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Ruben von Zwack

TED talk video "ShaoLan: Learn to read Chinese with ease"

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roddy

Merged this entirely coincidental post. It's your lucky day, Coys, get yourself a free review copy!

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imron

Don't forget to actually review it here when you're done :D

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renzhe

I missed this the first time around, but I did run into it accidentally on my own.

If I understand correctly, this was a TEDx talk, not a TED talk -- just like Benny's talk. EDIT: no, it was a TED talk. A bit shocking, it was so wrong, I didn't even watch past the first couple of minutes.

I'm not the target audience, but I was not very impressed by it. Too misleading, in my opinion.

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roddy

Jesus wept, £200,000 on Kickstarter? Am I reading that right?
 
"we are giving everyone who has pledged £70 or more a free large screensaver. "

Have I fallen into an alternate universe?

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Lu

She sure hit the jackpot. Must be an incredibly charming person with a good pr team to sell such a basic idea so well. And when the buzz dies down she'll just move on to yet another completely different project.

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renzhe

Very clever and professional marketing. Could even be a nice way for kids to learn their first characters. The illustrations look nice.

Of course, nobody will learn Chinese using this method because nobody involved in the project knows anything about languages or about language teaching. Check this quote out:

20,000 = Characters in a Scholar's vocabulary

1,000 = Characters used in standard literacy

200 = Characters used Basic literacy

With top 200 most frequently used characters a person will be able to understand about 40% of the basic Chinese literature.

Basically, the same old bullshit already available in 1000s of books. Sometimes I feel like I'm an idiot writing up all those vocab lists. I should simply write a book repeating these myths and earn easy money.

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roddy

Join the queue!

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realmayo

You may read and enjoy this Guardian newspaper article about her and her book: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2014/mar/26/chineasy-learn-chinese-characters-book-design

 

Such is the beautiful graphic logic revealed in a new book, Chineasy, which shines a spotlight of childlike clarity on the seemingly impenetrable world of Chinese ideograms. For anyone who's tried to learn Mandarin (and I am one of them), the painful hours of repeating stroke after stoke, until those tiny knots of random scratches are carved into your memory, can be enough to make you give up – particularly given the daunting fact that an average Chinese adult will have mastered around 5,000 such characters. Never mind the 50,000+ that await.

 

 

She says it's a children's book.

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realmayo
Must be an incredibly charming person

 

She even charmed UK PM David Cameron & joined his trade delegation to China!

 

http://shaolan.com/myportfolio/me-and-british-prime-minister-david-cameron-on-the-way-to-china-holding-a-fresh-off-the-press-copy-of-the-chineasy-book-kickstarter-edition/

 

 

Obviously no one will learn Chinese from her book(s). Perhaps good for a child, to keep them interested -- as long as they're learning properly via other resouces. A waste of money for an adult who wants to learn Chinese.

 

But maybe you could say the same about Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time. A load of people wasted good money on that book too and learned nothing from it -- because they barely started it, let alone finished it. I was certainly one of those...

And who knows, maybe some people who bought it and couldn't understand it ended up inspired to study physics.

Maybe some people who buy this because they think it's cool to understand Chinese characers and the whole mythical East vibe will end up studying Chinese properly too.

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renzhe

Stephen Hawking is the foremost authority on cosmology and theoretical physics. "A Brief History of Time" is like Charlss DeFrancis' "The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy".

Shaolan has good intentions, but she is not an expert on the Chinese language, language teaching, or linguistics. This doesn't mean that she can't make a useful picture book for kids to learn their first characters, and it's unfair to hold her up to the same standard as prominent sinologists and linguists.

Still, if you are going to publish a language-teaching book or give a TED talk about learning the Chinese writing system, it makes sense to ask a linguist whether what you're planning to say makes any sense.

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realmayo
Stephen Hawking is the foremost authority on cosmology and theoretical physics

Doesn't matter. His book was hyped (maybe not by him, can't remember), people thought 'wow, I can get some knowledge of this famously esoteric field if i buy this book'.

As long as no actual Chinese learners were harmed in the process....

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Ruben von Zwack

Something that stupefies me - why do you have to create a pictograph for a character that is a pictograph anyway? Like - tree, sun, door. Not even mentioning 女 drawn across that geisha face. Does that make any more sense, or is it any easier to understand, than the actual pictograph?

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Lu

I haven't read Hawking's book, but was he going on TED talks saying that this revolutionary new method made his esotheric field easy?

Sometimes I feel like I'm an idiot writing up all those vocab lists. I should simply write a book repeating these myths and earn easy money.

But are you charming? :-p

It does sometimes seem like such hack things can be more successfull than the regular road of working hard and trying to increase you knowledge and actually get results instead of blowing up the non-results. Personally I couldn't do it, and I suppose that's one reason I'm not rich. I tend to see all the things I don't know instead of the things I do know, all the ways what I make or do should be better instead of ways it's good enough. While to be really successfull I suppose one needs to be more 夜郎自大.

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renzhe

But are you charming? :-p

That's one thing I've never been accused of...

But at the same time, that word root guy is not charming either, and it works for him :)

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mouse

 

Oh and from the long comments section below that article is a link to Victor Mair writing about the book: http://languagelog.l...du/nll/?p=11109

 

Thanks for that, a nice little rebuttal. Some of the comments have links to the book's content and... wow. I particularly like the one for marriage (bottom row, second from left). edit: the content seems to shuffle with each viewing, so you might not be able to see exactly what I'm seeing

 

Despite the slick snake-oily nature of the product, I don't think Shaolan Hsueh is the problem. Without today's incredibly low standards of journalism (and I'm not talking about tabloids, the FT, the Economist, NPR etc all gave glowing and quite idiotic reviews) the publicity for this kind of thing would dry up very quickly.

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Lu

Well, she's part of the problem. After all she came up with all this. But I agree that it's ignorant journalists that have made it so bad. Really, the Economist used to be a serious, reliable newspaper, but in the past 2-3 years they're publishing more and more fluff that I can poke holes in even when I don't understand the subject.

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gato

All news sites have been printing more fluff in pursuit of page views. Free online news means that there is not much money in print news nowadays.

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realmayo

I think the reason for the kickstarter sucess of this book and the eagerness of journalists to knock out this stuff uncritically are basically the same: the articles are feel-good little pieces that draw back the veil a teeny bit on something held to be exotic and super-difficult. The book is, for adult buyers, much the same.

 

I wouldn't be so hard on the journalists. In a well-resourced world they'd check this better. But these are just fun little articles to Fill Space. Or perhaps chase clicks. The serious investigation type work is, hopefully, going on elsewhere in the publication.

 

Think of the 'largest human migration in history' stories you get every Spring Festival with the travel chaos. You could spend resources on a detailed look on changing transportation infrastucture or whatever, or you could decide that your readers wouldn't really care so you give them some quick easy filler instead. 

 

However I do agree that giving the author an unchallenged platform to claim she's invented something new and groundbreaking and important for learners is a bit iffy.

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tysond

Since this was announced I subscribed to ShaoLan's newsletter, and looked at the facebook page a few times.

There were stories on each character, cultural info, puzzles to solve (find the most words using these characters), etc.  

Actually I thought it was pretty good stuff for pure beginners with a casual interest in learning Chinese.

I learned quite a few character combinations that I wasn't aware of.   And I saw lots of people engaging actively as a community.

 

Then she asked what people wanted her to do with the idea.  Overwhelming people said they wanted a book.

So she made a book.  She raised lots of money on kickstarter and published what was promised.  That's what kickstarter is for.

 

The number of people who are interested to learn a little bit about Chinese characters, in an easy going, casual and attractive manner is clearly in the millions.

The characters hold fascination for many people.  These people aren't (yet) going to enroll in a course, but they'd like to learn something.  

So they can buy a book or engage on facebook and learn some characters and words, maybe five, maybe fifty, maybe 100.

Maybe one day they dream of coming to China and being able to tell which toilets are male and female, or point at the characters for beef.

 

And maybe some of them will take that interest and commit the time necessary to start studying, which is great.  

 

Personally, I think this is a good thing.  Lowering the barrier for entry is a good thing.  Getting the idea out there that there are components to characters, that you can memorize them with stories, that characters combine to make words is a good thing.   Engaging people around Chinese is a good thing.   The biggest barrier is not the "right technique" or the "right textbook" or the "right order of learning" it's engagement and time commitment.   If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me "Oh learning Chinese I could never do that"....  well let's just say I'd have enough to buy the large screensaver.

 

Sure there are shortcuts, and the techniques have a lot of "What's Old is New Again".  But "Fun with Chinese characters", or Tuttle's book, or even my beloved Heisig look like they were typeset in the 1920s, and the authors and publishers are not promoting them to new audiences, just letting them sit on the shelf raking in the cash (joking).  The graphic design of the Chineasy characters is beautiful, the execution on marketing, community engagement, PR, etc is top notch, and so I hope it succeeds in attracting and engaging more people.  

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