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newyorkeric

Remembering Simplified Hanzi 1 and Remembering Traditional Hanzi 1

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cming

I too have used the Heisig method (together with flashcards!) for studying Japanese before, I would like to offer the following suggestions to anyone considering it for Chinese: Its not for everyone, but if you have the time, it will be time well spent!:wink:

For me it did work well, and I'm now going to continue on with "Remembering the Kanji 3" - for Japanese, includes extra characters not included in the first 2 books. NB. for those not familiar, you learn the meanings and radicals first (Book 1), and the pronunciation and usage follows (Book 2). Resist the temptation to even peek into Book 2 until you have thoroughly completed Book 1!

1) You need to follow it fairly religiously for it to work, no skipping sections, etc. Also review regularly.

2) Do not worry if the method seems strange at first, you will understand it after a while.

3) Have a creative mind - that is probably the most difficult part - making up some of the mnemonics yourself which you need to do after the first section - assuming he is following the same approach as the Japanese one. (I personally found that once you've completed book 2, even if you forget the mnemonics, you'll still remember the meaning and sound, and compound words easily, and you will learn to think like a native speaker - quickly and efficiently - which you really need if you want to evene be half good at your Chinese!).

4) It is possible to study Chinese using other methods whilst completing the course, but I'd reccomend not doing this if you possibly can, once you start you'll want to finish as soon as possible, and dont have any other distractions - I completed Books 1 & 2 in less than 6 months - part time, but I did spend about 2 hours each day (including weekends), and regularly reviewed what I had learnt - this is made easy.

5) If possible, once you have completed the first 50 characters or so, get a native Chinese, (or at least someone who knows chinese characters very well) to physically check and give you some pointers on your handwriting, and make sure you tell them not to mention the pronunciation of each character, just show you how to write it properly - after this you probably won't need any extra help, and your writing will be much neater, and well proportioned. You won't regret taking this step!

Regards

Cming - Sydney, Australia

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leosmith

Hey - I know 84 out of the 90 traditional characters in the PDF already (from my Japanese). A lot of their meanings are different though........

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Mugi

Jimmy,

I quote from the first two lines of my original post: "This statement is fundamentally wrong for the majority of characters ... While an individual character may not tell you directly how it should be pronounced, characters in general are highly phonetic."

I agree that "there is nothing in the nature of a character dictating that it must be verbalized one way or another" for characters that do not employ phonetic elements, of which 白 is one. However, as I said initially, this is not true for the majority of characters. While you may be legitimately able to attach /wait/ (white) or some other pronunciation to this character, that's where it stops; you can't attach this pronunciation (and its associated meaning, which is the aim of the authors) to 百, 柏, 伯, 佰, 泊, 舶, 铂, 箔, 帛, 魄, 拍, 迫, 粕 or 珀. You can, however, attach the pronunciation of "bai/bo/pai/po" to each of these, to varying degrees. And as soon as you move away from standard Putonghua, then you usually end up with only one or two alternatives (as opposed to the four here). So for any person literate in Chinese (or Japanese or Korean for that matter), there is a component in each of these characters telling you how to pronounce it.

With regard to the mnemonics, although there is a disclaimer line, the author doesn't explain which "etymologies" are accurate and which are pure fancy. If the pop etymologies were identified in some way (marked with an asterisk?), then I wouldn't have a problem with them. The end result is that while at an elementary level these mnemonics may help learners remember what the characters mean, for those who go on to a higher level of language acquisition or more academic pursuits, these pop etymologies end up confusing or sometimes even embarrassing the learner.

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JimmySeal
"This statement is fundamentally wrong for the majority of characters ... While an individual character may not tell you directly how it should be pronounced, characters in general are highly phonetic."

The authors at no point say that there is no phonetic element to the characters. They said,

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

That is, even if historically, 伯 is phonetically related to 白, there is nothing intrinsic about it that dictates it has to be pronounced "bai" or "bo" or any other way, so there is nothing inaccurate about the quoted sentence. The only truth is that in Ancient Chinese, these characters were pronounced the same, so if someone assigns two unrelated English words to them, that is their prerogative. As you yourself have said, the Japanese have been doing it for centuries.

With regard to the mnemonics, although there is a disclaimer line, the author doesn't explain which "etymologies" are accurate and which are pure fancy.

This is not a course in hanzi etymology. Learners would be well advised to not assume any of it as historical fact, and there is no need to mark deviations from established theories. Anyone who has read a few pages of the book (which you clearly haven't) will immediately see that the mnemonic stories are mostly of the author's own design. Anyone who would confuse these with actual etymologies shouldn't be trying to learn Chinese and should probably get their head examined while they're at it:

十 - ten

Turn this character 45º either way and you have the x used for the Roman numeral ten.

九 - nine

...

* When this character is used as a primitive, we shall take it to refer to the game of baseball, the meaning being derived from the nine players who make up a team.

丸 - pill

One of the scourges of sports like modern baseball has been the use of performance-enhancing drugs, those tiny little pills that have helped turn honest competition into cut-throat business. Now look at the character and picture it as a bottle of pills hanging on the thigh of a baseball player like a pez-dispenser, ready for the popping as the need arises.

工 - work

The pictograph of an I-beam, like the kind that is used in heavy construction work on buildings and bridges, gives us the character for work.

*Since the key word can be too abstract when used as a primitive element, we will often revert to the clearer image of an I-beam.

項 - item

To the right we see a page and to the left an element for I-beam. The item referred to here is not some specific object but an entry on an “itemized” list. Each item in the list you have to imagine here is preceded by a little I-beam—not a drawing, but an actual iron I-beam. Imagine lugging a list like that around the grocery store!

What's more, the authors only provide mnemonics for the first half of the book, before leaving the reader to invent their own stories for the rest of the book and (I presume) all of the second book. If they were really trying to "pass off mnemonics and pop etymologies as genuine character etymologies" they wouldn't do that would they?

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Mugi
Originally Posted by leosmith

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?

Not quite. The radical is the part of the character that hints at its meaning, or sometimes is merely the part under which the character is listed in a traditional dictionary. It seldom acts as a phonetic component in a compound character. Any given character only has one radical. I don't have any figures at hand, but 形声字 make up the majority of characters, and by their nature they have a phonetic component. In Modern Standard Chinese, the phonetic system is far from perfect, but it's still good enough to narrow down the odds of a possible pronunciation considerably. Take Jimmy's example of 白 - every single character that uses 白 as a phonetic element is pronounced either "bai", "pai", "bo", "po", or in two cases (貊, 陌) "mo". A character incorporating the 白 phonetic will never (I hesitate to use this term as someone is bound to find an exception! :)) be pronounced any other way - it will never be "dong", "le", "ma" or any other of the hundreds of possibilities. This scenario is applicable to most 形声字 - at a guess you're probably looking at 60-70% of all characters.

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?

Essentially, yes. Firstly, as I mentioned above, the radical of a character points at its meaning, not pronunciation, so DeFrancis doesn't say you can know the pronunciation by looking at the radical. But the real point is that DeFrancis wants to dispell the myth that Chinese characters are in no way phonetic. Anyone who has a working knowledge of even a couple of hundred characters can't help but notice that some characters that share the same component are pronounced the same or very similar. The phonetic system is actually much more complete than what many people think. The more characters you know, the more apparent the links between them become. And if you know another Sinitic language (dialect), things become even clearer. An understanding of how sounds changed from Middle Chinese to the present also helps tremendously. Armed with all that knowledge, it is indeed possible to fairly accurately guess the pronunciation of an unknown character. That said, most people don't have all that knowledge, nor even wish to acquire it. But simply knowing that a character containing 白 will be pronounced "bai", "pai", "bo", "po" or occassionaly "mo" is a huge help - you don't need the know the whys and wherefors.

In my opinion, more effort should be made in emphasizing the phonetic value of phonetic components when teaching characters; i.e., when teaching the character 白, I think it would be beneficial to note that when it appears as a component of another character, that character will have the pronunciation of "bai, pai, bo, po or mo". You can't expect someone to remember all that right at the start when they first learn 白, but that information would serve well as future reference when the student comes across 百, and then 伯 and so on.

Edit: Found a couple of anomolies - 怕 and 帕. The former at least had lost its final stop (if it ever had one) by the time it was first recorded about 2000 years ago in the 說文解字.

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gato
"In other words, there is nothing in the nature of a character dictating that it must be verbalized one way or another."

JimmySeal and Mugi are both right. It depends on what one means by "nature."

If the nature of characters includes their history and etymology, then yes, their "nature" does suggest that one pronounce them a certain way.

But if "nature" only includes something that is "intrinsic" to the characters, then no, you can pronounce the characters however you want because the characters are just squiggles on a piece of paper or on a screen (is there anything "intrinsic" to characters other than just lines or pixels?) -- just as one can pronounce French words as if they were English, or English words as if they were French.

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OneEye

I think the more important question (as opposed to the ones being debated) is "Does the method work?" If it does, that should be enough. Anybody buying the book as a guide to etymology or an explanation of the entire written Chinese language is misguided at best. It is a tool for learning the characters, nothing more. And I believe the answer to the question, based on many reviews, forum discussions, and blogs, is "YES!"

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gato

I'm sure the system works because it's just an expanded version of the mnemonic system that many of us already use. The one issue I see is the suggestion (I'm not sure who made it) that one should memorize 1500 or 3000 characters before learning any words or doing any simple reading. That would take seven months of 2 hours a day of study given LeoSmith's experience. I think most students would get incredibly bored studying just characters for that long.

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JimmySeal

It's a common misconception that Heisig prescribes studying nothing other than the contents of the book until it's done. This is incorrect. He advises against learning hanzi readings, or deviating from the order of progress in the book.

This still leaves people free to learn Chinese from a wide range of pinyin learning materials, and children's books with zhuyin ruby text. It may feel a bit un-Chinese to be learning from pinyin materials at first (in this, Japanese learners are a bit better off because they can still fall back on kana), and it's true that learners can't take advantage of the benefits that come from connecting a word to its characters until the book is finished. But I think in the long run, it's worth the initial sacrifices.

Some people learn Chinese for years without approaching the hanzi at all (I know someone who has been studying 4 years, is quite fluent, and can barely read a single character), so if it means an easier time overall and a better understanding of the characters, then putting off other character studies until the books are done is the right move to make.

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leosmith
That would take seven months of 2 hours a day of study given LeoSmith's experience.

That's true, or a month for 8-10 hrs per day (don't laugh - there are several people who have done this:lol:). But I know where you saw that piece of advice gato: 10,000 sentence method phase 2.

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leosmith
Any given character only has one radical.

I guess I wasn't referring to the radical then, but the "components" of the characters (sorry, I don't know the correct name for the components). I've heard that about 30% have readings that can be determined by the components. Sound right?

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gato

Actually, I think these books will be pretty useful to those of us who already read Chinese but haven't memorized the characters well enough to write them by hand.

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simonlaing

Hi guys,

I feel bad coming into the conversation late but I felt obligated to put my two cents in.

Part 1/2

First this is not the first time this type of book has been done.

Two books spring to mind. One use the herzig style a bit of making up stories for the radical parts, but is a collection of vocabularies around certain topics. It's call Urban Chinese. I thought it's explanation of measure words and the connections of the measure words to parts of words they measure can be quite good.

The second and in my view superior book is a Key to Chinese Speech and Writing http://www.chinesetutor.net/2006_04_06/AkeytoChineseSpeechandWriting1.jpg

massive and unnecessary inline image removed. Roddy

and a link to another pic http://www.chinesetutor.net/2006_04_06/AkeytoChineseSpeechandWriting1a.jpg

It is written by a French Guy Joel Bellassen, and is a translation of the french book that he wrote.

The First part on speaking is not so long but as he introduced radicals and then the words that use the radicals he still keep the pinyin there. What's more he tells of the background of the characters so you see the eye yan radical was rounded first then square then veritical.

He also does a good job writing short paragraphs that progressively use the words and characters that you have learned. Also unlike the herzig book it is soft on the amount of English written, mostly at the beginning dicussing placement of the tongue, in the vocab section talking about the history and what connection to make with each character. (There are also english cultural paragraphs at the end of each Chapter. Some times these are the stories behind idioms.)

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simonlaing

Part 2 of 2

I think this latter book is superior for beginners for several readings:

1. There is pinyin included as you go along, so you can speak some sentences after the 3 lesson or so.

2. It does break the characters into parts to make them easier to memorize, but it uses the original Chinese way of thinking about them.

3. The way it is constructed with dialogues and paragraphs, gives you a feeling of accomplishment while limitting the vocabulary to words easy to link with the other words you have learned.

4. The Herzig is unrealistic for people who want to learn Chinese to communicate. Most people drop Chinese after the first semester, and you say you have to study for 7 months before you can speak.

The new practical reader also has some radicals in it's text , but these seem like an after thought to help with learning to write the characters, when I think they are more important to structure your way of learning the language.

http://www.chinesetutor.net/Books/BKXinshiyonghanyukeben1.html

I teach English to many Chinese students, some of whom have never opened their mouths in class to speak English.They have to learn the words all over again pretty much. (At the time we just needed it for the test) . And probably this method will be good for taking the test, but a book that leaves you unable to communicate orally is doing a disservice.

I did the reverse and learned only pinyin without reading and writing and regret it tremendous as I had to go back and learn almost all the words again connecting the pinyin meaning with the writing the character in my brain.

It seems like the supporters are suggesting that you learn all these word's meanings and then later go back and learn their pronunciation. I can't imagine the time consumed.

Good luck,

have fun,

SimoN:)

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JimmySeal

Simon,

Could you provide an image from later in that book? I'm curious to see how it presents characters towards the middle of the book.

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Mugi
Originally Posted by leosmith

I guess I wasn't referring to the radical then, but the "components" of the characters (sorry, I don't know the correct name for the components). I've heard that about 30% have readings that can be determined by the components. Sound right?

There's no absolute figure - it depends on the individual's knowledge of Chinese. How many characters do you "know" in Putonghua? Do you have a knowledge of other dialects? Do you have a knowledge of Middle Chinese phonology? Do you have a knowledge of other languages influenced by Chinese? For me personally, the percentage is probably closer to 70%. For someone with extensive knowledge of Middle Chinese, it's probably closer to 90%. For a non-Chinese university student with one year under their belt, probably closer to 10%. But I really have no idea - these are just guesses based on my personal experience and may not bear out in data from a scientific survey.

Moreover, these percentages I'm floating don't represent an exact pronunciation match - they represent the narrowing down of an unknown character's pronunciation from hundreds of possibilities to 3 or 4.

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Mugi

Jimmy, taken in isolation you are right, there is nothing that dictates how a particular character should be pronounced. But Chinese characters are part of a system, and in that context there are components in many (in fact the majority) of characters that do hint (to greater and lesser degrees depending on the idividual reader's knowledge) at how to pronounce it. You may wish to learn the pronunciation of every character independently, but I personally am not one to look a gifthorse in the mouth (in fact I couldn't, even if I wanted to - if I didn't know the pronunciation of 柏 already, I would automatically guess that it is "bai", failing that, I would guess "bo". Why don't I make a guess at another pronunciation? Because I can see the phonetic component 白 and it tells me that the character is most likely pronounced "bai" or "bo". The 白 portion of the character dictates that it should be verbalized in a certain way.)

As you yourself have said, the Japanese have been doing it for centuries.
As I also implied, this is hardly a model that should be mimicked; I would be surprised if there were a less efficient writing system in the world than Japanese!
Anyone who would confuse these with actual etymologies shouldn't be trying to learn Chinese and should probably get their head examined while they're at it

Quite right you are - but reality is often stranger than fiction. A couple of years ago an (intelligent) friend of mine was learning to read and write Japanese in earnest (she grew up here, so can speak fluently but went to a missionary school so never learnt to read and write) and was using a mnemonic system - I can't remember how many times she came to me asking about this character or that, clearly misconstruing the mnemonic for a genuine etymology.

While I concede the examples of obvious mnemonics you give, there are still a number where the lines aren't so clear to a beginner: numbers 77 and 78, and "wealth" on pg54 in the simplified character PDF seem quite plausible, but are inaccurate. I will confess, the more examples I read the more clearly the mnemonics come across for what they are and not attempts at legitimate etymological explanations, so I may have been a bit hasty in my criticism here ...

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leosmith
I think this latter book is superior for beginners for several readings:

1. There is pinyin included as you go along, so you can speak some sentences after the 3 lesson or so.

2. It does break the characters into parts to make them easier to memorize, but it uses the original Chinese way of thinking about them.

3. The way it is constructed with dialogues and paragraphs, gives you a feeling of accomplishment while limitting the vocabulary to words easy to link with the other words you have learned.

So you prefer to do everything at once, which is pretty much the opposite of Heisig's philosophy of divide and conquer.

4. The Herzig is unrealistic for people who want to learn Chinese to communicate.
And probably this method will be good for taking the test, but a book that leaves you unable to communicate orally is doing a disservice.
It seems like the supporters are suggesting that you learn all these word's meanings and then later go back and learn their pronunciation.

In case anyone missed this the first time, the Heisig method (or the Herzig:wink:) accomplishes the same thing as traditional methods. It just does it in a different order:

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

Most people drop Chinese after the first semester, and you say you have to study for 7 months before you can speak.

For 2000 characters, I studied 10 hrs per week for 7 months. But think of it as 1 to 1.5hours per 10 characters, depending on the person and whether one uses an SRS. How many months it takes depends on how many hours per month one works.

I did the reverse and learned only pinyin without reading and writing and regret it tremendous as I had to go back and learn almost all the words again connecting the pinyin meaning with the writing the character in my brain.

That's interesting. I'm learning pinyin first too. But because of my knowledge of Kanji, I recognize many characters already, and I often glance at chinese writing and know which chinese word I'm looking at. Learning to read after going through Heisig will be quite easy for me. Good luck with your traditional methods though.

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Mark Yong

Originally Posted by 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.

JimmySeal wrote:

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.

As a native speaker of Cantonese and a late-learner of Mandarin, I often have problems speaking to, and understanding my fellow mainland Chinese counterparts when conversing with them. Often times, I resort to writing e-mails and IM's using Chinese, and this effectively bridges the gap. The funny thing is, there are many words that I write that I do not know the pronunciation for (in these instances, I use the IME writing pad to generate the characters)! So, on that note, I fully agree with JimmySeal above.

In a couple of my previous forum threads, I discussed this concept of the universality of 漢字 Chinese characters, as used in China, Japan and Korea, and how - once upon a time - there existed a common written language, i.e. 文言 Literary Chinese, that bridged the gap of different spoken tongues via a common written language.

A little closer to home, even once upon a time before the advent of the Mandarin vernacular language, speakers of different dialects all across China could communicate via the written word, with absolutely no recourse to a common spoken language.

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Mark Yong

Originally Posted by 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.

JimmySeal wrote:

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.

As a native speaker of Cantonese and a late-learner of Mandarin, I often have problems speaking to, and understanding my fellow mainland Chinese counterparts when conversing with them. Often times, I resort to writing e-mails and IM's using Chinese, and this effectively bridges the gap. The funny thing is, there are many words that I write that I do not know the pronunciation for (in these instances, I use the IME writing pad to generate the characters)! So, on that note, I fully agree with JimmySeal above.

In a couple of my previous forum threads, I discussed this concept of the universality of 漢字 Chinese characters, as used in China, Japan and Korea, and how - once upon a time - there existed a common written language, i.e. 文言 Literary Chinese, that bridged the gap of different spoken tongues via a common written language.

A little closer to home, even once upon a time before the advent of the Mandarin vernacular language, speakers of different dialects all across China could communicate via the written word, with absolutely no recourse to a common spoken language.

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