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memorising & RETAINING Chinese characters

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renzhe

Allow me to quote roddy:

ten beans in your mouth = happy

The simplified form of this is 涛, the right part is life, the left part is water. Living water = wave.

Mnemonics are cool, but I didn't need it for this particular one. I did need a mnemonic for 哲: A pound of fist in your mouth. I imagine biting my fist in despair, and it reminds me of philosophy.

But I'm not going to come up with a mnemonic for 版 板 阪 坂 舨 钣. A ban with wood, a ban with earth, a ban with metal, etc. Usually, these are easy to remember.

If you have thousands of mnemonics, you'll start forgetting mnemonics eventually, so I use them sparingly.

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so.many.words

If you are not constantly using a memorised word then it will not remain in memory. I know the character for comrade(tongzi) but for the heck of me, today I could not draw it, maybe later it will come to me. ...If however I saw it I would recognize it straight away (I hope!).

I don't care much for mnemonic memory tricks and only see them as having very limited use for small volumes of characters in short term memory. I do believe it necessary though, to have some kind of branch to hang onto when drowning in Characters and I would never dismiss their use when someone else might find them useful.

I believe the only solution is in the constant use or if it is kept on the boil through revision. The review can be in any form ...added back to daily use, so tomorrow I will address everyone as comrade, or generate a flashcard in my pleco and look at it later, or alternatively I could turn to a dictionary now and put myself (and you) out of my misery. ...Bang! There it is ...now what was that character for comrade again???

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Scoobyqueen

I read somewhere that to transfer anything to the long term memory you need more than 8 seconds of focused attention...if only characters were as easy as that.

How about writing the characters? I use dictations provided by more advanced texts being read out. That way one needs to remember a whole series of characters but in context and sequence. I find this is a useful way to retain characters since the brain will order and categorise several characters perhaps better because of the context provided. It also aids my reading, especially learning when to expect a certain character/word in a sentence. Moreover, I believe one learns to associate the sound of a word/character directly with its written form, avoiding pinyin which is another written form to contend with and not needed here (because you are listening instead). With having to write them by hand, one gets to know the characters better I feel and also reduces confusion with characters that look alike, especially when speed reading is required.

I find the flashcard method can lack context which for me is the point of learning to read characters/words in the first place. I do use flashcards but use the prompt to write fictional sentences with the character/words and often look them up additionally to create context, thereby (hopefully) transferring them to the long-term memory.

Initially the approach was laborious. However, if one perseveres the brain soon gets tired of being frustrated at not remembering characters you should have. The frustration element can aid learning too I find.

I recognise that writing characters by hand is not for everyone though.

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renzhe

Writing characters by hand is how the Chinese people learn to read in school, so it obviously works really well, even if it's really laborious. Things you can reproduce are remembered much better than the ones you can simply recognise, and you're less likely to forget them.

The reason why I didn't go down that road is that, in my experience, learning to write a set of characters takes far longer than learning to read them. You learn them better, but you learn fewer. And in time it takes you to read 2000-3000 characters, you may only learn to write accurately half of that. So instead of knowing 1000 characters REALLY well, you can know 2500 rather well, and can read moderately challenging books instead of still being stuck at beginner texts, years after you started.

Personal preferences and learning styles will influence this very strongly, though.

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Scoobyqueen

I agree with the points made by Renzhe and it also ties in with my own initial experiences It is a question of preferred learning styles and writing characters by hand takes longer to learn. I can add that the first 900-1000 took relatively long to learn through handwriting, after that the learning curve appeared to become somewhat exponential. Although some of the characters I know very well through this method, I might completely forget how to write but never forget their meaning when reading. It would be interesting to hear if any one else has similar experiences. I know that some Chinese who dont write by hand anymore might momentarily forget how to write some characters.

I opted for being able to learn to write by hand also because I wanted to be able to jot down what the teacher puts on the (black) board but also I wanted to be able to take accurate notes of what people say at interviews/conferences. If you do this in English the translation process can take too long and you might miss some parts, but more importantly you cannot quote exactly what was said. Pinyin I dont find would be useful in that situation.

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calibre2001

I will third the write by hand suggestion. It's one of the reasons why chinese is a hard language to be in control of. I find that by only recognising and not writing the character you can miss out certain subtleties that differentiate characters that look almost the same e.g. 才,寸,材,村.

Forgeting how to write is very normal even for chinese.

See an example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je7v5MybB0M&feature=related

Their advantage is they learn it from young, so it sinks in and remains permanently in the passive side of the brain. Not to difficult to recall even if it gets dusty after a while. Much harder for us adult learners...

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haton

Hello, this post is really full of ideas. Taking advantage of it, I have revamped the learning model in Pingrid to include:

- a new learning model based on spaced repetition,

- an option to specifically drill down new words.

Various game options have been added. Pingrid can be downloaded from:

http://ehaton.blogspot.com

Enjoy!

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simonlaing

Props to Imron,

Breaking the character into radicals was the only way that worked consistently.

I have used eumonics and latin roots in studying french and Spanish, but breaking the character down with or with out a story is the way to go.

I am trying the reading a lot method to keep characters fresh. Do people who use a pleco dict also read to keep the words retained. This can be an issue for very dated words. Tongzhi 同志 used to mean comrade it now is used to refer to gay friend.

People should be careful of using dated words.

have fun,

Simon:)

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imron
Tongzhi 同志 used to mean comrade it now is used to refer to gay friend.
I keep hearing people mention this, and I know in HK and Taiwan it apparently has this meaning, and perhaps it also sees greater usage among gay people when referring to themselves, however that being said, at least in northern China it doesn't appear to have this connotation in daily usage. I hear this word probably 2 or 3 times a week and it's never used to refer to a gay person. Usually it's used in jest or for mock encouragement (harking back to slogans used in the past), or it's used as a term of respect e.g. 警察同志. Perhaps in time the meaning will change, just like the word gay did, but it doesn't appear to have reached that point yet, at least not in the north.

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realmayo

Allow me to quote roddy:

ten beans in your mouth = happy

Allow me to suggest: "The fantastic drumming made his mouth fall wide open, he was so happy." :D

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Luobot

imron -

I should add however that I do think it's incredibly useful to break down a character into its component parts

simonlaing -

Props to Imron .... Breaking the character into radicals was the only way that worked consistently.

So is there a particularly good text or tool to recommend for this method?

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renzhe

You can find the radicals in any dictionary.

What would be interesting is to find other frequently occurring parts (which aren't radicals), for example common phonetic parts which occur as characters.

If I were to start all over again, I'd probably start with learning those first.

Does anyone know of a comprehensive list of all radicals + phonetic parts?

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Luobot
You can find the radicals in any dictionary.

Hmm ... the dictionaries I have don't seem to provide much explanation. Perhaps there is a better one for this purpose?

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renzhe

Here's one

Most of them are basically characters which show up as semantic elements in other characters. Some of them are just there for indexing purposes, though.

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imron

What I found to be helpful, was learning Wubi. If you decide to go that route, 五笔快打 is an excellent tool for practicing, unfortunately it is Windows only. (Note 五笔快打 is the second product on that page - you need to scroll down a bit).

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Luobot

The Learning Wubi page is interesting to see how you can create characters from components, but it's also a very complicated process. It makes you appreciate this tool.

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imron
but it's also a very complicated process
I have two things to say to this:

1) Wubi's not as complicated as people make it out to be. 俗话说得好:难者不会,会者不难 :mrgreen: Anyway, it's quite logical and structured and there are plenty of tools and materials to help you figure it out. The main thing is you just need to spend time practicing until you've internalised the roots and the ways to combine them. If you were to spend 15-20 minutes a day, every day for a month using the tool I linked to above, that would probably be enough to get the basics down pat (you might not be typing at great speeds, but you'll be able to type pretty much any character you see). Anyway, spending time does not necessarily mean complicated, and personally, I think Wubi is far less complicated than trying to remember stories for every character.

2) A lot of people are searching for the magic shortcut to learning Chinese, but really, there isn't one. You just need to bite the bullet and put in the time and the effort. Seeing as you're going to have to put the time and effort in somewhere, why not do it for something useful?

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realmayo
What would be interesting is to find other frequently occurring parts (which aren't radicals), for example common phonetic parts which occur as characters.

The website www.zhongwen.com, which is often mentioned here, and the book of the same, are useful.

But if you can spare the cash, I would suggest Wenlin www.wenlin.com -- effectively a big, clever dictionary installed on your computer: for me the most useful functions are:

it provides etymology and breaks each character into components

it tells you which other characters use that character, or that component, as part of their own structure

can list, in order of most commonly used, two-character (& other) words which use the character you're looking at.

For example, I came across a a new character, 培. Obviously, it includes the following component, 咅 (with 土 on the left).

Now, Wenlin tells me that in modern Chinese 咅 is not used as a character in its own right. So I could choose to remember the new character 培 as 土 (earth) plus 立 (stand) plus 口 (mouth).

But: Wenlin also tells me that plenty of other characters, several of which are within the most common 3,000, also use this 咅 components. So, I decide it's worthwhile learning 咅 in its own right (as "spit out", according to Wenlin) because it will make remembering 部 bù, 倍 bèi, 培 péi, 剖 pōu etc easier.

Wenlin is conscientious in pointing out what the real etymological basis of each character is, but also helps you to remember a less "correct" but more memorable version if you want.

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