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SkylightDami

Writing Characters from Memory

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SkylightDami

Hi all! I've been on this forum for a while and as my first post I'd like to ask for your ideas. 

 

A bit about me first: I'm a British student studying at Sichuan University. My Chinese is what I'd call 'Intermediate'. I use a various number of tools / resources to help with my studies such as my Laptop (Wenlin, Onenote, Evernote, Anki etc.) and my phone (Pleco, Google Translate). 

 

I think I'm at the stage where I really should be able to write more than just the basic characters from my head, especially since I'm moving up grades in my Undergraduate course. It's really off-putting having to write pinyin during exams when you can't remember the character. 

 

I know I rely on my laptop and phone too much, but are there any ideas or suggestions that I may put to use?

 

Thank you :)

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Michael H

To remember how to write characters, I recommend Skritter. The service is rather expensive but I don't know of another product that does the same thing (maybe other people have suggestions).

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Shelley

There is only one real answer to this in my opinion, practice,practice and practice some more.

 

I would recommend Hanzi Grids use these to practice with. Start with the characters from your earliest lessons and work through them 15 - 20 characters at a time. Hanzi Grids is here http://www.hanzigrids.com/

There is a free version but the full version is a very reasonable cost and is worth having.

 

Also set yourself little writing tasks, using the vocabulary you have learnt write little stories, it doesn't have to be true or accurate as long as it grammatically correct and you have written the characters correctly, Concentrate on the writing and grammar. Writing the same character over and over as with Hanzi Grids is great for initial learning but by using them in context in a story helps you use them in a real world situation.

 

Skritter is great but if you are on a budget it can be a bit expensive. Also it is very good for memorizing how to write characters but not so good at helping you write them actually on paper with a pen.

So even if you use Skitter don't neglect your pen and paper practice, this helps with mechanical memorising of writing characters, there is a topic on the forum somewhere about this and how important it is to train your muscles as well as your brain when it come to remembering and writing well.

 

So it comes down to hard work, lots of practice and above all enjoy what you are doing, it doesn't help if it seems a chore rather than enjoyable. So don't do too much in any one session, 20 minutes on 10 minutes off for about an hour then a big break and then maybe another hour, 2 hours max or you will burn out and hate doing it. Some every day is better than lots twice a week.

 

I find writing characters one of the most enjoyable things I do, as we speak I have paper and pen, writing grids and paper flashcards in front of me and am spending the afternoon writing.

 

Hope it goes well and you find it as enjoyable as I do :)

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Lu

Practice, practice, practice. It gets easier the more characters you know.

 

You can set your phone's Chinese input to handwriting, so you're forced to write more. You can also set Pleco's lookup to handwriting.

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LiMo

Yeah, as Imron said somewhere on the forum, the best way to improve any one skill is to practise it. There's really no short cut. You've probably noticed by now that reading and writing are quite separate skills. You can probably recognise all the characters you need but when it comes to writing you rapidly find that you can't write half as much as you can read. Shelley's advice looks very solid, run with it.

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AdamD

Shelley's advice is great.

 

  • Mnemonics. Remember complex characters by making up meaningful stories about the components of those characters. Plenty of books can help you get started with this, but at your level you should roll your own mnemonics, because your retention is better if you've attached your personal experience/viewpoint to those stories. The more humorous, disgusting or offensive your mnemonic is, the more likely you are to remember the character quickly and permanently.
  • Repetition. Write complex characters again and again. And again. And again, and again and again. It doesn't sound like fun but it is, especially when you find yourself striving to write them as neatly as you can.
  • Phone flashcards. Get Pleco or an equivalent flashcard app that lets you draw characters with your finger, and in that five minutes you spend waiting for a bus or train, smash out 20 flashcards. If you've got a capable phone, this is too convenient a technique to leave out of your daily routine.
  • Take dictation. Listen to slow speech and write down what you hear. If your listening comprehension is as terrible as mine was for five years, write down only the words you catch. This is about testing your instant recollection and ability to write, not your listening ability.

 

So many Chinese people find pleasure in 书法 purely because of the beauty in characters. If you discover that beauty yourself, even just with a pencil and some cheap paper, half the motivation is taken care of.

 

Lu said it gets easier as you learn more. It really does. Incredibly so. Learning how to learn is itself a skill; once you've become accomplished at that, remembering and reproducing new characters almost becomes second nature.

 

Skritter works for some people but it never worked for me. I was guided by Skritter's stroke suggestions instead of just writing the strokes from memory, and I actually found myself going backwards.

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SkylightDami

Thanks for the great advice everyone!

 

I started off using Heisig's and another's book to remember the characters, but yes as you guys have pointed out reading and writing are quite different. What I've thought about trying now is just using a Prose website like sanwen.net and just practice writing as much as I can in 30 minutes. 

 

@AdamD I've started reusing Anki again since a month ago and I feel it's really helped me quite a lot. I do exactly what you mentioned, I use it during my class and lunch breaks whenever possible. My listening is fairly good, but I'll give dictation a try! Seems fun

 

All in all, the main gist I'm getting is to just sit down and put in the effort to get into it. I'll do my best, thank you all!  :)

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Shelley

Went and had a quick look at sanwen.net , not sure how this is going to help.

 

You need to get the pen and the paper out and actually spend time writing out characters.

 

This is one thing that a computer can't do better than pen and paper.

 

Use your computer to download and print out Hanzi Grids and spend 30 minutes a day writing these out, it will do you more good than any thing else for remembering how to write characters.

 

Also go and read Hofmann's great blog on writing characters here on the forum.

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SkylightDami

With regards to the Sanwen website, I used to just pick a user-created story and just copy it, as in write. But I'll definitely give Hanzi Grids a go now! Heading over to look for Hofmann's post now, thank you Shelley  :)

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Shelley

Oh ok I see how you might use it, but why not read the story and then without copying it, close the laptop and try and rewrite the story in your own words using the vocab from the story.

 

Your original question was how to write from memory, you need to practice that.

 

In my first post the things I suggested were to help memorise them so you could write characters without having to look them up or copy, to be able to write by hand the same as you can in English.

 

Hope it goes well for you :)

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abcdefg

I had another "exam" yesterday -- writing characters from memory at the post office. Had to mail a parcel. I passed, but not without hitting a couple places that caused brief hesitation.

 

Unlike Shelly, I do not enjoy 书法 for its own sake.

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AdamD

Most (not all) Chinese people think I'm nuts for enjoying characters. I imagine it's excruciating to learn 4,000 things that you don't enjoy.

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OneEye
Most (not all) Chinese people think I'm nuts for enjoying characters. I imagine it's excruciating to learn 4,000 things that you don't enjoy.

 

Try studying palaeography. :mrgreen:

 

My favorite, and most frequently encountered, reaction was, "I can't even read that!" Well, of course you can't. Why would you? Like there's something inherent in being ethnically Chinese that says you should be able to read oracle bone script — or even seal script — better than a grad student in palaeography, just because you're Chinese and I'm not. There's a reason it's a graduate school class!

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Lu

Some years ago the Taiwanese government organisation relevant for such things introduced a standardised list of characters to be used for Taiwanese words that don't have an obvious Mandarin equivalent. Taiwanese media had a field day making vox-pops of people saying 'I can't read that' and drew the conclusion that the characters were therefore bad.

 

Similarly, one can occasionally encounter Taiwanese people who state that Taiwanese cannot be written. If you then show them the missionary transcription system, they state that they can't read that and therefore it's not a valid transcription system and Taiwanese still cannot be written.

 

I'm sure Chinese people are capable of this fallacy too, I just never had the chance to encounter it. It's a pity it exists, though.

 

I think for ancient characters, there's also that many people have been told that Chinese has remained the same written language for 5000 years, and therefore they feel that as the inheritants of that 5000-year-old culture they should be able to read it as a matter of course.

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Kamille
Some years ago the Taiwanese government organisation relevant for such things introduced a standardised list of characters to be used for Taiwanese words that don't have an obvious Mandarin equivalent.

 

And so, is it 拍謝 or 歹勢, in the end?

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Lu

I honestly don't remember. This was in 2008 or thereabouts. It's probably still online somewhere, and I think I posted about it in the forums at the time, so the link might be somewhere around too.

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Kamille

Well it was intended as a joke :D

拍謝 obviously looks like a phonetic transcription using the mandarin pronunciation ("pai xie" --> "phai sei", sounds very close if you read it with a thick enough tai-oan go-yi accent). Besides, when you look at the characters you would never guess they could ever mean "sorry" in any universe. 

 

On the other hand, you have 歹勢, which obviously looks like something you would have a hard time understanding if you didn't learn it beforehand. That's the standard combination of characters created for the purpose of that word. Just like for mandarin, these characters actually mean something and it's no use trying to pronounce them in another language to try and get the meaning. This is a combination designed specicifically for the purpose of writing Taiwanese. 

 

Taiwanese is mostly written using phonetic transcriptions of mandarin characters, nowadays, amongst the people. That way everyone can understand without prior learning of the writing system. I have other examples, like 滴佳, which doesn't seem to mean anything in the middle of a facebook comment until you learn that in Taiwanese "di jia" means "在這".That's a bit of a shitty way to write a language, and of course it's very limited.

That's why Taiwanese people say their dialect can't be written: they want a system that wouldn't need any learning from their part and at the same time would allow them to write everything they want. Pity is: "you don't get both" (you can get close to it by using an alphabet though, which brings us to the third system that they are using for some other words: the latin alphabet, but the government doesn't seem to want to officialize anything going in that direction).

 

Now every Taiwanese person knows that 歹勢 means "sorry" but they had to learn it beforehand. That's how reading works in the first place. It's not like, magically, you can speak the language so you can write it and read it.

Now you just made me aware that there was actually a real system designed specifically to write Taiwanese. I just didn't know it was complete (I thought 歹勢 was the only word with that privilege). Means that yeah, after 7 years, the people still refuse to admit that being able to speak a language doesn't make you able to read and write in it. Sad.

 

But sorry that was exactly your point and I din't add anything to it  :mrgreen: . I totally agree with what you were saying.

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Lu

I don't know if the system is complete, two lists were published when I was living there and after that my attention was elsewhere. Even romanisation has to be learned, if you give a random Taiwanese person a text in POJ they will still insist that this is not a good system for writing Taiwanese because if they read it in English pronunciation it sounds weird. It's exactly like you say, there is no system that you don't need to learn anything extra for but somehow allows you to write a lot of extra things. Sad indeed.

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geraldc

Dictation. Ad nauseum. It works.

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