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Player01

Tricks on learning Chinese characters?

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Player01

Do you guys have any tricks or tips on learning and memorizing Chinese characters? If I don't write much Chinese I seem to forget it very quickly even though I learned it. However this is not the case for English, I can remember the spelling of the whole world after I learned it. Still I can't really say that I will forget the word completely because I can still remember the shape of the character but not the exact stroke and stuff. Is it just me or is it a "flaw" in the Chinese writing system (too hard to learn.)

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Matty

You couold try and learn the radicals, their meanings and perhaps their origins, this can help in memorizing the characters. This way you don't need to remember the character perse, just the elements of the characters.

I read a book "New Approaches To Learning Chinese - The Most Common Chinese Radicals"

http://www.mandarinbooks.cn/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&products_id=324

Try and realise that one character may be complicated but it's made up of smaller elements just like English, though there's more and they're not really written in a straight line.

Also make sure you give yourself all the opportunities to encounter characters you can. I used to have trouble memorizing characters, and honestly I gave up on it for about a year or 2. Now I find after living in China for almost 4 years that I'm picking up characters without trying and not having much trouble memorizing them just from my environment. Look at the signs around the place and absorb what you can.

Try reading stories or books - ok this one I have done less than I should have, however I'm rather lazy, but it should help to read short stories.

Learn to write characters in the correct way, with the right micro-curves and ticky things. - Excuse my lack of proper terminology.

Learn the names of each of the different kinds of lines - understanding can be a key in learning.

Scribble pieces of characters, radicals, or even just lines on a piece of paper when you're bored, I like to try and scribble about 10 lines seeing if I can make them look just a little less unusual (unusual = resembling rubbish) than they usually do. - It just helps.

Finally the most important point, and the key to learning them is to enjoy it and better yet love it. Take pride in your progress and get every joyful feeling out of it that you can to inspire you to continue. I get the most out of things I enjoy, so sometimes I find things easier if I learn to enjoy them. Hence you should learn to understand it and do it correctly, it can become much like an art - I hate art class, but I enjoy this.

Finally + 1: Don't over do it, don't wear yourself out or tire yourself out, it will only work against you in the long run.

ADDED: 4am and 5am are excellent times to do a little study if you accidently wake up.

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renzhe

What is your level?

There is a difference between active (writing) and passive (reading) knowledge.

If you really want to remember every stroke, you'll need to break the character down to its basic component parts and take it from there. Regular practice also helps -- native speakers forget to write less common characters too!

There are books dedicated to this (Heisig, Matthews, etc.) which provide mnemonics for remembering the parts better. But keep in mind that once you learn something new, you must review it regularly at short intervals for a while, before it enters long-term memory. It takes a certain number of repetitions before it really sticks. You might remember a character for a day when you first learn it, but then it's gone. So you need to review it the next day. Then two days after that, and so on.

Spaced Repetition flashcard software can help you with this. Just learning something once is not enough.

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Player01

I came to America from HK when I was 10 so I spoke fluent Cantonese and decent Mandarin but I haven't wrote Chinese characters for 7 years. Until recently I decided to re-learn Chinese as a 2nd Language for business and noticed I've forgotten almost every character. Beside that, in this 7 years I've never spoken a sentence in Mandarin so in short you can say I'm on the noob-mid level for Mando and Chinese characters.

P.S I'm practicing Chinese characters while typing this lol

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renzhe

Can you still read? You say that you can often remember the shape, but not every stroke.

Could you read before? At which level?

If you are refreshing a skill you had as a youth, it should be considerably easier, I think. Then I'd say stock up on easy books and kill it with reading. If your reading and writing was not too advanced, then your situation is more like that of a learner. It's hard to say -- by the time you were 10, you must have learned plenty of characters in HK, but I don't know how well they would stick. Same thing with Mandarin. People can often learn a language much more easily if they knew it, but forgot it.

I don't have experience with this situation, but I would imagine that following a typical Mandarin course would be a good idea, as you need to brush up on your complete set of skills regarding Mandarin - reading, writing, pronunciation, listening, grammar. At the same time, you should be able to speed through them faster than a regular noob.

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Jose

In my experience, the key to memorising characters is to introduce some sort of hierarchical structure into the system by learning the characters in groups. This involves remembering the more complex characters as combinations and variations of the simple ones, as Matty and renzhe have also mentioned. To clarify what I mean, ask yourself the question of how you remember the character for the verb "to wait" that is pronounced děng. If the first thing that comes to your mind is "that's bamboo on top of a temple", then you're on the right track. If, on the other hand, you have been memorising 等 as a meaningless sequence of 12 strokes, and never stopped to think that it is a variation of the simpler character 寺, then you're likely to forget how to write it.

The importance of structure means that you sometimes need to learn some basic characters that are not too important for their own sake. The character 等 is much more common than any of 寸, 土, 寺, and 竹, but when you first come across it, you should take a step back, and learn those more basic characters, so that the ideas "temple character = land on an inch" and "wait character = bamboo on temple" stick in your head. In fact, if you get used to thinking about characters in terms of structure you will find that writing them by hand is not so important in order to remember them. I don't know if I've ever written by hand the word for "ant" 蚂蚁 / 螞蟻, but I wouldn't have any trouble taking a pen and a piece of paper and writing it because I remember that it is based on the characters "horse justice" clarified with the 虫 signific. As long as I don't forget how to write 马 / 馬 and 义 / 義, ants are no problem for me.

Because of this importance of structure in memorising Chinese characters, I think when one learns a character it is a good exercise to stop to write down other similar characters at the same time. So, when learning 等 it is good to check which other common characters that are similar in structure we know, like the 诗 shī for poetry, the 特 in 特别 tèbié, the 持 in 支持 zhīchí, and the 待 in 待遇 dàiyù (and, if you're learning traditional, the 時 shí for hours, time). Where to stop will depend on your level, but learning the characters in groups helps to establish links between the individual characters so that they stick better in memory. Of course there is a lot of leeway on how to group characters together: we can learn 等 as a 寺-based character, but also as a 竹-based character together with the likes of 笑, 第, 符, 策, 答, and so on. The fact that a character can be seen as part of different groups actually helps to memorise it better. My mental process when I try to remember how to write a character is something like "wasn't the tè in tèbié a cow character like the wù in Physics? And wasn't that character also one of the temple-based characters, like 诗 and 等? Oh yes, now I remember: it starts with a cow and then follows with the temple, which is made up of the land on top of the Chinese inch."

The important thing is to keep to a minimum the characters that one remembers as atomic, not made up of any simpler parts, like say 寸, 土, 马, and establish as many different mental connections as possible among the more complicated characters. I also find it useful to resort to some mnemonic phrases to remember the combinations of elements, not only for individual characters, but also for compounds. One example was the word for "ant", which I remember as "horse justice". Another very similar one is the one for "spider", which I remember as "the animal that knows a certain Mr. Zhu". This silly mnemonic helps me to remember (if I ever need to write this word by hand) that I have to write "know Zhu": first the "arrow + mouth" character, and then the Zhu surname, which would give 知朱, and then add the extra bit of information that this is one of those 虫X 虫X words, which gives me the final form as 蜘蛛. I suppose the effectiveness of such mnemonics varies across people, but I think it is useful to devise one's own mnemonics.

The idea that remembering characters is easier when there is a clear hierarchy in the system is just a particular case of a general rule when handling large amounts of information: the human brain can deal with hierarchical trees much better than with linear sequences of elements. For example, finding a holiday picture on one's computer can be very difficult if you have a "My Images" folder cluttered with thousands of files. But if you have organised the pictures in manageable folders like "2008/Paris", "2009/Norway" and so on, then it is very easy to locate the picture you're looking for. Similarly, as an example involving memorising, imagine you had to learn by heart the names of all the football players that took part in the latest World Cup. This would be a very hard task if you try to learn the names from an alphabetical listing, but the task becomes more manageable if you group the players by countries and positions on the field. Learning characters is similar: the more tree-like and less linear your mental image of the system is, the easier you will find it not to forget the characters. At least, that is my experience.

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gato

There are a number of threads already on the forum about learning Chinese for "heritage learner". I also fall into that category. I've noted before the key issue is motivation. If you are motivated enough to keep with a program of studying four hours a day, including one to two hours of flashcard work, then you could be fluent in reading Chinese in a year or less. Writing will take more work, but it's not as important as reading.

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iampo0kie

Learning characters hierarchically sounds great. Is there any learning material that actively implements that? Excluding ones that use long and silly story mnemonics because I tend to forget them. I'm just talking about learning through categorization of characters, something I haven't come across a lot (phono-semantic, ideogram, clarified, etc.)

http://www.taiwan.com.au/Soccul/Language/Features/report02.html

http://www.mcfc.foryousoft.com/writing/memorizingTips.php

I haven't found any resources that classify characters depending on these categories (except for the program MyChineseFlashCards listed above, and it's a secondary feature). Dictionaries don't list them. I think Chinese etymology books might be helpful but I don't want to buy them as I'm not interested in history just memorizing the characters :P

Or do you just make the mental associations yourself by building upon your previous knowledge of characters? As a beginner I wouldn't have enough previous knowledge to remember hierarchically (i.e. I wouldn't know that ant comes from the characters horse and justice).

I guess that the idea then is to learn the really basic and perhaps not so common characters first, as well as the radicals. Radical lists can be easily found on the web but the basic component characters I wouldn't know where to find.

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character

Reading & Writing Chinese Traditional Character Edition by William McNaughton and Li Ying did a good job of introducing simple characters and then showing more complex characters which included those simple ones. Not sure the Simplified Character Edition of the book works the same way, but I would assume it does.

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sujisol

B) ...The Taiwan computer input method Bohsiamy.comclassifies radicals and common forms into an ABC mnemonic form. It is easy to memorize and keytap with a-to-z combinations representing commonly repeating morphic elements.

...Another approach is to learn characters in frequency order. Although the frequency of characters in traditional and modern Chinese may be a little different, it's certain that the 200 or so most frequent characters are seen more than half the time in Chinese texts, and you can already communicate much information with just a few hundred if you learn the full diction of these most popular characters.

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luozhen

This article details how memory champions store information in their brains, using images.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html

What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity. For example, one of the most popular techniques used to memorize playing The point of memory techniques to take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t that good at holding onto and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for. cards involves associating every card with an image of a celebrity performing some sort of a ludicrous — and therefore memorable — action on a mundane object. When it comes time to remember the order of a series of cards, those memorized images are shuffled and recombined to form new and unforgettable scenes in the mind’s eye. Using this technique, Ed Cooke showed me how an entire deck can be quickly transformed into a comically surreal, and unforgettable, memory palace.

But mental athletes don’t merely embrace the practice of the ancients. The sport of competitive memory is driven by an arms race of sorts. Each year someone — usually a competitor who is temporarily underemployed or a student on summer vacation — comes up with a more elaborate technique for remembering more stuff more quickly, forcing the rest of the field to play catch-up. In order to remember digits, for example, Cooke recently invented a code that allows him to convert every number from 0 to 999,999,999 into a unique image that he can then deposit in a memory palace.

Memory palaces don’t have to be palatial — or even actual buildings. They can be routes through a town or signs of the zodiac or even mythical creatures. They can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, real or imaginary, so long as they are intimately familiar. The four-time U.S. memory champion Scott Hagwood uses luxury homes featured in Architectural Digest to store his memories. Dr. Yip Swee Chooi, the effervescent Malaysian memory champ, used his own body parts to help him memorize the entire 57,000-word Oxford English-Chinese dictionary. In the 15th century, an Italian jurist named Peter of Ravenna is said to have used thousands of memory palaces to store quotations on every important subject, classified alphabetically. When he wished to expound on a given topic, he simply reached into the relevant chamber and pulled out the source. “When I left my country to visit as a pilgrim the cities of Italy, I can truly say I carried everything I owned with me,” he wrote.

When I first set out to train my memory, the prospect of learning these elaborate techniques seemed preposterously daunting. One of my first steps was to dive into the scientific literature for help. One name kept popping up: K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University and the author of an article titled “Exceptional Memorizers: Made, Not Born.”

Ericsson laid the foundation for what’s known as Skilled Memory Theory, which explains how and why our memories can be improved, within limits. In 1978, he and a fellow psychologist named Bill Chase conducted what became a classic experiment on a Carnegie Mellon undergraduate student, who was immortalized as S.F. in the literature. Chase and Ericsson paid S.F. to spend several hours a week in their lab taking a simple memory test again and again. S.F. sat in a chair and tried to remember as many numbers as possible as they were read off at the rate of one per second. At the outset, he could hold only about seven digits at a time in his head. When the experiment wrapped up — two years and 250 mind-numbing hours later — S.F. had increased his ability to remember numbers by a factor of 10.

When I called Ericsson and told him that I was trying to train my memory, he said he wanted to make me his research subject. We struck a deal. I would give him the records of my training, which might prove useful for his research. In return, he and his graduate students would analyze the data in search of how I might perform better.

He notes that the memory champs "empty" their memories after competitions, and that to retain memories, one must go over them.

I know some people make up stories about characters. Sometimes I break it into parts, which Chinese is convenient for with radicals and repeating portions of characters. In the article the competitors are using actual homes and palaces to fill with their memories. Anyone using these types of advanced memory techniques?

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roddy

Surprisingly enough, this has come up once or twice before. Merging with one of the more recent examples.

Also appreciated if quoting can be kept to a minimum - a link and commentary is more likely to get a discussion going.

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Hofmann

Old thread, but here is my "trick" simply put.

  • Know about Chinese characters.
  • Just learn them.
  • If you can't just learn them, examine them.
  • If that fails, examine them more closely, such as looking up why they were composed that way (i.e. the etymology).
  • Make up mnemonics.

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LucyxLucy

I remember this from when I went to school in China. First we'd read a story of some sort, then there would be a list of 'new' or unfamiliar characters. The teacher would explain to us what each character meant, how it's pronounced and used etc.

For homework, we had to write each character about ten times (or more), and either use it with another character (组词)or make a sentence using the character (造句).

This may sound lame and it takes a lot of effort, but it worked really well and I remember 99% of what I had learned through this method.

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hht

My limited knowledge of characters. I can probably read only a few hundred, but this is due to only starting characters recently rather than my methods suck (although they may well do!).

I am guessing you have no issues with simple characters? ie ones which look what they are (or at least can be reasoned too), 雨,口,肉 etc。

And also you know about he radical element can help with the meaning and/or how to say it sometimes.

I find with some complicated characters It is good to make a little story, although this is very time consuming I guess. For example recently on my online flashcards 价 jia4 (means: price) was causing me problems. So I made up the following:

The left element is the radical 人, which means person.

The right side looks like a house. (can be referred to as jia1 as in 家)

So the person wants to know the price of the house. (here we have the meaning, price).

But the person is angry at the price so says jia in an angry way which sounds more like 4th tone.

So we have jia4/price.

Am I a little mental, or has anyone else done something like this? My chinese friends found it hilarious I made this story up but were also impressed at its effectiveness. 1 of them does not like it when I (often) slip of the tongue say can you draw such-andsuch a hanzi for me, she says WRITE. But I am a visual person with pictures and films so to see them as pictures is better for me.

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Hofmann

The ones you find easy to remember happen to be pictograms. In the character 价, you turned the phonetic component 介 into a semantic hint.

I'm wondering if you know about the different kinds of characters and that most are phono-semantic compounds.

If you need more information about a character, looking it up here might help.

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