :) You can't shortcut the shortcut - so if you're not spending enough time doing the visualisations in the first place, then you're missing, uhm, everything :-) Secondly, I agree any method is not sacrosanct - but be careful of going off on tangents. This method has been tested for decades (originally with Japanese), so allow yourself to be guided enough until you have true momentum. Then you can experiment.

      Finally - good luck! Do book 1, do it properly, and drop in every now & then and let us know how you're progressing. I look forward to when you announce that you have finished the book. Good luck!

  4. As always, thanks for the additional comments. I'm gonna definitely go for the slow and steady approach this time (~5 - 10 characters a day) and make sure those visualizations work for me before ramping up my output if need be. And I'll be sure to chime in at some point once I hit a major milestone. Til then, I look forward to reading all your posts -- old and new!