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HerrPetersen

Visualizing Pinyin Tones

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realmayo

Imron, I think people have pointed out plenty of times before that the "stories" melt away with time, leaving behind just a rock solid memory of how to write the character.

Your method looks very interesting but not too different from brute-force writing the character lots of times in a row, except that you do the writing "in your mind", lots of times in a row. I imagine it's a lot more efficient when you already know lots of characters than when you're learning how to write (not just recognise) the first couple of thousand.

Also: consider someone who already knew the characters 女 and 口, and came across 如. I'd guess most people would start by learning it as woman and mouth. Later, you'd just write it as 如, you wouldn't think about the woman or the mouth. The "stories" are exactly the same, except you think of something memorable to link "woman" and "mouth" to "if". I think people do that all the time despite never having heard of Heisig or whoever. You've seriously never done the same?

From my own experience, I forget how to write the characters I didn't bother make a story much more often than the ones that I did make a story for, even though I've since forgotten what those stories were!

EDIT: I think this is because: the process of working your way through the story to compose the character COMPONENT by COMPONENT is a great way of forcing your brain to remember which components comprise a character. The first few times you need to remember how to write the character, you can feel your brain turning as it struggles to remember the components -- that process surely lodges it all firmly into the memory?

It achieves the same as Imron's method, but is easier and faster and more fun:mrgreen:!

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Hofmann

What is easy and fast is subjective.

Of course, for any of our methods to work, you have to know something, just like you have to know the letters a, b, and c in order to write (and not draw) "cab." But why is it that you say my learning method requires more prior character knowledge than Heisig's?

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realmayo

More waffle:

I fail to see the point of Heisig or any other book giving people stories for thousands of characters. The book I used gave the most common 800 characters. After that approximate point, two things come into play. First, using other resources -- eg Wenlin, zhongwen.com -- which provide etymologies, combined with your own imagination, you shouldn't need to be spoon fed any more "stories".

Second, what worked well when you were starting will work less well the more advanced you get, and the more nuanced you need your understanding to be. Simple example: it may be too complex when you're starting to remember that 月 can be "meat" or "month" when it appears as a component in a character, or that as components there's a difference between 日 and 曰. But once you get firmly up the first few rungs of the ladder, it's much easier to remember characters if you differentiate here.

I try to get my stories as close to a correct or sensible etymology as possible, while adding in some memorable nonsense if required, to help remember the character for the first half-dozen attempts.

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imron
I just get the impression that you consider people that use mnemonics in this fashion are like dumb children drawing fanciful pictures with crayons.
Not dumb children, but the training wheel analogy you mentioned is pretty much spot on. Ok, the training wheels might come off for a given character once you've seen it enough times, but then you're still putting them on again to learn new characters. Surely the ideal situation at some point would be to do away with the training wheels altogether, and to do that really requires practicing without them.

I agree that mnemonics are a great technique to memorize and connect a large amount of random and unrelated things e.g. numbers, cards etc. However Chinese characters by their nature are not random, and they already have meanings and connections between them. I'm not saying don't visualise, I'm saying why visualise and remember things that are not related.

And I think you are slightly missing the point. The goal of the mnemonic systems being implemented right now is not to remember the STORIES leading up to the connections, but the relevant INFORMATION that it's connected with
I get this point, and this is really one of my main issues with such systems. These stories eventually fade from memory, so why put in effort to remember something initially whose entire purpose is to be forgotten. It's like taking three steps forward and two steps back, and then being happy that you're still one step ahead. Why not just keep taking one step forward the whole time.

As for having characters popping into your head, like I said, it's a trained skill, and if you are comfortable doing visualisation for mnemonics, I believe you would be able to do this too, you just don't realise it yet. If you'll humour me for a moment, here's something you should try:

Take the character 土. Spend a few seconds thinking about each stroke that it is made of: a horizontal, a vertical, followed by a horizontal. 一 丨 一.

Now close your eyes and imagine one of those big calligraphy brushes drawing those strokes (nice big ones) in order - horizontal, vertical, horizontal 一 十 土.

Repeat several times.

When you can do that without any effort, then try visualising the strokes being drawn without the brush, horizontal, vertical, horizontal 一 十 土.

Repeat several times.

When you can do that without any effort, then try visualising each stroke just appearing in order rather than being drawn 一 十 土.

Repeat several times.

When you can do that without any effort, then try visualising the 十 appearing followed by the bottom 一. 十 土

Repeat several times.

When you can do that without any effort, then try visualising the entire character 土 appearing at once.

Repeat several times.

When you can do that without any effort, congratulations, you can now pop characters instantly into your mind.

Granted, it might take a few steps before you can do it, and you might not be able to do it for complicated characters yet, however, because Chinese characters are essentially all built from the same few components, the more you practice, the easier it will get. A quick look at my dictionary tells me that 土 appears in approximately 200 characters, and now that you can pop 土 instantly into view, each of those 200 characters will be slightly simpler. For example, take the character 地. You should already be able to make the 土 part pop instantly into your mind, so first concentrate on 也, repeating the above process until you can make 也 pop instantly into view also. Once you can do that, then practice visualising the character 地 by making each component pop into view one after the other, first 土 then 也, first 土 then 也, do that a few times and you should shortly be able to make 地 appear instantly too. Start small, keep it simple and gradually work your way up to more complicated things. As for creating connections, while you are practicing being able to visualise the character instantly, also visualise the direct meaning of the word - visualise the character, visualise the meaning, visualise the character, visualise the meaning, then visualise them both together.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and after a few hundred characters, you'll be able to pop them into view instantly without much trouble at all. At the same time, all your effort will be getting spent on things directly related to the character in question.

@realmayo, the difference between writing it out by hand and visualising it in your mind is huge. When you write it by hand over and over, your brain is essentially disconnected from the learning process. After a couple of iterations, it's really just your eyes and hand working together, and your brain day dreaming about something more interesting. It's not involved in the process and so naturally it doesn't remember it well. With visualising, you cannot disconnect your brain from the process, it has to take an active part, going over each character component by component. What you are doing is essentially training your active recall, so of course it sticks.

You've seriously never done the same?
I always break characters down into component parts, and do look for connections between those things, but I'd not associate it with something unrelated to the character at hand. Take a character I learnt recently: 驹 - jū - a young horse. So I would think jū is a young horse, and remember it's going to be the character that looks like 句, but has slightly different pronunciation (jū instead of jù), and has the 马 radical. That took all of about 2 seconds to remember when I first came across it, and it's stuck pretty permanently now without any further effort. Not all characters are so simple however, e.g. another character I learnt recently 斡 wò - spin; revolve. I break it down as 十 早 人 斗, but for me there is nothing to really associate those with either the meaning or the sound, so while I'm visualising the character over and over, I think that wò means spin;revolve, and is made up of the shapes 十 早 人 斗. I don't think of the meaning of those separate components though, or try to think of a story connecting them, I just visualise those shapes making up the character, and after a few repetitions then it sticks. The fact that I can do this now without much effort comes from having trained my active recall using the above method.
the process of working your way through the story to compose the character COMPONENT by COMPONENT is a great way of forcing your brain to remember which components comprise a character.
I agree that the best way to learn a character is to force your brain to remember which components it is comprised of. I believe this is possible to do without stories however. Just keep visualising the character component by component in your mind.

As for which method is easier and faster, I guess it all depends. When you first try it, my method may take a bit longer, but later on, I believe the opposite will be true. Like I said, the method I wrote above is the long version that I used at the beginning. After you get good at it, it reduces down to: remember the components, remember the sound, remember the meaning. It doesn't get much faster or easier than that.

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renzhe
I imagine it's a lot more efficient when you already know lots of characters than when you're learning how to write

I actually think that's it's really efficient once you know many components (of course, people who know many characters tend to know many components). And I think that the biggest advantage of complete approaches like Heisig or TK Ann is that they introduce the components early and organise the learning not in the terms of actual usage frequency, but in the order that builds on simple components (some of which are not used as standalone characters in modern Chinese).

If I were starting to learn characters from scratch, I'd probably learn the most common components (radicals and phonetics) early on and then build the rest of the characters from them, using mnemonics, rote memorisation, whatever.

But, I do understand imron, I brute-forced the characters for 2 years and now I'm reading all sorts of stuff, so just rolling up your sleeves is always a tried and tested option. Clever systems can certainly help, but I don't think they will reduce your overall study time drastically.

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HerrPetersen

@Hofmann: Heisig builds up the charachters in an "i+1" manner, all components/radicals/primitives are introduced just so. For the way you described the example "start characher like ... end it differently" you have to have at least some prior knowledge.

In either case - this thread was not intended to be a "my Hanzi-learning-style is better than yours" one.

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LittleFishChan

"These stories eventually fade from memory, so why put in effort to remember something initially whose entire purpose is to be forgotten. It's like taking three steps forward and two steps back, and then being happy that you're still one step ahead. Why not just keep taking one step forward the whole time."

Why put a candy bar in a wrapper if the wrapper is going to be thrown away? You don't eat the wrapper, so why should we waste our time making it? Why put medicine in bottles if they are simply thrown away? Why sell beer, pop and other drinks in containers? What is wrong with us, spending all of our time making these things that are, by their very nature disposable? We must have gone mad! To the contrary, some things are MEANT to be disposable. Once they serve a purpose, they are discarded. Mnemonics are not meant to be remembered forever, that's why they are (by definition) a REMEMBERING AID.

Edit: The point of this whole thing is not to prove one style is superior to another, I enjoy finding out how people learn using various methods. But criticism necessitates explanation, which is what I'm trying to provide.

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realmayo

Mnemonics were acknowledged by Greeks, Romans, and later by Christian monks, then Renaissance scholars and others who needed to remember lots of information (famously Jesuits) as a very powerful tool -- albeit initially counter-intuitive.

After the invention of the printing press, its use tailed off (you could carry the info around in a little printed book).

Frances Yates, The Art of Memory is a good book. The wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_memory is quite good.

Basically, I can see why someone might say there's a better or equally good way of learning Chinese characters. But I don't think it should be so easy to write off the notion of menmonics/memory devices per se.

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realmayo

Also I guess we have to be careful about recommending any method which we've already had success with: I mean, I now find learning new characters really easy following my method, Imron finds learning new characters really easy following his: a big reason for this may well be that we're plain and simply used to learning characters!

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imron
Mnemonics were acknowledged by Greeks, Romans, and later by Christian monks, then Renaissance scholars and others who needed to remember lots of information (famously Jesuits) as a very powerful tool -- albeit initially counter-intuitive.
I don't doubt the power of mnemonics. I've known about and used them (and other visualisation techniques) long since before starting to learn Chinese. I just don't see a need to use mnemonics/visualisation unrelated to the character at hand, especially when the characters themselves contain plenty of information that can be used for memory hooks.

Well anyway, if you are all happy with your methods, and I am happy with my method, then I guess everyone is happy.

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Yadang

@Imron

 

If you'll humour me for a moment, here's something you should try:

Thank you so much for this! Previously I had only read your post on page 2... These two posts put together are excellent! Thanks for the detail.

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hedwards

Since this thread has been dug up already.

 

My personal take on mnemonics with Chinese characters is that they strengthen the connection that's usually already there. Most of the time, I've found it to be overkill, but when I'm using my SRS system and a character isn't sticking, then I'll be especially mindful to use mnemonics to get it to stick.

 

Ultimately, all mnemonics really are is a way of really examining what you want to memorize and then mindfully placing it into a spot in the brain.

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imron

I agree that it is important to really examine what you want to memorise, and mindfully place it in a spot in your brain.

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Yadang

 

Since this thread has been dug up already.

Yeah sorry about that... I didn't realize that the last post was five years ago until after I had done that... :D

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roddy

Closing, we already have a mnemonics discussion active elsewhere. 

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imron

And for future readers, that elsewhere is here.

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