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newyorkeric

Remembering Simplified Hanzi 1 and Remembering Traditional Hanzi 1

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gato

It's interesting that this new book only helps with learning the meaning of characters (what the author refer to as "keyword") and not the pronunciation.

Here's the authors' explanation of why they did this from the book's introduction:

http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/miscPublications/pdf/RH/RH%20Simplified-sample.pdf

uprooting biases about character learning

One bias circulating among teachers and students of the Chinese language is that a character’s meaning, pronunciation, and writing need to be learned at the same time. Chinese textbooks typically include all three bits of information for each character or compound term as it is introduced, in addition to supplying details about grammatical function and examples of usage. Of course, these things are important, but to have to learn them all at once places an unreasonable burden on memory. Little wonder that the brain slows down or grinds to a complete halt.

The Chinese themselves are not faced with this problem. As children, they are exposed first to the spoken language, learning how to associate sounds with meanings. When the time comes to learn how to read, they already have at their disposal a solid basis of words whose sounds and meanings are familiar to them; all that remains is to associate those words with written forms. Doing so opens them to printed texts, which, in turn, helps them assimilate new words and characters. Those of us who come to the language as adults can gain a similar advantage by tying each of the character forms to a particular unit of pronunciation and meaning, a “key word” in English, that we already know.

Before you dismiss the idea of affixing English words to Chinese characters out of hand, consider this: all the Chinese dialects, no matter how mutually unintelligible they are when spoken, use the same characters for writing. These characters convey the same meaning, no matter how they are pronounced. What is more, when the Japanese use Chinese characters, they assign them still other pronunciations. In other words, there is nothing in the nature of a character dictating that it must be verbalized one way or another. Unlike students coming to Chinese from an alphabetically written language, the Japanese already know the meaning and writing of a great many of the characters. By the time you finish this course, you will be in a position similar to theirs. Of course, you will eventually need to learn Chinese pronunciations, just as Japanese students do. But adding difficult and unfamiliar sounds to a solid knowledge of character forms is a much more manageable task than trying to memorize meaning, pronunciation, and writing all at the same time.

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newyorkeric

I found this passage to be quite intriguing, too.

For those who don't know, Heisig has a series of Japanese books called Remembering the Kanji that uses this approach. Maybe someone who has used the Japanese books can comment on the pros and cons of this approach.

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roddy

What I find odd is that they've not even included the pronunciation in the 'frame' for each character. If they want to say 'don't try to learn it all at once', fair enough, but it would be minimal effort to just have the pinyin in a corner and it would make the book infinitely more valuable for someone who either wants to learn the pronunciation at the same time, or who has gone through the book once and wants to go through again picking up 'extra' information.

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Mugi
there is nothing in the nature of a character dictating that it must be verbalized one way or another.

This statement is fundamentally wrong for the majority of characters and begs the question of how well the authors actually understand the subject they are writing about. While an individual character may not tell you directly how it should be pronounced, characters in general are highly phonetic. The authors should perhaps read DeFrancis' The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. What's more, there is internal consistency within any given dialect with respect to the phonetic component of 形声字 (although, granted, this is somewhat arbitrary given that most Chinese don't learn how to read and write to any great extent in their mother dialect), something that could not occur by attaching an English "key word" to each character. I will concede that the author's analogy to Japanese is correct in terms of kun-yomi / 訓読み (native Japanese readings of Chinese characters), though obviously not in terms of on-yomi / 音読み (pseudo Chinese readings). But I'm not sure if there is any merit in modeling literacy acquisition on the Japanese system...

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gato

I'm trying to think whether this method of learning the character but not the pronunciation will help one navigate the streets or use a map.

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adrianlondon

Better just to have a laminated piece of paper with the chinese characters for "inner outer street east west north south" etc. on it if that's the only goal.

If I bought that book I'd have to go through it with a dictionary (pleco) and scribble in all the pinyin. I need to read the word in my head as well as just stare at it. However, that looking-up exercise is probably a good one in itself.

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Luobot

One author citing the experience of the other author as proof of the method:

Before the month was out he had learned the meaning and writing of some 1,900 characters and had satisfied himself that he would retain what he had memorized.

It won't take long to find out if this method is a radical breakthrough or something that works primarily for the authors themselves.

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rob07

I found this interesting because I did something similar myself: learnt to read Chinese characters based on their meaning without learning how to speak Mandarin at the same time. Some years ago, reading fiction in English was my main hobby, but I had been reading and enjoying a lot of Chinese translations (particularly 红楼梦) and found the idea of a non-alphabet based language intriguing, so I decided to learn how to read novels in Chinese. While it would have been nice to also learn how to speak, I was working full time and was not willing to commit to living in China for any significant period, so learning to speak did not seem to be a practical aim. I did not attempt it.

My speaking and listening abilities are still close to zero, but I can now struggle slowly through Chinese novels (about 50 pages a day if I push myself and do nothing else). The first novel I read was 一座城池 by 韩寒, probably my favourite so far is 许三观卖血记 by 余华, and this weekend I should finish a 张爱玲 novel. So I am reading real books and I can say that it is definitely possible to learn how to read Chinese characters without also learning how they sound.

That said, I did write the pinyin of each character on each flashcard I made and seem to have remembered the majority of them despite not making any additional effort to do so. I think it is an extra hook the brain finds helpful, even though I am not really able to properly pronounce the pinyin, or distinguish between the similar sounds when I hear them spoken. It also makes looking up new character combinations in the dictionary much faster.

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JimmySeal

Hurrah! The world of Chinese learning will never be the same again. I am a satisfied disciple of the Heisig method and am here to tell you that yes, it does work and in my opinion it is the only sensible way for adult non-natives to learn Chinese characters. First let me address some comments that have been made here.

Before anyone asks, I am not affiliated with the book in any way and have nothing to gain if people buy it.

I'm trying to think whether this method of learning the character but not the pronunciation will help one navigate the streets or use a map.

Absolutely. This method takes one's character recognition to astronomical levels. In fact, when I went to Taiwan last month, I was able to read signs and menus that I couldn't pronounce and was able to communicate what I needed by writing and pointing, something that fluent pinyin-only learners can't do.

there is nothing in the nature of a character dictating that it must be verbalized one way or another.

This statement is fundamentally wrong for the majority of characters and begs the question of how well the authors actually understand the subject they are writing about.

I say without a doubt that the authors know what they are talking about and fully understand the simple idea of hanzi phonetics (If you don't believe me' date=' have a look at Heisig's [i']Remembering the Kanji, volume 2[/i]. Half the book is based on that concept.)

What he says is true. While 伯's makeup may suggest that it is pronounced similarly to 白, there is nothing intrinsic about 白 (or its derivatives) that dictates that it is pronounced a certain way and a trip around China will show that to be overwhelmingly true.

Really all he is trying to do in that paragraph is assuage purists who think that learning characters in terms of English is "wrong" or "unnatural." That's all.

What I find odd is that they've not even included the pronunciation in the 'frame' for each character. If they want to say 'don't try to learn it all at once', fair enough, but it would be minimal effort to just have the pinyin in a corner and it would make the book infinitely more valuable for someone who either wants to learn the pronunciation at the same time, or who has gone through the book once and wants to go through again picking up 'extra' information.

Not a matter of how much effort it would require the author's or the publisher's effort. The author doesn't want to enable people to try to use his book and learn the pronunciation at the same time, and he doesn't want to throw needless information in the faces of people who are so earnestly trying to avoid it and learn other things first.

And while the characters are placed in an order ideal for learning their writing and meaning, but not for reviewing said information and certainly not for learning the pronunciation. So a second pass through the book to learn the readings would be rather pointless when there are countless other books more suited for the task.

Maybe someone who has used the Japanese books can comment on the pros and cons of this approach.

Certainly:

pros:

far less trouble remembering characters

more efficient than trying to learn everything at once

improved character recognition

better overall retention of character knowledge (including readings)

far, far less trouble writing characters from memory

read signs and unfamiliar words even if you can't pronounce them

cons:

must be committed - the book isn't much use if you stop halfway through. You have to be in for the whole ride. So it isn't well suited for casual learners. Additionally, even after finishing, one must make an effort to review their learned knowledge systematically or it will be forgotten.

can't learn readings until you've done - this requires a bit of faith and willpower, but it's not such a huge drawback when you think about it. You can finish the book in about the time it takes to confidently learn 150 characters the traditional way, and 150 characters on their own won't get you very far anyway. Recognizing, and knowing the meanings of, the 1500 in the book, even without any readings, is more useful than 150 with, and once you finish the book, you'll be in line to learn the readings and usage at a rapid pace.

So that's what I have to say about this book. Sorry if I've rambled. I think it is an incredible method and anyone who's not already at an advanced level should give it a try.

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adrianlondon

Any pricing for these yet? Were the japanese volumes expensive?

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Luobot
Hurrah! The world of Chinese learning will never be the same again. I am a satisfied disciple of the Heisig method ...

I just got my checkbook all soggy salivating over it. Why does it sound too good to be true? Any more testimonials?

JimmySeal, at 1500 chars per month, he has the learning rate at around 50 chars per day with retention. Does this about equal your mileage on an average day? In other words, vol. 1 can be swallowed in month 1 and vol. 2 is wiped clean the next month. All 3000 characters done in two months with retention!

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JimmySeal

@adrianlondon

Dunno about the pricing, but as a reference, Remembering the Kanji, vol 1 (which would roughly correspond to both Hanzi books, costs $32 on Amazon so I'd place the Chinese ones around $24-30 each (just a guess). A little pricey but not prohibitively expensive.

@luobot

1500 in a month might be a bit ambitious. 2-3 would be more realistic. I finished RTK (2042 characters) in about 3.5 months of moderately dedicated work. I tried to shoot for 40 a day, but there were days when I took breaks, and other days when I went as high as 60 or 80 characters. I think 2 months is very doable if you can spare about 1.5-2 hours most days to work on it.

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sthubbar

I have not used the Heizig method. I agree with the quote about not trying to learn all aspects of the characters at once. If I have to choose between two options:

Option #1 - I can pronounce 3000 characters but might not be able to write them and some may not even know what they mean.

Option #2 - I can write 3000 characters and know at least one meaning for each of them, but can say very few of them.

I choose option #1. My goal is to be able to communicate in Chinese. In my opinion the most important aspects of communication are listening and speaking, in that order. If I can read out loud a string of characters and my ears can't understand what I'm reading then I need to improve my listening skills, not improve my understanding of characters.

Now there are some people who are content to be able to read Chinese, and maybe don't understand what is said so much and are shy to speak. If that is your goal then the Heisig method sounds like a great option.

If you are interested in being able to communicate in Chinese, daily use of a spaced repetition system is a great assistant in allowing a student to rapidly learn and retain the pronunciation, and meaning if wanted, of many characters.

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gato
Additionally, even after finishing, one must make an effort to review their learned knowledge systematically or it will be forgotten.

This is a big qualification. How much review does one have to do with Heisig system? And by review, do you mean that you have to review the Heisig book or merely review materials written in Japanese or Chinese, whichever the case might be?

If the "review" needed is extensive, then I'm not sure you can really say that you actually learned those 3000 characters in those two or three months.

In any case, I think the Heisig method has merits. It's basically a mnemonic system to associate the shapes of characters with their meanings. If you don't use the mnemonics created by Heisig and his co-author, I'm sure many of us have some of our own for the characters we've studied. But I do find the idea of learning 1500 or 3000 characters before one studies any pronunciation or read any material in the target language odd. I guess we'll just have to wait for JimmySeal to prove us skeptics wrong when he starts reading Chinese newspapers in two months (though he does have a head start by already knowing 2000 Japanese kanjis).

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Mugi
Originally Posted by JimmySeal

I say without a doubt that the authors know what they are talking about and fully understand the simple idea of hanzi phonetics (If you don't believe me, have a look at Heisig's Remembering the Kanji, volume 2. Half the book is based on that concept.)

I'll try and do that - I'm intrigued after the authors made such a blatantly inaccurate comment.

What he says is true. While 伯's makeup may suggest that it is pronounced similarly to 白, there is nothing intrinsic about 白 (or its derivatives) that dictates that it is pronounced a certain way and a trip around China will show that to be overwhelmingly true.

Who was it that said it's better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you're ignorant than to open it and prove the fact? :wink:

Although the most common pronunciation of 白 in Putonghua is bái, there is a second (literary) reading, bó. In fact, in classical texts, 白 was sometimes used for 伯, precisely because the pronunciation was the same. And to compound things, 伯 has a colloquial reading of bǎi. Most educated Chinese should know that 'bai' is a colloquial pronunciation of 'bo' with respect to the 白 phonetic. To my knowledge, with only a couple of exceptions (read 'mo', which is actually phonetically very close to 'bo'), all characters with the 白 phonetic are read as 'bai' and/or 'bo' in standard Putonghua. And as soon as you move away from standard Putonghua to local Mandarin dialects, there is even greater consistency - often there is only one extent pronunciation (particulary with regard to 白 vs 伯. Same thing in non Mandarin dialects, the pronunciation is also almost always identical, although sometimes it differs in tone or aspirated/unaspirated initial.

So contrary to your claim that "a trip around China will show that to be overwhelmingly true", in actual fact (with this particular example anyway), a trip around China would prove the exact opposite, whether you're talking about Mandarin or other Sinitic languages.

Really all he is trying to do in that paragraph is assuage purists who think that learning characters in terms of English is "wrong" or "unnatural." That's all.

Yes, I can appreciate what they're trying to say - I just think that it is irresponsible of academics to make a blatantly false claim in order to market their book to the unknowing. In a similar way, I don't think it is very responsible of these guys and a few others who casually pass off mnemonics and pop etymologies as genuine character etymologies.

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JimmySeal

@sthubbar

Yes, if someone had to choose between options #1 and #2, #1 might very well be the better choice. However the goal of Heisig's books are not to reach #2 and stop. It is simply an intermediate goal on the road to literacy. So why learn the meaning before the pronunciation?

Well, the value of the system is that each character is given a unique spot in your brain, with a mnemonic story to tie it there. And the markers you are giving it are not just unique, they are familiar (they're English), not just some arbitrary syllable that holds no meaning to you.

In linking the character to its reading by rote memory, you are forming a hazy connection, building the character-information relationship on quicksand.

By tying the characters to a unique and familiar word, you are building a strong foundation for your character knowledge, so that the next step in the process, learning the readings, is veritably a breeze.

@gato

By review, I mean review with flashcards or the like. That is, looking at a keyword, recalling the mnemonic story, writing the character, and checking the answer.

Upon finishing the book, a learner will be able to immediately put their new knowledge to use, but the keyword->character connections will weaken and fade over time if they are allowed to, just like any type of knowledge. Mnemonics help a lot, but they are not infallible.

With spaced repetition, this can be reduced to very little daily review after a few more months of reviewing.

Heisig does not pretend to enable people to read a newspaper, or anything for that matter, simply by finishing his books. What the books do is give learners a strong familiarity with 3000 characters, which puts them in a prime position to tackle the rest of the task of becoming literate.

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JimmySeal
I'm intrigued after the authors made such a blatantly inaccurate comment.

There's nothing inaccurate about it.

Who was it that said it's better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you're ignorant than to open it and prove the fact?

I repeat:

There is nothing intrinsic about 白 that dictates that it is pronounced a certain way and a trip around China will show that to be overwhelmingly true.

That is, 白 is pronounced "bai" and "bo" in standard Mandarin. "mo" in other Mandarin dialects as you say. It is "baak" in Cantonese, and various other similar syllables in other dialects. It's "payk" in Korean, and "haku," "shiro," etc. in Japanese.

So which of the above is its inherent pronunciation, making the rest of them perversions of this "pure syllable?"

These 5 strokes have no direct relation to pronunciation at all. The character is based on a pictographic representation of a bright shining moon, devised to convey the meaning of "white," which just happens to be pronounced "bai" in Mandarin. Since all the character intrinsically conveys is its meaning, "bai," "shiro," "white," and "blanco" are all equally valid names for this character. The Chinese cannot lay claim to the single "correct" name of a character any more than the Italians can dictate universal names for the alphabetic letters.

伯 can be said to have a phonetic relation to 白 insofar as it was conceived that way, but that in no way suggests that 伯 has an "inherent" pronunciation, since 白 itself does not. Even if the etymology historically states that 伯 is pronounced similarly to 白, that doesn't mean it absolutely has to be that way. How many characters have deviated significantly from their original etymologies? So if James Heisig wants to refer to 白 as "white", and 伯 as "chief," he has every justification in doing so.

With that, I'll leave you with a line from Shakespeare which I think sums up my point quite well.

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet"

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JimmySeal
In a similar way, I don't think it is very responsible of these guys and a few others who casually pass off mnemonics and pop etymologies as genuine character etymologies.

Ahem.

On one hand, much of the course is grounded in scholarly consensus on the history of the characters. On the other, we have not hesitated to ignore established etymologies whenever doing so seemed pedagogically useful[/b']....Should a student later turn to etymological studies, the procedure we have followed will become more transparent, and the fact that we did not indicate each departure from an established etymology should not cause any obstacle to learning.

Where is he passing of his mnemonics as genuine etymologies? All he claims to provide is an effective means for learning characters, nothing more.

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leosmith
there is nothing in the nature of a character dictating that it must be verbalized one way or another.

This statement is fundamentally wrong for the majority of characters

It sounds like you're saying in over 50% of the characters you can tell how it's pronounced by looking at one of it's radicals. I've heard it's more like 30%. Am I understanding you correctly?

The authors should perhaps read DeFrancis' The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy.

I haven't read said book, but I read on a forum somewhere that one of the myths that DeFrancis dismisses is the ability to read most characters by looking at one of it's radicals. Do I have it backwards?

Any more testimonials?

I finished RTK1 (2042 kanji) in 7 months. It took 300 hours. I could have finished sooner, but that would have meant more than 10hrs per week, and I didn't want to do that. I used paper flashcards exclusivly. I think if I'd used it in conjunction with supermemo, it would have been 200-250 hrs.

How much review does one have to do with Heisig system?

I need to review them until I'm actually using them. Like vocabulary, I review Heisig stuff until I'm actually reading and writing words. Like all mnemonics, they slip away, but I no longer need them anymore; they've served their purpose. I've got the RTK1 stuff in supermemo. For reasons I won't go into, my Japanese is on hold right now. The RTK1 reviews take about 10 minutes per day. 10 minutes per day to maintain 2000+ characters isn't bad IMO. When I finally start using all of them regularly, that will go to 0.

the goal of Heisig's books are not to reach #2 and stop. It is simply an intermediate goal on the road to literacy.

This is true. There seems to be a lot of confusion about this, so let me expand a little.

Normal road to literacy:

1)learn words & their characters

2)read simple literature

3)repeat steps 1 & 2 many times

4)read normal literature

Heisigs road to literacy:

1)learn characters (Heisig)

2)learn words

3)read simple literature

4)repeat steps 2 & 3 many times

5)read normal literature

Notice that the last step is the same. Heisig is just one step on the road. Granted, the road is different, but it ends in the same place.

Heisig is not a good choice for someone who is having to learn the characters using a different method; using 2 methods to learn the same character is generally not a good idea. Heisig is not a good choice for someone who can't do mnemonics, or can't finish the free PDF.

Some people don't like the idea of dropping everything to do an intensive Heisig study. This is what Heisig recommends, but there are ways around it. I chose to work on it only 2 hrs per day, and continue with my other studies.

Also, if you don't like Heisig's order of learning characters, and you must learn things in the order you encounter them, you can always just use his mnemonic technique and ignore the order.

Whichever way you choose, I recommend using an SRS to review. Good luck!

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