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戴 睿

My Take on the 2014 Sensible Character Learning Challenge

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戴 睿

大家好!

 

Last week, Hacking Chinese started off the new 2014 Sensible Character Learning Challenge.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with the challenge or it's predecessor, the following link will give you more information:

 

http://www.hackingchinese.com/sensible-chinese-character-learning-challenge-2014/

 

I'll be participating this year, and I wanted to kick off a conversation here on the forums about the challenge in a little more detail.

 

I'm specifically interested in hearing about: Who is participating? What are your goals and methods? How are you staying motivated and accountable?

 

In order to keep my learning accountable to a wider audience, I figured I'd post my own methods and information here, with a bit of the reasoning behind it all.

 

Goals:

 

April 8: 80
April 30: 190
May 31: 345
Jun 30: 500

 

This puts me on a schedule of learning 5 characters a day

 

Resources

 

I plan on pulling characters from my NPCR Textbook volumes 3 and 4. Specifically I'll be focusing on the "core" characters from each lesson. There is a chance that I will need to produce more characters then the core selection alone will provide, in which case I'll draw from the auxiliary and supplementary vocab provided in each lesson (and the workbook).

 

A big part of my choosing characters out of NPCR is to offer context, which I'll talk about in a second.

 

Expectations

 

I expect to:

  • Develop a firm understanding of these 500 characters and their component parts
  • I define this "firm" understanding as being both 100% active recall, and well developed fine-motor skills    

 

Methodology

 

1) Character Breakdown Stage

  • Use hanzicraft.com
  • Determine the: Radical, Phonetic Components (if there are any), and other Component Parts

2) Contextualize the Character

  • Find 3 words on Pleco (common ones) that explain the character - try to develop a more comprehensive "feel" for the character and its various uses 
  • Read 1 example sentence containing the character, out loud
  • There will also be a lot of follow up contextualization within the NPCR Lesson itself

3) Internalization

Active Recall

  • Is the character in my Tuttle book? If yes, use Tuttle's mnemonic
  • Form my own mnemonic
  • Write or draw this new mnemonic down, include important components of the story

Fine Motor Skills

  • Mentally reinforce the mnemonic constantly while performing motor skill exercises
  • Watch Pleco's stroke diagram of the Character
  • Employ Imron's mental visualization technique to familiarize myself further with drawing each component
  • Copy the character 20 times - 10 times focusing on the small details of the character - how long is each stroke? proportionately how is it desinged? And a further 10 times relying purely on motor skill memory and speed
  • Write out the example sentence I used in part 2
  • Write out an example sentence of my own creation

4) Spaced Repetition Review

  • The character will be reviewed during my NPCR study, and consequently will be in a Pleco deck reviewed twice daily
  • Add the character to the Skritter Deck
  • If there are specific component parts I'm unfamiliar with, add those separately to an "all component" deck

---------------------------------------------------

 

Reasoning

 

Some of you will see the above and say: Wow. Why are you doing so much with it? 

After all, in the past we've discussed Rote Repetition vs. Mnemonics vs. Mental Visualization ... but we've never talked about using all of them together.

 

My first and best reason is simple: Because I want to.

 

My second best reason goes a little something like this: With my goal of equally developing both fine motor skills and active recall, I think they hybrid method is necessary. Furthermore, upon reading Imron's memorization technique he mentioned in past posts, I felt it was interesting and worth a try - it takes no time at all, and won't really slow me down.

 

Reading all the above I think it looks like a lot more than it is. Realistically, in 20 minutes I complete the above process for all 5 new characters with ease. 

 

Easter Egg

 

Here's a small, simple form I made to keep me on track with the learning. You're welcome to use it if you'd like! I'll throw in a link to the google doc as well.

 

戴睿汉字表格.pdf

 

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtC7L6tzrD4QdGxZTDV5LUlEMEM5eGw2NGQtal9uMHc&usp=sharing

 

Please share your own plan!

 

I'd love to get some insight on what I've chosen to do, but I'd also like to hear from each of you!

 

大家加油!

 

 

 

 

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Ruben von Zwack

Haha, sorry, I am too busy to answer you in detail, so just quickly:
I took part in last year's challenge, simply because I was so bothered by forgetting or mixing up similar-looking characters.

 

I've made it a habit since to look up the components and etymology of every new character(combination, aka word) that I come across. Works fine for me so far.

 

And, accidentally, my partners are very nice, so we are in touch via Facebook and swooning at each other's pictures. It's just a side effect, but fun and motivating nonetheless.

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Olle Linge

I think your plan looks quite solid. especially since you're focusing on core characters and vocabulary. It makes sense to spend more time on these and study them properly. If you were to do this with all characters you encountered, I think it would be too much and you would spend all your study time doing this rather than actually using Chinese (listening/speaking/reading/writing), but as long as you're focusing on core characters, I think your plan looks good!

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戴 睿

 

 

I've made it a habit since to look up the components and etymology of every new character(combination, aka word) that I come across. Works fine for me so far.

 

@ruben: 

 

I think this is a large part of why I chose to take this particular approach. I'm trying to make a few different study methods a regular habit. 

Are you participating in this years challenge? 

 

 

 

I think your plan looks quite solid. especially since you're focusing on core characters and vocabulary. It makes sense to spend more time on these and study them properly. If you were to do this with all characters you encountered, I think it would be too much and you would spend all your study time doing this rather than actually using Chinese (listening/speaking/reading/writing), but as long as you're focusing on core characters, I think your plan looks good!

 

Yeah I don't think I could manage quite this same process with every single character I encountered! But i've noticed just how important it is to get recurrent reinforcement, in context. Using a textbook to select the core characters I'm learning (especially one like NPCR that has a lot of media resources) has proved to be invaluable. 

 

Current Progress

 

As we approach the first benchmark - April 8th, I'm happy to say I'm right on mark!

 

The workload was slightly more than I had originally anticipated, but after a week of adjustment and adaption its going really well!

 

I'm waking up a half hour earlier each day, and basically blitzing my daily batch of characters early in the morning right after a shower and before breakfast. I feel like thats the time when I'm most clear headed, and the earlier I study the characters individually, the more chance I have to review them later in the day.

 

I have a few questions about Imron's study method of "mentally visualizing or flashing" characters. Does this mental image appear... on a mental piece of paper? in floating blackness? I've tried adding context that corresponds with tones - (backgrounds that remain consistent with each tone) for example - the surface of a pool for 1st tone, flames for the 2nd tone, grass for the 3rd, so on. Do you try to use similar anchors when performing these specific mental exercises?

 

I'm grateful for the progress I've made so far! I find it to be sort of addicting actually. Ultimately, as Ruben mentioned - I'm trying to form habits. I want to make appropriate lifestyle changes where every morning I'm working on Chinese in a similar fashion.

 

How's everyone else doing?? 

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Olle Linge

I've also found that learning characters directly after getting out of bed (or even while still in bed if I have slept well) works well. Ideally, it would be diseribale to learn characters before going to bed and then again the following morning, but I often feel tired just before going to bed and I've found this to work poorly.

I don't know what Imron does, but when I visualise characters, I do it on a component-by-component basis and in some kind of void. I don't imagine writing them down anyway, it's more like bam, bam, there goes the components of 諼, quite meaningless character I just learnt. I don't even envison strokes if I'm familiar with the components. In characters like that one where the right part isn't a character I know, but which occurs in several characters I do know (e.g. 暖、援 etc.), I tend to create a mental link to these characters instead of the less common character 爰.

As for progress, I'm doing well, too well in fact. I think I might have set my goals too low. I will write more about this in my progress report on Tuesday, but I reached my first milestone days ago and might even reach the second milestone before the end of the week. That's partly because I have spent a lot more time learning characters than I thought, but it's also because I overestimated the number of characters I had forgotten.

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imron
I don't know what Imron does but when I visualise characters, I do it on a component-by-component basis and in some kind of void. I don't imagine writing them down anyway, it's more like bam, bam, there goes the components of 諼

This.

 

For beginners it can be difficult to do that initially, but you can train yourself to do it without too much trouble.

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戴 睿

Thank you both for the replies. I've found it's gotten easier for me to employ your technique Imron, and at the moment I'm very satisfied with the progress I'm making in the challenge.

I've come to the realization that, for whatever reason, certain methods work better specific characters than others. For instance, on some characters, a genuinely brilliant mneumonic will come to me, and with my added review I can guarantee it will stick. For other characters, I can't really come up with a genuinely creative mnemonic, but my be able to use Imron's method to knock it down in a relatively easy way.

Most importantly, I'm starting to habitualize both of these memorization tactics, and the results I'm experiencing are really interesting. I feel it is making my character learning process far more... organic, or natural.

When I come across a new character, I have a variety of tools and methods at my disposal to learn it efficiently, and the more I do this, the more natural it becomes to pick which tool will be appropriate for that specific instance.

As a result, I have doubled my character rate from 5 characters a day to 10 characters a day. I have been surprised to find the workload not only manageable, but rather easy so long as I am consistent in following through on the habits I've developed. Benchmark #1 is coming up and I'm now ahead of schedule!

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戴 睿

 

We've officially reached the first benchmark.

 

(link to the latest article on Hacking Chinese about the challenge here: http://www.hackingchinese.com/sensible-character-learning-challenge-2014-milestone-1/)

 

 So here's my update:

 

 

  • Have you reached your goal for the first milestone?

Yes. Actually, I've passed it. 

 

My original goals were as follows:

 
 

 

Goals:

 

April 8
: 80

April 30
: 190

May 31
: 345

Jun 30
: 500

 

 

In the post above, I described how I've doubled the rate at which I'm learning characters (10 a day instead of 5). I've currently learned 100 (instead of 80).

  • What (if anything) are you going to change?

Because I've changed the amount of characters I study each day, I need to reassess my future benchmarks. My new ones will be as follows:

 

  1. April 30: 320
  2. May 31: 630
  3. June 30: 930

 

Obviously, the difference between my newly selected goals and original ones is pretty massive!

 

Another new thing I'd like to try is one of the ideas Ollie posted:


  

 

 

 Ideally, it would be diseribale to learn characters before going to bed and then again the following morning, 

 

 

So i'll be making changes to my schedule accordingly.

  • What have you learnt by participating in the challenge?

I'm really excited about the progress I've made thus far. Instead of dragging my feet every morning trying to build up the motivation to study, I look forward to it. It's funny, because my workload has increased, but so too has my motivation. 

 

I think that thus far the biggest lesson I've learned (and I discuss this a bit in my other posts) is the power of habitually studying. Having a highly effective "routine" it crucial. Furthermore, despite the fact my workload is rather large, I would point out that each of the new characters I learn our heavily contextualized. I remember very clearly where I first encountered them within NPCR, and review them constantly.

 

I'm setting a much more long term goal that will extend past this challenge, because I want to see how long I can go at a rate of learning 10 characters a day. 

 

How's everyone else's progress going? 

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imron
I think that thus far the biggest lesson I've learned (and I discuss this a bit in my other posts) is the power of habitually studying. Having a highly effective "routine" it crucial.

This is by far one of the best things you can do to improve your Chinese.

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Olle Linge

Wow, I really managed to misspell "desirable" quite badly. :) Anyway, I've also tried to move back to a pattern of learning new words before going to bed and reviewing them in the morning. I only keep new words in my Pleco deck and then move to Skritter once I know them (I only use Skritter on my computer). I have set the maximum number of unlearnt card in Pleco to 25, so provided that I remember everything, I learn about 20 new characters per day (I have a pretty decent retention rate once I have learnt the characters).

So, I have set Pleco to give me new cards last, so each day, I have to hack my way through all the old cards before I get to the new ones. Once I do that, I pause and wait until it's time for bed and I then learn the ~20 new characters and go to sleep. Ideally, I have time to review most of them immediately the following morning, but it sometimes takes longer. I would of course need to investigate this systematically to make sure, but it feels like the retention rate is much better with six hours of sleep in-between compared with six hours of something else.

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roddy

How are our challengers doing?

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lechuan

Horribly. I did get my Skritter backlog down by 500 words because I delete 500 words. I think I'll revise my original goal to just 'clear skritter backlog', and read a bit every day.

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Olle Linge

Deleting words is good if you delete them for a good reason! Naturally, deleting words because you've been too busy doesn't really count as a good reason, but I was way too strict when it came to flashcards for my first few years of studying. Removing words that are either too difficult or too rare (or the most obvious case, both at the same time) is really good, speeds up learning and makes it more fun. If you delete important things by accident, they will reappear, so there's no reason to worry.

 

Personally, I'm doing okay with the challenge. My goal is to be able to write 5775 individual characters and I just passed 5000, roughly on schedule. I know exactly what I'm doing when it comes to SRS and character learning, so provided I keep spending about 30 minutes a day, I'm sure I'll be able to reach my goal before June 30th.

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lechuan

I decided to only use Skritter for individual characters only for now and use reading as my 'SRS' for multi-character words. So I deleted all my multi-character words, and kept my single characters. My main opponent/excuse has been time at the moment, I did fare better for last year's character challenge.

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Olle Linge

Then you're doing exactly what I'm doing. :)

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DanielG

This character challenge inspired me to spend some time learning some characters.  I chose the characters from the NPCR1 for similar reasons as the OP:  I wanted to learn words that I had a good context for, and the book has a sensible structure, starting with simple characters and building more complex ones from those components.

 

What I've been doing is to examine the components of a character using an etymological book and hanzicraft, write it a few times and and at the same time review in Anki, where I've dumped each milestone's worth at the beginning of each milestone.  I'm starting to feel however that I ought to be putting more effort into the initial learning process, because what's been happening is that Anki's gaps quickly become too large, and I find I'm forgetting more than I want to.

 

I've tried adjusting Anki's settings so that I see the characters more frequently, but this can be quite fiddly.  (Have others tried changing Anki's settings to see characters more frequently?  I've tried adding steps and changing the interval modifier, but I'm not sure if what I've done makes sense or not.)

 

Initially I wanted to avoid mnemotics, because they seem a bit silly, but after looking up the etymology of a bunch of characters, it seems that mnemotics won't be much sillier.  I've tried inventing mnemotics for some of the characters I forget, but I'm not finding it easy to come up with good ones.  

 

In any case, while writing characters by hand in this day and age may seem anachronistic,  I am enjoying it and it's certainly has the effect of making me more attentive to the details of the characters when reading, in other words, they are seeming less like random marks on a page.  I'm already looking forward to next year's challenge. :)

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Olle Linge
Initially I wanted to avoid mnemotics, because they seem a bit silly, but after looking up the etymology of a bunch of characters, it seems that mnemotics won't be much sillier.  I've tried inventing mnemotics for some of the characters I forget, but I'm not finding it easy to come up with good ones.

 

Mnemonics sometimes work because they are silly. The concept is of course not silly at all, but using anything that is unusual (silly, funny, absurd, gross) is key when linking concepts together. The reason you find it hard to come up with good ones is probably because you haven't practised a lot. The more you do this, the easier it will become, and the more you pay attention, the more you will learn about what works and what doesn't.

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