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The best way to learn characters?

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Szechuan

Only way I've learned characters is by sheer repetition, and then using them. for example, the first phrase I learned was 你明白吗。I wrote each character out about 10 times untill it was memorized. I used this phrase mainly as an inside joke to my chinese friends. Then I started putting in more things like 你明白我妈。 我不明白他。I could never remember any character on its own unless I used it in a phrase, sort of like planting the seed of vocabulary and growing with it. I'm not really on a "must learn chinese within X months" schedual, but I want to communicate with my chinese friends in their language atleast a little, since they always communicate in mine, so I pick up characters along the way.

I've got around 60-80 characters and 150-200 pinyin in about 3 months, which is probably slow progress compared to the people who need it for survival, but it works well for me, and hopefully anyone else who is learning it as a hobby.

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gruman

I think the most frequently characters in chinese, won't work as good as in english, because, first: Character is not a word, second: some of chinese characters used only for the writing text. Actually I was looking for the most frequently words in chinese, I think that will be better than characters.

Did anybody know about it?

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atitarev
I think the most frequently characters in chinese' date=' won't work as good as in english, because, first: Character is not a word, second: some of chinese characters used only for the writing text. Actually I was looking for the most frequently [u']words[/u] in chinese, I think that will be better than characters.

Did anybody know about it?

It works actually, the most common words are made of most common characters.

Characters 已 and 经 (經) are common because they are used in a very common word 已经 yǐjing (already)

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wrbt

If you want, you can select to learn how to write like the first 800 to 1000 or so and then just learn the rest of your vocabulary through watching, listening, and doing things you enjoy. I also feel it is important to have a good base in the beginning.

I agree with this. I don't think it's worth anyone's while to sit there and try to learn 5000 characters but to spend the time and effort to build a solid foundation of the top 500, 1000, or maybe even 2000 seems like a great way to start.

I forget the exact numbers but doesn't knowing the most frequent 1000 equate to recognizing about 90% of what you encounter? For a beginner/elementary student that's surely worth it, as looking up unknown characters is one of the most time consuming parts of learning Chinese. Put the effort in early then spend more time later learning vocabulary, grammar, etc. instead of paging thru dictionaries.

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Miko869

As for the characters.

In the first stage I think that learning characters in context is better than just learning individual characters. Chinese modern language is made of words composed of two or more characters, and knowing the meaning of each characters can help you to guess what a word means, but not always and not always with accurate precision. The ideal would be first to study a text, after to learn the characters used in that text and that correspond to the list of the most common 2500 ones if you're studying simplified forms, or 4808 most common if you're studying traditional ones. It's quite simple to get list of characters and extract the most common thanks to http://lingua.mtsu.edu/chinese-computing/vp/index.php?CNTEXT_Session=148156563c5225c27292c469dfa6971e . (I first upload the text I'm studying and get the list of single characters, then upload that list together with the list of the most common characters, the characters that appear two times are the ones that correspond :-))

Once you reach that threshold, you can pass to study single characters out of context. At that point it makes sense to study individually the other 1000 common characters used in mainland china, or complete the list of 4808 characters used in Taiwan. It makes sense at that point as you will always find unknown characters in a text, it happens to chinese people too, and learning every new character popping up is practically impossible as modern publications still use more than 7000/8000 characters. That lists are the only mean to be sure you are learning the most common ones ;-).

Ps. You can find the list of the most common 4808 characters used in taiwan in the "frequently asked questions" at http://stroke-order.learningweb.moe.edu.tw/siteNavInstruction.do#

For the list of the most common 3500 characters used in mainland China, just search 常用3500汉字表 in google.

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Baron

Unpopular yet effective method: Acquire the books that Chinese kids learn to write with - the ones where you trace rows of repeated characters. Do the tracing, then write each character about 100 times, review daily using an obsessive list of all the pinyin of the characters you've learned. Spend a year or two of your life going through all the primary school books, learning 10 or so characters a day, and after that you'll find you can read and write with ease - though you won't necessarily have a great vocabulary.

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Koxinga

Baron you must have a lot of time on your hands.

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imron
Unpopular yet effective method:

Is this something you have done yourself? I tried a similar approach of going through native children's books when I first started learning and actually found it not as productive as using materials aimed at adults.

The booklets for tracing characters however can be quite useful.

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Hofmann

I'd rather call it a popular and inefficient method. It might be good for handwriting improvement, but only if used right. (Writing something 100 times incorrectly won't improve anything.)

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OneEye
Baron you must have a lot of time on your hands.

Not to mention calluses.

effective...Spend a year or two of your life...won't necessarily have a great vocabulary

牛頭不對馬嘴

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Baron

I didn't mention that its also proved to be quite a controversial method

I did have a lot of time on my hands back then. Such are the joys of living in a fairly isolated school in rural China. I probably spent 4 hours a day on characters, much of that on revision.

Imron - yes I did do it myself and despite a lack of studying in recent years I still can read and am only slightly rusty on writing.

Hofmann - you do have to apply mental focus to the task. If you copy the characters without thinking about it, sure you might not remember. Also as I said, reviewing is important.

I did have a bit of a callus on one finger back then. Now my hands are baby smooth again.

What differentiates the method I chose to the normal adult learning method was that I viewed learning characters as the same as learning the alphabet in English - It's a fundamental part. Most adult learning methods treat character learning and vocabulary learning as the same which means people just learn characters on a ad hoc basis. I find I've always learned vocabulary quickly due to the characters and their basic concepts being etched in my brain.

I assume people try to discredit this method because it involves self discipline and commitment.

It's not a magic bullet to learn all of Chinese - I hope that clears your misunderstanding oneeye. It is however an effective way of committing characters to memory.

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imron
I assume people try to discredit this method because it involves self discipline and commitment.

Learning Chinese requires self discipline and commitment regardless of the approach you take (at least if you want to learn it to any sort of decent level).

The methods I've used to learn Chinese certainly require self discipline and commitment, and such a requirement is not the reason learning from children's books didn't work for me. Note: I'm not saying it wouldn't work for some people, just that it didn't work for me personally, and my question was a genuine question as I was curious about how far you had taken it.

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Hofmann

I discredit it because it's inefficient. It has nothing to do with whether the learner is a child or an adult. One can get further by applying the same self discipline and commitment to other methods that involve more critical thinking. Even handwriting can be better addressed using other methods.

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Baron

Imron - I took it all the way baby ;-) Actually I don't think your method is too dissimilar an approach, apart from you've formalised a visualisation method.

Hoffman - why is it inefficient? it works for billions of kids, worked for me. and its easy. The only drawback is that it's time consuming.

Where's the magic "quote" button on these forums?

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imron
Where's the magic "quote" button on these forums?

See here. If you do a search for "quote button" you will find other threads discussing this topic.

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Baron

Thanks. Strangely it doesn't show up on the toolbar on safari, neither do the emoticons. I'll stick to the old fashioned way.

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OneEye
I hope that clears your misunderstanding oneeye.

I don't think I misunderstood anything. I was just point out that spending "one or two years of your life" to end up with a not "great vocabulary" doesn't seem all that effective to me.

why is it inefficient?...The only drawback is that it's time consuming.

You've answered your own question. If using a different method allows you to accomplish the same thing with a smaller investment of time, or more in the same amount of time, then by definition that method is more efficient. The fact that something "works for billions of kids" doesn't mean it's efficient, it simply means that it works.

I have to agree with imron. No non-native speaker has learned Chinese to a high level without self-discipline and commitment. Implying that a certain method is unpopular because it requires those things is a little ridiculous.

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Baron

The reason for its unpopularity was a speculation. I honestly have no idea why a certain learning method can inflame people. Please enlighten me.

'Spending 2 years' wasn't mean to imply that there is no time to do other activities. A man who has the mind to beat his dog will easily find a stick.

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imron
I honestly have no idea why a certain learning method can inflame people. Please enlighten me.

I'm not sure anyone here is inflamed, just pointing out things they disagree with in quite reasonable tones.

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