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Ruben von Zwack

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

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mouse

This is why I said Shaolan herself isn't the problem. If there was any notion of quality control in publishing, then someone would have said "This is a great idea, but first you need to check some of the facts, here's the number of a sinologist who can advise you etc". If there was any notion of quality control in journalism, then someone would have said "This is a great idea, but I'm not sure if the claims the book is making stand up, so I'll talk to an expert and do some fact checking before I praise it to the high heavens etc". But quality control barely exists in either industry, so these conversations never happened.

 

You might think getting people into Chinese is a good thing, and it certainly is, but there's no excuse for putting out this sort of misinformation. Saying something has top notch PR is not a positive appraisal in my book, as PR is most definitely a bad thing.

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Demonic_Duck

I think what people are objecting to is not that it gives an easy, entry-level look into Chinese characters (of course this is a good thing), but that it does so in a very misleading way. "With top 200 most frequently used characters a person will be able to understand about 40% of the basic Chinese literature"... this is true in such a narrow sense that it's basically no better than an outright lie. The book claims to teach 400 characters; yet these aren't the 400 most common characters, they are (by the looks of it) the 400 characters deemed to already be the easiest to teach and remember, even switching from traditional to simplified when it turns out the simplified seems more logical to deconstruct (selective much?)

 

Now, if she didn't repeat ridiculous myths uncritically and renamed her book "400 Easy Chinese Characters", whilst being upfront about the fact that the majority of characters aren't as easy to deconstruct into simple pictographic elements, I don't think any reasonable person would have a problem with it.

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tysond

I didn't realize this claim of 200 characters means understanding 40% of basic literature was still being thrown around.

I agree that's very misleading about the entire process.

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li3wei1

If you learn 25 of the 26 letters in the Roman alphabet (upper or lower case, take your pick), you can understand about 99.5% of English literature (how often do you run into a q?). You can even understand quite a bit of french, spanish, italian, latin, etc. etc.

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icebear

A month or so ago when many articles where coming out on her, Bill Bishop and several other well known "China hands" speculated on twitter that she must have very strong connections to have generated the kind of media and political attention she did on the basis of such a "meh" method/product.

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hedwards

I haven't seen the book, but this seems counterproductive in some ways. Having prepared mnemonics is usually not particularly effective. In terms of Chinese, I think it's important for the person trying to learn to use their own imagination to put vision to the characters. Knowing that 雨 represents rain and 山 represents a mountain helps you to learn that 雪 is snow as it's rain falling on a mountain. A prepared picture could help a bit, but I don't believe that it's as effective as using your own imagination to generate the actual images involved.

 

I don't personally blame her for any problems with the text, unfortunately, the field of teaching characters to foreigners is still new and it's even less developed than teaching better studied languages.

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Ruben von Zwack

So this is Sudden Realisation Ralph, and someone just told him about "Chineasy". Quote directly copy-pasted from Shaolan's kickstarter website. It's what it literally says there  ;)
 

50256296.jpg

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renzhe

Once you learn 的, 一 and 是, you can comprehend about 10% of all Chinese literature.

Surely, 10% should be enough for anyone.

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hedwards

LOL @renzhe, when I see people suggesting that, I'm left to wonder if they've actually looked at the words in the top 100, 500 and 1,000. In every language I've studied those words are typically the first words you can omit from a sentence without losing all the meaning.

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Demonic_Duck

laugh loud renzhe, suggesting, left wonder actually looked words top hundred, five hundred, thousand. every language studied those words typically first words omit sentence without losing meaning.

 

I took the liberty of removing the top 100 words in the English language from your post (mainly for my own idle curiosity). The meaning of the first sentence mostly gets lost, but the second sentence is still just about understandable if you think about it.

 

Edit: I tried another experiment...

 

Laugh out loud at renzhe, when I see people suggesting that, I'm left to wonder if they've actually looked at the words in the top one hundred, five hundred and one thousand. In every language I've studied those words are typically the first words you can omit from a sentence without losing all the meaning.

 

This time I blanked out all the words that aren't in the top 1,000 (I was generous with "renzhe" as it's a proper noun). The result is, conversely, that the first sentence is still perfectly understandable, yet the second sentence could be 胡说八道 for all we know ("the first words you can smoke from a pipe without losing all the beans"? "The first words you can drive from a foxhole without losing all the foxes"? "The first words you can extract from a plant without losing all the nutrition"? "The first words you can win from a fortune-teller without losing all the arguments"? Who knows?!)

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hedwards

@Demonic, I didn't meant that quite so literally. But it is an interesting experiment.

 

Typically those most common words convey a smaller portion of the whole meaning than less common words do. It doesn't necessarily mean that in any given sentence that losing a common word might not change the sentence unpredictably. Not is a common word, but if you remove it, it definitely leaves you unable to properly understand the sentence without some gesturing.

 

Anyways, this is why I tend to advocate for a bit more mindfulness when choosing words. Common verbs and nouns are quite a bit more useful typically than common prepositions or adverbs are. It's still nice to know them, but if you don't mind talking like Tarzan you can get a ton of mileage out of just nouns and verbs while you learn other useful vocabulary.

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CathaySpecific

Great thread, just read thru it after stumbling across Chineasy's (still very) popular facebook feed.

 

I really like this insight, from the original poster 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?

 

 

Exactly!  Is there really a need to draw a head & feet onto , isn't it already a perfectly good stick figure?  Same for drawing teeth into  to convey that it means mouth.  I'm reminded of the idiom

 

 (huàshé tiānzú) - "drawing a snake and adding feet", literally doing the superfluous & ruining a good thing

 

Shaolan's efforts makes for a wonderful coffee table book, but to sell it as a method, to package it as academically sound ... worse, to perpetuate the myths that Chinese characters can be studied in isolation, that they are pictures ... that studying any language can be effortless, that is both shameful and downright harmful.

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Demonic_Duck

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/the_eye/2014%20new/04/21/140421_EYE_Chineasy%20book2.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge.jpg

 

Not gonna lie, the fact that “女” and “子” have been fleshed out as faces rather than the full bodies which they were originally intended to represent makes “好” look more like "incest" than "good".

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CathaySpecific

Yikes, that is some piehole on that Geisha

Has the Chineasy team tackled〔姦〕(jiān) yet? Right up their alley.

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