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Liv Boyd

Studying Characters methods

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Liv Boyd

I've been studying Chinese in a Beijing university for one semester now and I'd really like to hear people's methods of studying Chinese characters, especially the ones that work well (as opposed to the methods that don't work at all).

At the moment to practice I take my classes exercise (usually a dialogue), memorise a sentence, cover the dialogue and write it out, making notes of the characters I can't remember. Then I write out the ones I can't remember over and over again (usually three lines of my notebook for one character). Lately I also started using the words I forget to write out sentences using the grammar points I have to study. Sometimes I can make up stories about the Hanzi, and then I can generally remember them, but I find it really hard to make up stories, so that's just a few. I study about 3 and a half to four hours everyday (on top of four hours of class time), and I'm starting to wonder why I so often forget even the most basic characters. Perhaps writing them out over and over again is no good? Anyone with a good method, I'd really like to to know about it. My exams were a bit painful this time around.

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zozzen

perhaps you've spent too many time in passive learning. You're not writing in Chinese characters, but you're only copying chinese characters from paper to paper. Try to chat with your friends with QQ or MSN in Chinese characters and it may help.

If Chinese typing is difficult for you, you can write down what you want to express in Hanzi and pass it to your friends.

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sthubbar

Let me first start by saying you are not alone in finding it difficult to remember the characters. I have the same frustration. I often wonder why I even try, then I remember I'm a masochist. :wall:D

Seriously, the best way to remember anything is to use a Spaced Repetition System (SRS), the most well know is Supermemo. I am using the repetition spacing feature of Plecodict to study characters.

One of the keypoints that one should realize is that repeating something many times in a short period time is not necessarily any more effective than just repeating it a few times. What is more important is repeating what you have learned at regular intervals. The SRS handles letting you know what items you should be reviewing at any one particular time.

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gato

Yes, review a little every day is better than review a lot but only once a week.

jMemorize is nice free java-based flashcard that has the "spaced repetition" system built-in. Give it a shot.

http://jmemorize.org/

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zozzen

sthubber, it's interesting to mention Spaced Repetition System. Do you figure out any way to actively recall your memory with SRS ?

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sthubbar

zozzen: What the heck is "actively recall your memory" :conf

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zozzen

It seems to me that Plecodict provides users with flashcard only, but SRS emphasizes active recall rather than recognition. One of main features is to ask free questions. During a Q&A section, you remember the character not because you recognize the character, but because you really use it .

When you talk about SRS, i suppose that you found some ways to use Plecodict to help you recall the memory.

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madizi

When I began to learn Chinese 10 years ago, I wrote new characters on a paper. Every character AND every word one line. I think that one line is enough. Well, it depends on how big your characters are. I had A4 notebook with small squares (I don't know English word for this kind of notebooks, but you probably know what kind of notebooks I have in mind: the ones that we used at Mathematics classes). I wrote one character in a square that was composed of four small squares. And then I used method that you describe, only that I used it with new words. I didn't write sentences. I covered Chinese characters and pinyin, and then tried to figure out Chinese characters of a word AND pronounciation through English meaning (we had English textbooks). Then I went through ALL of new words so long, until I remebered all the words. It normally took me less than one hour (depends on lession). Then I read through lession and grammar points. And, of course, I tried to participate actively in class, so that I remembered as much as possible and then, when reviewing, I could remember easily all important points of lession.

And, as Zozzen said, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk......... and yes, did I mention that you have to talk? As much as possible, because in the process of talking, you also remember characters (they are like mental pictures in your mind).

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calibre2001

I definitely have to write characters and review them on a regular basis. Being an adult, I can't escape that since I tend to forget easily thorugh disuse.

For passive, I defintely recommend watching TV shows w subtitles and definitely read easy literature/magazines. Not only does it require me to recognise but I also learn new words this way.

For active, if you're not writing sentences & essays like me, I use karaoke alot. Again its a great source to learn new words and expressions (guess you can tell my chinese vocab is pretty poor). I download the videos off though to study at my own leisure.

All in all, the effective way is to use a variety of methods at different times i.e. I may learning via karaoke this week but next week I will use magazines. The objective is to keep going on whilst sustaining motivation.

Presently I'm using this -> http://faculty.virginia.edu/cll/chinese_reading/

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simonlaing

I agree with other posters that this can be the most tricky part of Chinese.

(Personally I think it is even harder than getting the tones right)

The best way of learning characters that I have found is to break it into it's radical parts.

And make a story or learn the background story behind the characters and words.

There are some chinese books in China that can help by breaking it down for you as well , I think urban chinese does it a little, and The fast way to learn to speak and write Chinese, written by a french guy.

Take for example the word good. 好 if you break it down into it's radiacal components nv女 which is woman or wife, and 子 (from 儿子)for son or child . The idea of complete family comes up which is the Chinese idea of Good.

Also seeing that shui 水 can be written as san dian shui 淋 (which means wet, which often happens when you walk under wet trees.) ren 人 can also be written in several different ways. If you only have to learn 2-4 radicals versus 8-16 strokes it is easier to learn.

In English it is sort of like seeing the word arachnaphobia. You don't see a word of 13 letters you see 2 words arachna for spider and phobia for fear. This is the best way I have found.

(I also like flash cards but break down the character into its radicals as well as having the character. )

If you're having trouble try this way of memorising characters for 2 weeks.

(Though there are some language masochists to enjoy writing characters over and over and over again. They might not like this way.)

Good luck it is a tough, part of the language. Don't worry though the grammar is fairly easy.

HAve fun,

SimoN:)

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JimmySeal

I agree with Simon that using mnemonics is the best way to learn characters. James Heisig devised a unified system for learning Japanese kanji with mnemonics about 30 years ago, but his book for hanzi is set to be published later this year. Anyone having trouble remembering the characters should check it out.

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Liv Boyd

Thanks so much everyone for the advice!

Spaced repetition system is looking pretty good, so I might give that one a try. At the moment I'm on holidays so I've also been watching Chinese dvds and reading a book with Chinese on one page and he English translation, which is also turning ot to be a fun, easy way to study, now that I'm completely bored of my textbook (which I've already read over so many times during exams). I have a plecodict with flashcards, but really my problem is not to much recognition as it is writing the damn things.

If anyone else has any other ideas, keep them coming!!

Thanks! :D

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gato
but really my problem is not to much recognition as it is writing the damn things.

It would be safe to say that learning to write by hand will take three, four times as long as learning to read. I would forget about learning to write by hand and focus on reading.

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simonlaing

Hi sorry to disagree with you Gato,

But if you want to learn Chinese to a high level you have to learn to write it. I did the reading only strategy and after a few months went back and had forgotten the meanings of the words.

Also a chinese teacher turned head of the Hangzhou Bank of China hotel one vacation taught me some good writing style techniques.

To make the characters look good you should make the first part (usually left side or top) of the character smaller than the second part.

So for a character like 赢 (to win) the top part should be written a bit squished together and that will leave room for the bottom part. 腻 the yue should be thin to leave room for the second part. Characters like 困 kun difficulty or 这 zhe this the inside should be written somewhat smaller to give space for the others. Although some write the Kun with the left top and right side and then the midde mu and then the bottom.

You should not try and make them perfect like the book unless you are trying to be a calligrapher. The principle is to compensate for the character in advance.

Also my first technique was for visualizing the character in the mind, before you write it. Often you can get a bit of an outline, then if you remember the 2-4 parts of the character it works.

Writing is a form of memorization of the graphic form. If you visualize the radical parts of the character it will help .

I have friends who like the plecto dict method as well. My palm was stolen one day after class, and I found I didn't need to look up every character with a writing style . So, being broke in England I didn't get another and made do. For beginners it really helps I think.

Good luck,

Simon:)

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zozzen

Learning to read and learning to write are two similar but different skills. By reading a character, you don't have to care all it details. What you need is to recognize its shape and remember the "impression" it gives you. If someone shows you a word 斻行, you should easily understand he means 旅行.

I've read an article about English spelling which is more or less the same. By reading an English sentence, poeple dont reemmber all spelling, they jsut try to recoginze the "shape" of the words. As long as the fisrt and the last alhpabet of a word deosn't change, most people can still recongize the word. Is it true?

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Ari 桑

Stories (ridiculous stuff with the radicals. It works, I turned all the provinces into ridiculous sexual exploits and got an A+ on that test)

QQ, text messaging, facebook, email

Movies and TV with subtitles

卡拉OK

Drawing the characters all nice and artsy

And many more. The rule is: don't put all your marbles in the same bag! Variation is key. You won't learn much if your doing nothing but writing lines. Not that its bad in itself, but boredom is your biggest enemy. If you mix things up, they characters will fill up different bits of your brain. Maybe memorizing characters from your textbook is really hard, but you remember them as paintings well. Or if you really like music, singing along to your favorite songs on KTV will help you. Get creative!

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atitarev

Simon, all your methods are good for a small number of characters. Yes, writing is big problem, not recognition.

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imron
i suppose that you found some ways to use Plecodict to help you recall the memory.
To practice and develop your active recall with Plecodict set it so that for tests initially it first display the meaning only.

Then, think of the pronunciation and the character and write it in the handwriting bar.

Display the answer and only accept it as correct if you managed to get it completely correct i.e. even one wrong stroke == fail.

Another good way to practice active recall when typing Chinese, is to learn Wubi.

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baining tang

Hi, this post is kind of old so I may be saying this into dead space but here goes. I have found two things really usefull in learning characters.

1. Find a good book on a topic that is something of interest to you and others and just start copying. Each time you come across a word you don't know look it up and then move on with your copying. This does three things, builds vocab, character recognition and character writing. This is easy and not as boring as copying the same word over and over. You will quickly see you are looking up less and less. (Tip- first learn general stroke order rules and follow these as you continue)

2. This is a recent development but the new book learn Chinese Characters by Tuttle is a great guide it helps you learn the 800 words that are in the Chinese proficiency test through a type of Word association approach! This is a great book! Check it out at your local borders and see what you think

Baining

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Caidanbi

When I was learning, I had a notebook for all the new characters I learned. The paper was lined, and each line was for one character. I'd write it kind of like this:

English meaning of character , the character, pronunciation, then write the character over and over until I reach the end of the line

So it would look like this (only handwritten):

you 你 ni (can't type the tone marks here) 你 你 你 你 ........... you get the idea.

Then, on the corresponding line on the back of the sheet of paper, I'd write the pronunciation only, and the next day I'd see if I could remember how to write the characters I had learned the previous day, and I'd write another line full of each. Oddly enough, I usually listened to music while doing this. But for me it worked, I found it quite easy to remember the characters, and it was kind of relaxing too. :)

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