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Does it get easier with time?


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Please excuse the disjointedness of this post...

So my friend DuCarl (not his real name), whose Chinese speaking and writing abilities far surpass mine - studying for two years longer than I have will do that - told me this:

The longer you study, characters become easier and easier to learn and remember. His argument was that 1.) they are easier to impress into your mind once you are familiar with the system, 2.) the new characters you learn stick more easily because you have other characters/radicals/phrases/compound words that act as "hooks" to help you remember them, 3.) once you learn about 300-500 characters, you can start reading children's books and simple exercises, and being able to learn new characters in the context of reading or as you write sentences of your own speeds the learning process a great deal.

I personally am starting to feel, now that I am in the "able to read children's books" zone (I learned to speak long before I started learning how to read/write), that my head is becoming crowded with all these characters that I know but don't know WELL. And the more I try to make myself learn, the harder it gets.

Maybe I'm just going too fast? I learned to speak so quickly, and I've been told (this is a direct quote from someone else, don't jump on me for it please) I've got the "artistic eye" that would make it easier to learn a system that was related to pictographs in some distant way and a good memory to boot. So maybe I expect too much of myself? I've been trying for something like 80 characters a week, but if you only count the ones I really know, as in, would recognize immediately if seen and don't need to look up to write, I'm just not making the cut.

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What I found really helped was when I spent a spring festival in Harbin (-29C) and forced myself to sit at my desk for four hours a day and learn to write all the characters I could already read. I'm not saying I could write them now - but it's given me a much more solid basis for learning new ones.

I think it would probably be a good idea for me to do something similar again - but I now recognise a lot more characters . . .


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When I started learning characters I think I was maybe only learning around 30-40 a week, maybe even fewer at the very beginning. 80 a week sounds like a lot to be honest, certainly too many to keep the pace up for very long. Most one year courses that I've seen seem to teach around 600 to maybe 1000 in the first year, and you are looking at maybe 4000 in your first year if you keep that pace up!

But I do find it helps to have a period of cramming in as many as possible, then have a period of hardly learning any new ones at all, but trying to do as much reading/writing as possible to review the ones I'm supposed to know already. I find this works better for me than trying to keep to a steady pace. So maybe if you are running out of steam its time to ease off for a while until you are feeling more confident about the ones you've learnt, then start up again.

In any case, they never all stick, but I don't think that matters. You'll think you've forgotten something but when you see it in context it will trigger something in the back of your brain and you'll find you remember it after all. Plus the characters you are learning now will be the most commonly used ones, so you'll have lots of chance to review them later on.

How many have you learnt so far, and how many of those can you remember when reading (ie, meaning plus pronunciation with tone)? I wouldn't worry too much about not being able to write them instantly, you need lots of writing practice for that and that will be much easier when you know a fair amount of characters.

Good luck with it,


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Whatever I remember, I always remember with correct pronunciation and tone. That is the one advantage to my learning to speak before I learned to read. Almost all of the characters I know are simply the characters for words I could already say, so if I know it, I KNOW it. It's not rembering the word that's a problem - tell me in Chinese and I'm fine. It's remembering what characters go with what words (and how to write them). I want to learn to write well, so I am doing that at the same time as learning to read, so I don't have to backtrack and re-learn how to write. My friend here did the latter and regrets it; he reads really well but his writing is crap. Now he's preparing for the HSK Advanced (he is quite good, although not even he understands chuzuqiche siji hua) and kicking himself for not working more diligently on the writing aspect of things. I am not going to fall into the same trap.

Well, I started learning to write in early June, maybe late May. Two lessons a week, about 40 characters per lesson, of course I don't learn them all that day. I would say that I've learned maybe 300 characters total - and that is probably a confident exaggeration - and "learned" (heh) 500 or more. I've been reading very simple books and writing scores of sentences. What I do is pick ten characters per session (number of sessions in a day depends on how tired I am and how much free time I have, usually one but occasionally two) plus five or so review characters that I should already know but don't. I then write them, rote copying, over and over and over and over, and generally cover a full page per character by the time I'm done - half-page for each, then I go back and re-write them all but only a third of the second half of the page - and do that three times. Then I start writing sentences, although I've been bad about that recently. I will aim to use every character I studied that day in at least two, preferably three, sentences.

Zunyi is a very boring place sometimes. Because after that I start up on the speaking and textbook review. No one can accuse me of being unmotivated, or of getting a lot of sleep.

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You got it lulong. "Chuzuqiche siji hua" is what I started calling the taxi driver language back in December, when my coworker admitted that he couldn't understand them either, and I realized that it wasn't just me.

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