Monday, September 28, 2009

Learning to Read (day 46) - 1000 characters!

Today I reached 1000 characters. I think Heisig & Richardson are very sneaky in the way the wrote "Remembering Simplified Hanzi" - because Lesson 31 ends with just 999 characters. They made me start the next lesson just to make it to 1000. But I digress ...

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 celebrated this on Twitter early today, even mentioning how I rewarded myself.

Some quick statistics:
  • it has taken me 46 days to reach 1000 hanzi
  • that's close enough to 1.5 months
  • 22 characters a day (although some days were as little as 0)
  • I have been spending roughly 30 minutes a day do this, sometimes more sometimes less
  • my retention, according to flashcard testing, is around 90%
  • the first 500 took me 18 days, this second 500 took 28 days
When I got started, I had no idea how long it would take me. After a couple of weeks I determined that it would take me until the end of the year to get through Book 1 (1500 characters), but now it's looking like it's going to happen looooong before that.

Although I try to regularly revise, covering recent chapters as well as older material, I know that there are sections I'll definitely have to work more on. For example, I find characters which use the 忄radical difficult to create images for, so I need to spend more time with those.

I could continue past 1000 - even if I'm focusing on revision - but I need to keep myself in check. But I think it's about keeping a balance. When I stopped to revise at 500, I really missed that sense of progress. I missed the excitement of new words - and I lost a bit of momentum. But I do want to solidify these 1000 before I climb into the last bunch. And this time, I mean it.

As you saw above, the first 500 took 18 days, while the second 500 took 28 days. No idea how long the last 500 of this book will take, but I'm pretty sure it will be more than 28 days. I know I keep talking about having to go back and revise, but without these increasingly frequent pauses, I found myself forgetting almost entire lessons at one stage.

Keep an eye out for my next article where I take the same texts as last time (The Little Prince & BBC news) and highlight how many characters I now know. Then compare this with how 'yellow' the pages looked when I only knew 500 characters.

(By the way, I'm not trying to light a fire under your bum, or anything like that, but if you think about it ... even if you haven't started the book, you could finish all 1500 characters by the end of the year, starting now.)

干杯 !!


  1. Quickly put out that fire. hehe. I have printed out the firs two chapters from a pdf version I found. Going to commit to starting this week.

    Still scared about not being able to speak them though. All in time. One step at a time.

    Congratualtions Greg and keep it up!!!

  2. Thanks Charlie. Enjoy the process.

    From my experience (and everyone is different) I am both learning to speak from podcasts & coversation, and learning to understand written texts from Heisig. For now I'm happy to not necessarily know how to pronounce characters as long as I know what the text means.

    But more & more often, these two 'streams' combine. For example, I've known the word 'piao liang' for pretty for years, but recently discovered that the character for shiny (亮) is the same 'liang' that I learned to read over a month ago as Heisig#329.

    So don't worry - it seems to come when you're ready.

  3. Will bear it in mind. I still havent got into podcasts. I don't have an ipod and don't really commute except cycling, and I think it might somehow hinder my journey.

    Though I would never put it out there as a solid way to learn. My daily Chinese Proverbs occasionally reinforce things I have learnt and make me smile.

    So, maybe it will make that process more enjoyable too. I have heard some criticism of the americanised-ness of Heisig, what is your feeling? (obviously fairly positive, but possible to overcome without too much difficulty?)

  4. Americanised? Nope, I'm not seeing that. In fact, I can't think off-hand of anything that has an American angle to it. As far as I know, he has been living in Japan for decades (but I could be wrong).

  5. Alright, Greg! You've managed to convince me. I am buying this book (and the next volume, when it comes out) before college starts next August. You've inspired me greatly and, well, that's what happens when someone talks so much about something that actually works :D

    Nothing much has been happening with me lately regarding Chinese. Right now I'm in AP Chinese but we mostly work on understanding the context of speaking/ reading than learning new characters because it's essential to daily life if we did go to China. I'm the teacher's assistant to the 10th grade Chinese/ Second Language class, but I already know all of the characters in there anyway :)

    So! Heisig will be my savior. (And Zon + Chinese dramas) :D

    加油啊! I know you will achieve everything you want to with all of your hard work, Greg! All of your readers are rooting for you :D


  6. Great congratulations! 热烈祝贺!
    It is really touching to see a westerner so determinedly and systematically crunching Chinese language...And gosh, your study has been really successful!
    An advanced encouraging motto for you:-p

  7. Kara, thanks for stopping by. Well done on becoming the teacher's assistant - you're obviously showing both your Mandarin skills as well as your teaching skills. That's great!

    Enjoy Heisig, and thanks for rooting for me. I look forward to cheering you on as you make your way through the book. And with your level of Mandarin, I bet you get even more value than me as you work through it.

    And Kara you mentioned Zon last time too. Keep reminding me - I'll get there!

    XY, thanks for your ongoing encouragement. Keep an eye on for the 纸杯 article :-)

    I'm pleased to say that of the first 14 hanzi you wrote, I know 13 of them - and could read fine what you had written. However the "advanced" part, will take more concentration. Not tonight - it's too close to midnight to concentrate.

  8. Haha, I knew you would know most the first 14 Hanzi I put up there. :-p
    As to the advanced ones, don't try to hard! It is not easy even to Chinese students. I will post my explanation if you want.