Monday, September 14, 2009

Reading (day 32) - bad week & bad mistakes

This morning I reached 702 hanzi. The last week hasn't been good for my progress, but as I revise - I'm starting to get a sense of ways of speeding up the visualisation/memorisation/recall process. I'll talk about that in my next post.

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.

A bad week

I had to go to Zurich for business for 4 days - and I knew I was going to be working long hours, so I didn't take Heisig with me. I thought I would mentally revise characters when I had the chance, but somehow my mind was always occupied with other stuff.

What made this worse was that last weekend I learned quite a lot of new characters, and I didn't get time to revise. This meant, 4 days without revising dozens of new hanzi, my recall was shocking. It felt like I had a re-learn a lot of stuff when I got back.

Some characters have quite clear imagery, and learning it once is enough. Forever.  But I guess I had done a chapter which was sufficiently abstract that revision was really important.

Don't underestimate the value of regular revision!

Mixing stuff up

The more I learn, the more there is to confuse me.  In case you find these detail points helpful to you as go work through the Heisig system, I'd like to suggest that you read through them, and "mentally innoculate" yourself so you don't fall into the same traps.

I think these points are important enough to bother documenting, if that tells you anything about whether I think they're important enough for you to read. :-)

  • If you look at 谁, you will see it has two primitives: 讠 and (the other part I can't work out how to type). The second part has the image of a "turkey" ascribed to it, to make visualisations easier. My mistake was to think that's how you write turkey - which is actually 火鸡 (fire chicken!). The problem was I confused the actual word with the image associated with a primitive.
  • But I'm not too concerned - practice can solve that.
  • The hanzi for 'sound' (音) is made up of primitives which have the images of 'vase' and 'sun' - and the bottom line of vase does not overlap with the top line of sun. On the other hand, 'side' (旁) is made up of vase, crown & compass. In this case, however, the bottom line of vase is the top line of crown. This is no problem when I'm reading the characters, but when I try to write them, I don't always get the correct overlap/non-overlap thing.
  • No problem, if I practice more, it won't be a problem.
  • I got confused between 匀 and 习 for a while, until I mentally made a point of revising their respective images & compositions.
  • If I practise lots, then this will become automatic.
  • 安 (peaceful) is easy to remember as a character (it's fairly common) - but it's difficult to incorporate the concept of "peaceful" into an images sometimes. 
  • But as long as I continue to practise these visualisations, I'll get better.
  • The word for punishment (刑) is made up of 'holding hands' and 'sabre'. I was trying to remember the image associated with 'two hands holding a sabre' but was drawing blanks. It was only when I remembered that my image was of two hands being cut by a sabre that the word 'punishment' popped into my mind.
  • So I guess, if I practise reading these hanzi often, this issue will not arise. Or not as often, anyway.
  • If you allow be to mix up word meanings ('W') and primitive images ('P') for a moment, then note the following: 手 (W:hand), 扌 (P:finger), 开 (P:two hands), 乃 (P:fist), 及 (P:outstretched hands) .... arghhhhh!!  I think it would have helped if Heisig had pointed out that these similarities were coming, so that I could have been more careful when setting up the images in the first place.
  • But by ongoing practice of being careful of how I construct these images, and lots of repetition, this won't bother me at all.
And please don't use my shortfalls as an excuse to criticise Heisig - stuff like this is bound to happen whatever method you use. I just have to pay more attention. And practise. Lots.

My goals of writing these notes in this much detail are twofold: (1) to put my thoughts in clear terms so I can learn from my mistakes, and (2) to help others using the Heisig approach so they can be more efficient at this than me.

As always, it's your comments to these posts that add the value - my notes are just a starting point. So let me know your thoughts. For those using Heisig, what kind of mistakes do you make?


  1. Regarding the bad week thing, I find sometimes that the best thing to do on a trip or similar is drop a completely new learning Chinese thing in my bag. Somehow if I have a high mental overload it is easier to pick up a new thing (book, or sound files or ?) than try to continue with previous studies. That may not work for everyone though.

    I wouldn't worry, any learning process/system will have bad days or glitches.

  2. Great idea Chris. Silly me - after all my talk about have bought a Chinese copy of Tintin, I could have taken that to practice. And it's not a book book at all.

    Sometimes it helps for a neutral bystander to state the obvious! Thanks

  3. Hi,

    in my opinion the Heisig keywords and stories are sometimes misleading and confuse more than they help.

    You wrote: "The hanzi for 'sound' (音) is made up of primitives which have the images of 'vase' and 'sun'"

    My Explanation of 音: A 口 mouth with tongue (=曰, not sun: 日!) blowing into some kind of flute that now looks like "立 to stand" - it causes 音 sounds, noises.

    You wrote: "'side' (旁) is made up of vase, crown & compass."

    My Explanation of 旁: If you 立 stand on a 冖 lid-like 方 squared platform, you see from above the 旁 edges or 旁 sides of the platform.

    You wrote: "I got confused between 匀 and 习 "

    My Explanation:
    匀: a 勹 bundle divided in 二 two parts
    习: is just half of 羽: one wing.

    You wrote:
    "The word for punishment (刑) is made up of 'holding hands' and 'sabre'."

    My Explanation:
    开 are sometimes two hands, sometimes (here) it means: "equal height".
    --> With a 刂 knife everything is made 开 equal according to the law, the dissenters are 刑 punished.

    Hope that helps a little bit.

    Wishing you all the best for your learning efforts!

  4. Hans-Peter thanks for your stories. How long have you been doing Heisig? What would you say are the main pro's and con's from your experience?

    You raise an interesting point about the difference between 曰 and 日. Of course these are different characters, but from a Heisig point of view, I can't see how it makes a difference.

    Ultimately, we're creating images which may or may not reflect the real meaning of the character. See, for example, my example of 'turkey' given above.

    So when I see a character and I want to remember what it means, it doesn't make a difference whether I (mistakenly) treat 曰 as 日 - as long as I'm consistent then I should still get the meaning right all the time.

    The primitive for vase is sometimes used in the context of 'standing up' (remember the story for 'juvenile'?) - but I found allowing for two possible meanings would make recall more difficult. When I eliminated 'standing up' and always used the image of 'vase', I stopped failing to remember those characters, because I didn't have to cycle through 2 images each time, trying to remember which was the one I used in my original memorisation.)

    Hans-Peter, if we take the hanzi 家 - do you also create a story for the 'sow' part? Or do you just remember it by repetition?

  5. Hi Greg, here is the link to the online dictionary which explains the origin of 音and言. It is mainly in Chinese. If you want my translation, I can post it here later. Concerning copyright(版权), I would probably not post the image of the character here directly.
    Development of 言:
    Development of 音:

  6. Xie xie XY - that's really interesting. Thanks for the link. I agree that it's not necessary to completely know the origins of a character to understand its meaning, but I must say that I'mr really enjoying the additional depth my studies have taken by knowing the meaning of the hanzi which make up a word, and also by being able to link words together like I couldn't before!