Friday, March 30, 2012

All cars are red cars (when learning Chinese)

As you know from my previous post, I'm working through Heisig's 'Book 1'  from cover to cover before embarking on 'Book 2'. It has been really good - I'm glad I did it this way.

Parallel Streams
Along the way, I've had rather interesting "discoveries", making the process even more satisfying for me. You see, my learning Chinese has gone along three distinct streams:
  1. Podcasts (mainly ChinesePod, but also Popup Chinese) - where I learned how words & sentences sounded (based around pinyin);
  2. Flashcards (using Anki) - where I would learn vocab and sentence structure. Initially it was built around pinyin, but over time I learned some characters this way too;
  3. Heisig (here are the articles I have written on the subject) - which was all about learning characters, but focusing on the meaning and not the pronunciation.

Podcasts, for example, aren't great for learning to read; and Heisig wasn't intended for learning how to pronounce the characters. But over time, although I have focused on these streams separately, these various methods have overlapped, and things clicked into place.

So Clever
For example, the first such discovery I remember from years ago was the word for 'clever' - cōngming (聪明). By that stage I had only learned the word through audio podcasts, and actually thought it was cóngming (从明) - I guess because 'clever' and 'from brightness' made sense. Even though it turns out I was very wrong!

Red cars
When you buy a red car, afterwards it seems that every car you see is a red car. And similarly when you learn new characters, it seems that every character you see is that new one.

On my recent re-do of 'Book 1', I learned 落 (luò), which has the Heisig-keyword 'fall'. I vaguely remember learning it the first time, but I was sure that I had NOT seen it in the last couple of years since learning it.

And then another red car came past. Just a few days later, the following sentence popped up on my flashcard revision ...
     We are studying the decline of ancient Rome
     wǒmen​zài​ yánjiū​gǔ​Luómǎ​de shuāiluò​

I actually remembered having done this sentence a few times before, and there it was ... 落.  I had learned this character and I had used this character. But I most certainly did not remember that character!

And a couple of weeks later, another old sentence arrived in the queue for learning ...
     What’s a pretty girl like you doing here all alone?
     xiàng nǐ zhèyàng de měinǚ zěnme huì luòdān?

That sneaky character again! It's everywhere.

Bringing it all together
I have always used different methods for whatever they each do best. And I have not forced myself to integrate these methods. Somehow with zero additional effort, things just connect themselves - something I've learned one way seems to fill a hole in what I have learned anther way. I don't force anything, which allows me to enjoy every moment of learning - nothing is contrived, nothing is done based purely on obligation. 

And along the way, I just stare at all these nice red cars as they go past ...


  1. But if a white horse is not a horse (白馬非馬), is a red car really a car?

  2. Wow pkd, thanks for that link! I didn't really have the chance until now for my Mandarin studies to overlap with philosophy, but I think your link did it for me!