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marksealey

Characters: to delay or not to delay

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Hofmann

Well, of course it would be time consuming if you did that. I really don't like that method though. Can one not just learn the stroke order rules and remember the radicals? That's how I've learned from the beginning and I can write just fine.

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renzhe

Well, yeah, if you learn to recognise characters so well that you can recreate them, then you can also write them. But you don't really need to know every single stroke of a character to read properly.

You'll also most likely be writing them slowly, too. The writing over and over again serves to develop muscle memory and make it easy to write very fast, which is useful for jotting down things, writing up conversations, and the like.

Personally, I never learned writing explicitely, and I can recognise far more characters than I can write. I can still write quite a lot of them from memory, just because I can remember them so well. But, due to the lack of practice, I write slowly, and the characters don't look very nice unless I write them ultra-slowly.

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marksealey

renzhe and greenleaf,

Thanks for those points!

I'm thinking that the same difference may exist between reading (which includes recognizing) and listening (which includes recognizing) on the one hand; and writing (which includes reproducing) and speaking (which includes reproducing) on the other.

If that's true, then I can see how it's essential to have them all go hand in hand.

Maybe I'm overestimating the difficulty of learning the characters - especially if one thinks of internalising, rather than memorizing, them?

That FSI should come up again is encouraging. That's my first port of call. Or first six ports, actually :).

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character
Maybe I'm overestimating the difficulty of learning the characters[...]

Almost certainly. I've found recognizing characters the easiest part of learning Chinese.

If you want a gentle introduction to characters, every time you hit characters which have similar pinyin but are different characters, learn those characters so you can keep them separate in your mind.

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renzhe
Maybe I'm overestimating the difficulty of learning the characters - especially if one thinks of internalising, rather than memorizing, them?

It's hard to say, as people have very different expectations. It's certainly not easy, but it's not impossibly hard either. Consistent learning is the key, half an hour a day is enough.

In my experience, if you use an intelligent flashcard program with spaced repetition and practice characters daily (every day, no skipping), you can learn to recognise more than 2000 characters in 2 years, and that is a very solid basis that will enable you to read many many books, essays, articles, etc.

This may seem like a lot of work, but 2 years is not a huge amount of time when it comes to learning a language. It's up to you when you want to sit down and get your hands dirty, and how you combine it with learning other aspects of the language (vocabulary, listening, grammar, speaking, etc.), but the later you start, the longer you'll have to deal with overly-simplified material made for learners -- and you'll soon find you that they can be very limiting.

In my experience, I actually found listening comprehension and proper pronunciation (this mainly refers to very fast speaking and still getting all the tones right) to be harder than the characters. With characters, it's simply a matter of dilligence and putting in the hours.

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anonymoose

You haven't said why you're learning Chinese, but I think this is also an important factor.

I was initially attracted to Chinese because of the characters, and therefore do place special attention on learning to recognise and write them (although I don't feel that it's at the expense of the other skills).

I personally feel that, if one is going to make the effort to learn Chinese, it is a shame to neglect the one feature that makes Chinese beautiful and (almost) unique - the characters.

But of course, different people have different objectives and interests. As they say in Chinese, 萝卜芹菜,各有所爱.

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marksealey

Thanks, renzhe and anonymoose - that's all encouraging.

ATM I am putting in closer to an hour a day... NPCR as my spine, supplemented by Melnyk and ChinesePod. Am methodically recording the vocabulary I use, reading all the supplementary material I have and trying TV newscasts (I'm lucky enough to live in an area where there are such).

I do feel I'm making progress. My initial post here was because I was beginning to conceive of the characters as a mere memory challenge. All your help has made me look at it quite differently, and I'm very grateful, thanks :).

I want to learn Mandarin precisely because it seemed so tough and I have never tackled anything like it. And because I have always loved the culture. Also - eventually - want to read and understand the literature (particularly Tang poets)!

Thanks, again!

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anonymoose
Also - eventually - want to read and understand the literature (particularly Tang poets)!

Well, once you've learnt mandarin, you have another mountain to climb then, because you'll need to understand classical chinese if you want to read Tang poetry.

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renzhe

...in fact, the only thing coming from modern Chinese that will help you read Tang poems are indeed characters.

The modern grammar, vocabulary, prununciation etc. will not help there.

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leeyah

Correct.

If being able to read Tang poetry is your main goal (!) then you'd better do it the other way around - start learning Classical Chinese first :lol: otherwise you'll be wasting your valuable time on things which really have got nothing to do with poetry much less with the exquisite beauty of 唐诗

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marksealey
because you'll need to understand classical chinese if you want to read Tang poetry.

By then, I shall be better equipped than I was a couple of months ago, though, surely?

The modern grammar… will not help there.

The grammar is different, or the morphology and vocabulary?

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marksealey

leeyah,

If being able to read Tang poetry is your main goal (!)

It started as my main reason; but of course it's all blossomed into so much more. I know that's a very ambitious aim; and I'm quite happy to pursue it one day. In the meantime, I'm finding the intellectual challenges and insight into as many aspects of China and Chinese as learning the language affords very fulfilling. Thanks!

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中文的力量

marksealey, do you know the same program but for windows please ? Your's is for mac only

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anonymoose
By then, I shall be better equipped than I was a couple of months ago, though, surely?

Better equipped, yes, relatively speaking, but make no mistake, modern mandarin and Tang poetry (classical chinese) are very very different.

Even many Chinese people do not understand Tang poetry very well.

Edited by anonymoose

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renzhe
The grammar is different, or the morphology and vocabulary?

All of it.

Keep in mind that there is no inflection in Chinese, but the words used are very different, and many characters had a different meaning back then.

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Hofmann

It's possible to learn Vernacular Chinese (a.k.a. modern Mandarin) and Classical Chinese at the same time, if you can manage to keep them separate. I started studying Classical Chinese a bit after I started Vernacular Chinese. Using Cantonese pronunciation for Classical Chinese certainly helps to keep them separate (and makes Tang poetry rhyme better). I don't know of any textbooks that don't suck though.

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marksealey

中文的力量,

I would have thought there's bound to be one. But I don't use Windows (strictly Mac) so I can't say. Try VersionTracker. Good luck!

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marksealey

anonymoose, renzhe and Hofmann,

Thanks for that guidance.

The poetry started as something into which I wanted to get some insight immediately.

But now I'm getting so much pleasure from contemporary spoken Chinese (plan to visit next year :)) that I'm happy extending the whole project.

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realmayo

My suggestions:

Don't fret about learning the characters simultaneous to what you're learning how to speak & listen.

For a very thorough grounding in characters, consider this book: Fundamentals of Chinese Characters by John Jing-hua Yin. It is designed to teach you characters separate from a course of speaking and listening and so on. After 15 hefty lessons you'll know 229 characters, which isn't much, but you'll know loads about the different components and radicals which make up the rest of the characters in the language, and really understand how characters work.

Then, second book, A Revolutionary New Way to Learn and Remember the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters shows how to use "stories" as memory techniques to learn characters: plenty of people here have found such techniques very useful, I found the book itself invaluable. I used it in conjunction with a computer programme called Anki to help me memorise what I'd learned. After the 800 characters from that book, you have the technique to learn all the others.

Also -- and separate from the above -- poetry: I can hugely recommend How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology by Zong-qi Cai. Nothing to do with actual learning the characters here, but a great walk-through of Chinese poetry, loads of examples and translations and explanations, and would be very accessible despite very limited understanding of Chinese.

And ... there's a book designed to actually teach you Chinese characters via classical Chinese poems. For me, it's too dry to use to learn Chinese itself, but looks like a thorough way of learning more about Chinese poetry. It's Chinese Through Poetry by Archie Barnes.

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