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How Do Chinese People Memorize Characters?

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chinopinyin

Does anybody know which techniques do chinese people employ to remember characters? They have to be very successful ones

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XiaoXi

Ultimately its usage. Whether at school, work or wherever. The more they need to read and write in their daily life, the more they will memorise the characters. Its best to employ the same techniques yourself. Write out passages of Chinese text, and read long passages of Chinese text. Those are ultimately the best methods for memorising the characters.

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calibre2001

Their method, as far as I know, is cost effective. Get some paper, learn a new character and write it down 20 times a character and move on the next one. I think this is what is done in chinese schools and is probably from age 7-9. After that it's mostly just character recognition. It works since the language is internalised in them from a young age. No Heisig method, no flashcards..

The main reason it seems successful is that they learn it young, use it as a first language and are immersed in the right environment. They probably need to score well in exams too which are all written in....chinese.

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xiaocai

Usage could be one of the major ways, but repetition nevertheless plays an important role in early education. Most of Chinese of my age would never forget assignment like "write each of the new characters in today's text for 10 times", not fun at all for primary school kids.

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roddy

It's actually pretty simple - just start somewhere around the age of 3-6 years old.

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liuzhou

They write them over and over and over again. Then write them some more.

IMG_4404Small.jpg

Xi'an 1997

Oh! That doesn't work! Where did the report bugs thread go?

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edelweis

努力学习。努力工作。How many languages have a word like 努力?

(repetition, radicals decomposition or mnemonics, flashcards, daily use. It looks like there is no shortcut unfortunately.)

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Shi Tong

I think a good method is to logically memorise characters by several different methods. This includes the method mentioned above (just start writing it loads and repeat the same character lots of times). But what you will realise doing this is that a lot of characters either have a radical to give you a clue to the meaning:

打,拍,揍- hit, clap and beat up all include the hand radical on the left hand side- so almost every time you see the hand, you'll know it's something to do with the hand.

Or a pronunciation clue in the word:

丁 (dīng​, a radical),

钉 (dīng​- nail- "dīng (丁)" with a metal radical on the left- because the nail is made of metal),

订 (dìng​- to order/ to agree- "dīng (丁)" with a language radical on the left, because you use language to agree),

叮 (dīng- an onomat- the sound of a bell "dīng (丁)" with a mouth radical on the left because you use your mouth to make the sound).

I find these methods immensely helpful and logical as you can file these meanings in the right places and even guess at some of the pronunciations.

However, you STILL need to keep writing things all the time and practicing every day. However, I find this a good memorisation method. I recently was directed to www.zhongwen.com where it had a massive radical list which is also really helpful.. takes some time to browse though! :)

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chinopinyin

People typically learn new words throughout their lifetime.

Do chinese people aged 40 or 60 write 20 times every unknown character they encounter?

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anonymoose

死记硬背

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Jordi

死记硬背

Thank you very much anonymoose.

I didn't know this sentence, so I searched on nciku.

Two sample sentences from nciku:

死记硬背的学习方法,我们是不提倡的 = We don't advocate learning by rote

当前的许多老师认为死记硬背过时了。= many teachers of the present day think that learning by rote is archaic.

Must mean something... or not? ;)

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Shi Tong

Chinopinyin,

Of course, for those who are 40-60 and are from a country where they write Chinese characters, they dont need to write out a "new" character 20 times every time they see it. The difference for them is the weight of knowledge.

If they're confronted by a new word, I would have thought most people split this up into various parts to make up the sum total of the word, and lots of people do forget characters. Usually the way to remember it is to compare the "new" one with others that they already know. I've heard people saying (in Chinese), how do you write "x", and the description is to say "on the left you have an "x", and to the right of that it's "x"" and this describes to the person who is already fluent in written Chinese how to write the character they've forgotten.

Most Chinese people will know at least 4000 characters and have a basic knowledge of a lot more. They learn the bulk of these when they're at school.

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XiaoXi

Their method, as far as I know, is cost effective. Get some paper, learn a new character and write it down 20 times a character and move on the next one. I think this is what is done in chinese schools and is probably from age 7-9. After that it's mostly just character recognition. It works since the language is internalised in them from a young age. No Heisig method, no flashcards..

I think that method is less important for memorisation and more important for learning to write the characters neatly. At that age even for English its necessary to write the same sentence over again with guides to try and improve neatness. What I said before is the best method. You can prove it to yourself, which character do you know how to write (and of course read) well that is not extremely simple? 我. You can't forget that one eh? Usage.

People talk about spaced repetition systems in flashcards and such, what about natural spaced repetition in usage when writing or reading?

I would agree that studying radicals can help, certainly in the beginning but writing the same character out over and again is both boring and unnecessary. I think its actually used a punishment for kids in Chinese schools as well. Its like doing 'lines'.

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chinopinyin

People talk about spaced repetition systems in flashcards and such, what about natural spaced repetition in usage when writing or reading?

Xiaoxi, good point about natural spaced repetition. One learns the material one is often exposed to (and has interest in). Native speakers typically do not look up in a dictionary every word they don't know. My strategy for Chinese is to read,read and read and include in an SRS only those sentences with relevant unknown words.

I have another question: Chinese people studying e.g. medical sciences will meet tons of unknown terms. How do they go about learning them?

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anonymoose

I have another question: Chinese people studying e.g. medical sciences will meet tons of unknown terms. How do they go about learning them?

I guess in the same way that English speakers learn new vocabulary when learning medical science.

Chinese people learning medicine will already have a relatively high standard of education, and of course be familiar with characters, so picking up new ones shouldn't take any special effort.

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Scoobyqueen

Also the children at school practice and presumably learn new characters through the other subjects they are studying. When they learn maths for example they will take notes using hanzis. This means they learn hanzis not just individually but as part of note-taking, essays etc.

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XiaoXi

Xiaoxi, good point about natural spaced repetition. One learns the material one is often exposed to (and has interest in). Native speakers typically do not look up in a dictionary every word they don't know. My strategy for Chinese is to read,read and read and include in an SRS only those sentences with relevant unknown words.

I have another question: Chinese people studying e.g. medical sciences will meet tons of unknown terms. How do they go about learning them?

Always the same answer: Usage. Initially they'll need to look up these complex medical terms in a dictionary but after that it will simply be a matter of coming across those same words again and again, writing those same words again and again. Thus learning them by heart. If you want to learn Chinese characters then READ a Chinese a book. If you want to learn to write Chinese character then WRITE a book...its as simple as that. If your grammar is not good enough to write your own book then copy a book out, page by page. Not only will you learn the characters by heart this way but you'll also be learning grammar along the way as well.

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Glenn

I'm not sure I understand what you want to say, but it sounds like you're anti-SRS. You're right about exposure providing repetition (and natural examples in context) and that's important. But some things you need to drill a little harder, and an SRS helps you do that without spending more time on it than you need to. But maybe you were just trying to emphasise that exposing yourself to actual usage is important? Like I said, I can't really tell just from what you've written, but I'm sure that no one would disagree with you about exposure to lots of natural usage being important.

Copying a book would probably be a good exercise, but I'd imagine it'd have to be a book that you were really into, otherwise you may die of boredom. My writing exercise is more like having a sentence in pinyin come up in my SRS, then writing the characters for it and trying to do it without continuously looking at the pinyin. That way I work on remembering the structure and producing the characters from memory at the same time, as well as getting the meaning from it. I also say it out loud and work on the pronunciation. Of course, this is not in exclusion to listening to and reading actual "real world" Chinese.

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JonBI

Keep in mind though, foundational vocabulary is for a Chinese learner, assuming they have exposure to Standard Mandarin, merely associating sound with character - no Pinyin exercises, and whatnot. You take an idea in your head, and then you conceptualize it using a character. For a western learner, you take an English concept, you translate it, and then you memorize sound, tone, character, all at a ripe age of god knows what (I think most second language learning people now start in their late teens, or later). As such, forgetting things becomes a problem.

So yeah, writing and writing is the best way - Heisig method or whatever is kind of meh, in my opinion. Etymological roots only work for a couple thousand of the characters, some rather abstract - it is the writing 10 times each every day that causes them to stick.

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XiaoXi

I'm not sure I understand what you want to say, but it sounds like you're anti-SRS. You're right about exposure providing repetition (and natural examples in context) and that's important. But some things you need to drill a little harder, and an SRS helps you do that without spending more time on it than you need to. But maybe you were just trying to emphasise that exposing yourself to actual usage is important? Like I said, I can't really tell just from what you've written, but I'm sure that no one would disagree with you about exposure to lots of natural usage being important.

How am I anti-SRS?

People talk about spaced repetition systems in flashcards and such, what about natural spaced repetition in usage when writing or reading?

If you need to 'drill more' then you just read or write more on a particular subject. It'll all come naturally.

Copying a book would probably be a good exercise, but I'd imagine it'd have to be a book that you were really into, otherwise you may die of boredom. My writing exercise is more like having a sentence in pinyin come up in my SRS, then writing the characters for it and trying to do it without continuously looking at the pinyin. That way I work on remembering the structure and producing the characters from memory at the same time, as well as getting the meaning from it.

And why is that not boring?! I wasn't suggesting that copying out a book is a gripping exercise but surely a story is at least better than copying out the same character over and over or a single sentence? I also said you can copy out a book if your grammar is not good enough to freely write whatever you want. Otherwise just write anything you want and that will be fine, as long as you're exploring a lot of different words.

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