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Ness

Getting close to learning 150 characters, but having problems remembering.

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Ness

Hey folks. Just making a quick post to ask about memorizing characters. I'm learning traditional Chinese, and have been on and off for quite some time. Recently I've finally decided to knuckle down on studying consistently. I've familiarized myself with writing a little over 140 characters. But I'm having trouble remembering. I usually practice at least an hour every day writing. I'm learning from a textbook that focuses not just on writing, but speaking. Each chapter there are new characters and words to learn. I use flashcards with Pleco to collect all the characters/words I've learned so far. Every few days I'll go back and do a flash card session to try and remember. It's to the point where I can't get all 140 characters tested unless I sit there for more than an hour just doing flashcards. The best method I think I've found is using the characters and words in context along just writing them over and over again. Perhaps I'm underestimating the time it takes to remember. I just feel like the more I learn, the more I forget. I'm studying on my own now, but I'm thinking if taking a local college class in regards to Chinese will help. I hear the one that is offerred in my area is pretty good.

 

Oh and I've completely neglected radicals for the most part. I don't know that many. I hear it helps to remember, but I'm scared that focusing on remembering radicals will only add more to my plate. At this point I might try though because I don't see how people increase their arsenal of character use unless they are studying for hours on end every day. Your feedback would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Clarice Zhao

Chinese characters are ideograms, and composed of square block of words. There are six basic strokes of Chinese characters. They are the horizontal stroke (heng), the vertical stroke (shu), the left-falling stroke (pie), the right-falling stroke (na捺), the dot (dian) and the rising stroke (ti). The basic rules of Chinese character writing are from top to bottom; from left to right; horizontal before vertical; diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right; outside before inside; inside before bottom enclosing. Mastering these rules could help you writing Chinese characters to a great extent.

 

​I think you can remember better if you remember the Chinese characters by the order. from left to right, from top to bottom. 

And some complex Chinese characters were composed by some different simple Chinese characters, you can remember part by part.

 

Hope it will help you. 

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imron
Every few days I'll go back and do a flash card session

There's part of your problem.  You really need to be doing it everyday.

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iand

The basic Anki flashcard system just tests you on everything every time you use it, right? I can't see that scaling well to 3000+ characters. Have you considered either purchasing its spaced repetition flashcard feature, or using one of the free ones, like Anki? Then you'll end up testing the hard ones most often and the easy ones less often. I did this a few months ago when I started and got up to 1000 characters within a month and a half, but then put it aside for now in order to work on my other language skills: reading, listening, and speaking. Anyway, believe it or not, the more characters you learn, the easier it gets, to some extent.

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Flickserve

You have to use the system that Clarice described, learn radicals, and it would help a huge amount of you see the words in other situations e.g. TV show subtitles, short sentences, signs etc.

I don't see how you can increase your word count without knowing radicals.

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xh207hi

I would definitely add to the advice of learning radicals; it helps the WHOLE lot. Knowing them, you can easily create your own little stories to explain the construction of the character in the context of its meaning and that is a huge help for remembering it. If constructed in a smart way, it can even help you remember the usage of the word, if you have trouble understanding it. If I were you, I would put aside learning whole characters for a time being and focus on getting to know the radicals, especially in the context of some basic words that include them. Good luck!

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roddy

Maybe just worry about radicals (components, really) as you see them coming up regularly - eg, once you've noticed 家,安  have the same top part, and the side of 钱 and 铁 are the same, or the right side of 钱 and 我 are kind of similar, so maybe there's something interesting there. But don't think of it as extra workload - think of it as laying a foundation of knowledge that will help you learn everything else a bit easier.

 

Do join that class - if you've got a good local class, there's no reason not to take advantage. 

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abcdefg

SRS should help with your task. The heart and soul of any spaced repetition system is to quiz you more often on the words or characters that you have trouble remembering. Its algorithms also are set up so as to hopefully have you repeat the problem words/characters just before you would otherwise forget them again.

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Baron

I recommend you study every day, and spend 2/3 or 3/4 of your time on reviewing, and 1/3 or 1/4 of your time learning new stuff.

 

Don't be disheartened, some brains are just a bit resistant to characters at first. I had a similar problem when I started learning, the bloody things just wouldn't stick in my mind, and I'd forget ones I knew, even after reviewing. I'd get about 60% right every time I tested myself. After a few months, it suddenly got easier and after 1000 characters or so it was a piece of cake to remember new ones. 

 

Space repetition is useful. Producing the characters (ie write them, as you're doing) as opposed to just recognising them can help keep them in long term memory.

 

Incidentally, I never learned radicals. It didn't seem to matter, but I do wish I knew what they are all called and what they represent.

 

You should join that class or get a teacher, you could be making all sorts of mistakes with the fundamentals of characters.

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dwq

Anki will not test you on everything everyday: what happens is that it schedules cards you know well further and further into the future, e.g. first time you answer a card correctly you'll see it again in 1 day, next time in 3 days, next time in 10 days, next time in a month etc. If you fail a card the schedule is reset. (I'm pulling these numbers out of thin air, but that's the general idea.)

You can also set a limit on how many cards to study a day.

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耳耳语语

For me, the characters enlightenement came when i read "Cuo ! Cuo ! Cuo !".

It's a graded reader with 300 words (I don't know how many distinct characters, maybe 200).

 

http://www.chinesebreeze.net/chinese-breeze/chinese-breeze-level-1/level-1-wrong-wrong-wrong/

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/17182-chinese-breeze-%E6%B1%89%E8%AF%AD%E9%A3%8E%EF%BC%89-graded-readers/

 

And Chinese is a very long feast, you need to add the radical in one of your very first plates.

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tysond

I had a lot of trouble breaking through the same barrier using "brute force".  I couldn't get past this through just flashcarding and it was making me very frustrated.

 

Then I found two things at once that really helped.  

 

The first was SRS (Spaced Repetition Systems).  This is a "smart flashcard" process which tries to test you on the cards you are having trouble on more frequently, while rarely asking you about the ones you know well.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_repetition  .  Quite a few software systems use this algorithm now to decide which flashcard to show you next.  Anki is super common.  Also, Skritter is a system more tuned to learning characters.

 

Then I found Heisig's "Remembering the Hanzi".  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembering_the_Kanji or http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/en/publications/miscellaneous-publications/

This is a book that teaches you a few techniques, and then walks you through 1500 characters (book 1) and the next 1500 (total 3000) in book 2.  

 

Now, this method is not perfect.  There are valid criticisms on it.  I am not saying this is the greatest technique ever.  

It's not very respectful of history or Chinese culture or the origin of characters.  It's a blunt tool.  But for me, it got results.

 

It helped me break through the 150-200 character brute force learning, and get to around 2000 characters in about a year, 1 hour a day.

And it helped me develop the skills that I now have where learning new characters is not a chore (you do get better at it!).

 

How?

  • I learned how to break down characters into components.  
  • I learned how to build mnemonics that could help me associate the character with an (approximate) meaning
  • It gave me an order to learn characters in that would build upon previous knowledge
  • It included the most common characters (and some not so common, but the top 1000 are in the first book, the top 3000 in the next)
  • It suggested a method for learning & revising that I sort of used (actually I used the Skritter app but it was close enough), and allowed me to learn around 5-10 characters a day

So, after doing it, here's what I recommend.

  1. Have a mindset that you are in this for the long term and your goal is 2000+ characters in 1-2 years (faster if you are studying intensively).  You may be learning stuff that's not useful for a beginners course.  But when you reach intermediate it will start to pay off.
  2. Just buy the first book.  Go though the chapters at your own pace in parallel with other studies.  
  3. You need a daily routine.  30 minutes a day is better than 8 hours on Sunday.
  4. Have some learning time and some revision time.  SRS can control this.  I found Skitter really useful, you can control how quickly it adds new characters.  
  5. Don't be too aggressive.  At first it's ok to go fast, but back off to 5 characters a day after a while.  Your revision time will add up quickly.  (Full time study is different)
  6. Relax about the fact that some of your most common characters come late in the book.  You may have to learn 你 and 我 and lots of others before the Heisig book gets there. Your existing 150 will help.   But when you start getting to 800, 1200, 1500 character level texts, you'll find it much easier.
  7. Recommend you casually learn the readings (pronunciations) of the characters as you go.  But don't fuss about it too much, they will come up in later studies.  So -- if you *know* the character's pronunciation because you have studied in your text book, feel free to test yourself on it in SRS.  But if it's a new character, just say it out loud after you test yourself on the key-word.  Later on you'll learn the pronunciation in context of a word or example or text.
  8. Feel free to look up a common word or two that the character is used in, or an example sentence.  This can often help understand why Heisig chose a keyword for the character.  Make sure it's a common word and later on it will come up.
  9. Sometimes components of a character give a hint on pronunciation. For example at a beginner level, 人 and 认 (as in 认识) have similar pronunciation.  Heisig doesn't use this "pronunciation hint" - this is one of the biggest criticsms of this method (and why I encourage you to casually learn the pronunciations).  However, my honest opinion is that this is much more useful at more advanced levels than at beginner/intermediate - at early levels there are many different components are few similar component/similar pronunciations.  At later levels there are LOTS.  
  10. Stop at the end of the first book (5 characters a day = 1 year if learning casually) and let your other skills catch up a bit.  The second book has rarer characters, and the time you would spend on learning/revision may not pay off.
  11. By this point your skills at learning characters should have improved a lot.  You can decide whether to go on to the second book or just use your existing skills.
  12. You (probably) don't need to learn every single character you see.  Often your textbook will have a topic like famous grottoes in China. Honestly if you don't bother learning the second character 石窟 for grotto, you'll probably be fine for several years, just like the word grotto hardly comes up in English.  Similarly, sometimes they teach you the name of a Chinese dish like 干煸四季豆.   The character 煸 in there isn't gonna make or break you, unless someone says it's part of a test.  Relax and ignore anything that's boring or seems not useful.  If it's common it WILL come up again.  

Hope this helps.  

 

Although I recommend Heisig's book, any technique that properly teaches you how to decompose characters, build mnemonics, and revise regularly will help.

I just don't know of many of these techniques that have been written up properly into a published book, with a system, an order of characters that will cover the most common, and a mnemonic technique all in one place.

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Ness

Thanks for the posts people. I've definitely going to look into these options. Also I think I will take that class.

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