Sunday, March 18, 2012

Heisig 2 ("Please sir, I want some more")

Well, Heisig (Book 2) is out - both for simplified and traditional characters. I have a copy - it feels great in my hands.

The home of the Heisig & Richardson books is at the Nanzan Institute (and here is a direct link, without having to navigate the menus).

First impressions
Its' funny - people imagine language learning to be such a pain, but I felt like a child at Christmas unwrapping a present. I couldn't wait to page through it.

First I went to character number 50,001 - which I had heard about. That was fun. And what a story! Then I read the introduction, and discovered the book was designed that it could be learned in conjunction with Book 1.

(Aside: For now I think it's better to do Book 1 before doing Book 2. After all, x characters a day is x characters a day, why bother flipping between books? And additionally, Book 1 has the 1000 most common characters - may as well focus on them first. IMHO.)

Not surprisingly, the characters in Book 2 are generally more complex than Book 1 - which really isn't a surprise, but it struck me while paging through the book that it was going to take quite a bit more effort to get through Book 2.

But I am looking forward to beginning with the middle to reach the end.

Preparing to begin in the middle to reach the end by re-beginning the beginning
Many of us have been waiting for a while for this. It has been interesting to watch how different people have coped with the delay before Book 2. Some people started off as huge fans of the Heisig approach, and once finished as time wore on they started picking fault with the approach. Sigh. Others decided they couldn't wait and started using other books that would take them further than 1500 characters - which I would find extremely confusing as stories start over-lapping and contradicting.

So I waited.  (I've got so much other material it was like the lack of Book 2 was holding me back.)

When it finally became clear that the time for publishing was 'soon', I picked up my Book 1, and started working through it from the beginning. I knew I had forgotten a fair share of characters from Book 1, and without doubt although I might know what a character means now, I would certainly have forgotten some of the images & stories. And of course I would need the keywords & stories for Book 2!

I figured I could manage 10 characters a day (including revision time of previously-learned ones), without impacting on all the other things I had to do, so that was my goal. Yes, 150 days to do Book 1 seems a lot, but I really didn't know for certain when Book 2 would arrive, so I was OK with that.

I am now 800 characters in, and enjoying Book 1 properly. Book 2 is waiting patiently but that's OK. It's clear that over the two years since I finished it originally, revision was definitely due!

Anki to the rescue
I've written quite a lot about flashcards, and Anki in particular. Naturally, I used Anki here too. I loaded up the free Heisig (Remembering the Hanzi) deck, and set it to 10 cards a day. As mentioned above, today I finished 800 characters, and I'm on track to finish on exactly the day I targeted.

For those who care about the details, this is my process:

 - read each day's 10 characters from the book, to get the keywords and background (and stories, when they exist)
 - 10 new characters a day, no more no less - plus as many need revising according to Anki's SRS
 - during the day, I will go through the flashcards: the new ones and the others which have come up for revision by that stage
 - if I really struggle with a character when it comes up, I might press the [soon] button to get it back to the front of the queue
 - I normally have a total number of cards of around 40-60 (including new ones) each day to review, which takes 10-15 minutes during the day - very manageable
 - I usually do it while walking to or from the office, or meetings - so in effect this takes zero time in my day :-)

And now ...
So that's it. I've noticed some interesting things about the Heisig approach, and I'll write some more hints articles soon.

Have any of you started Book 2? Or are you revising first, like me? And what about those still on Book 1 - what have you decided? Drop us a note below.


  1. Nice to hear you're excited like a kid Greg. Enjoy!

    Personally I should really finish book 1 before I even *think* about book 2 (I'm nearing 1200). Not qualified to speak about book 2 yet.

    I can say this however, yes people may criticize Heisig's method and people may occasionaly feel frustrated with language learning, BUT this is how I feel about Mandarin, Anki and Heisig - the whole lot:

    Heisig - when I feel frustrated, I'm more frustrated with my own shortcomings than anything else. The method works - no doubt about that. Would I study book 2 when the time comes - yes when the time comes. I'm not ready yet.
    Mandarin - I'd much rather be pulling my hair out studying Mandarin than be bored within a week studying anything else :) There's always the possiblity I don't know what I'm talking about.
    Anki - like Heisig, part of my life now - a bit like brushing teeth. Can't be skipped either.

    In terms of doing revision - I think what you're doing is great - because as important as it is to use the primitives and stories to learn the characters and eventually "forget" the primitives, it's actually equally important to "maintain" those images.
    You see the value of it when you're confronted with a char you don't often see and you then have to put it back together using the primitives you identify.

    I guess I'll always have a bit of revision to do myself. Like Anki, I view Heisig as a part of my life - as dramatic as that may sound.

  2. Hi Peckish.

    I agree that Book 2 is about "when the time comes". If the book had already been released when I did the first one, I probably still would have waited a few months before beginning on the second one. It has been good to give the knowledge a chance to settle, to take a bit of a breathing from such intense memorisation & visualisation, and to use for reading what I know already.

    But I am ready now :-)