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Szymon456

Characters learning - How to proceed after radicals

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Szymon456

I believe in learning smart. I had some solid basics in Chinese before (up to about HSK3), however never learned writing and reading. It's time to change that so I've spent quite significant time in finding out how to best learn characters. I couldn't imagine memorizing 6000 characters. Came across number of interesting websites and conclusion for the first step was to learn the radicals. This was inspired after going through the https://www.hackingchinese.com website.

I've got pretty confident on the top 100 radicals, doing my Anki daily in about 5-10 minutes for anything that need refreshing.

 

What should be the next best step to actually learning the characters? There are of course HSK lists, but the question is how to learn them?

I understand in principle the concept of phonetic characters - where part gives the meaning, and part gives the pronunciation. But where does that meaning come from, how to study it?

The amazing website of https://hanziyuan.net maybe help to create some mnemonics (which is a concept I still kind of struggle with), but it does not give the explanation, it kind of requires you to get an idea of where did that pictograph come from yourself.

 

So for all the smart learners - how did you proceed in learning characters after knowing the radicals?

 

Reading books is on my list as the step after, or during this next step.

 

Appreciate all suggestions or directing me to some previous relevant discussions.

 

Szymon

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Shelley

I would suggest you seek out Outlier here https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/45912-outlier-linguistic-solutions/?tab=comments#comment-346309

 

This a step up from radicals and is a well constructed course by some very talented people.

 

Their dictionary is available as an addon for Pleco which is something I would recommend for any student of Chinese. http://www.pleco.com/

 

Also try Tofu Learning, an app for learning to read, write and more . Here https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53507-tofu-learn-for-learning-hanzi/?tab=comments#comment-409466

 

Personally I would steer clear of the mnemonics, as far as I am concerned this is a waste of time. It adds one more layer of unnecessary kludge.

 

I would also think about starting a text book. New Practical Chinese Reader is my choice. This will introduce characters in a sensible and useful pace. It has writing exercises and if you use the work book even more. You may find yourself going over things you all ready know but this is unavoidable as you add characters to studies.

 

Hope all this helps.

 

 

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mungouk

@Szymon456 I really don't subscribe to this idea of "learn all the radicals first"... I tried it myself and didn't find it helpful at all.  Apart from anything else, how are you supposed to pronounce them, and how is that useful?  

 

Similarly, IMHO, mnemonics are only useful as you start out, or when you need to remember the difference between commonly-confused characters. Otherwise they slow you down.  You need to be able to "sight-read" the common words (at least) rather than having to decipher them. 

 

There are plenty of phone apps that will guide you through learning the different standard levels if you want to approach it that way.  As you suggested, there's no way you're going to start with 6000 flashcards and work your way through them.  I like StickyStudy which has HSK and TOCFL levels built-in, and most of the words have audio as well.

 

As @Shelley says, textbooks are useful because they give you structure and sequence which makes pedagogical sense (hopefully)... or at the very least they introduce words in terms of higher frequency first. 

 

When I was starting out I also really liked the "graphs" (in the sense of interconnected nodes) that Alan Davies has made — see http://www.hskhsk.com/resources.html 

 

The connectedness only really works for HSK 1-3 I think because it becomes too unwieldy after that, but being able to navigate around the huge graph and see which words have shared characters (not components or radicals) is really interesting and helped me to get a conceptual overview of how the pairings work.  To make this usable I loaded up the SVG file in Chrome, "printed" it to a PDF and I use that to pan and zoom around, which is much faster (or at least it is on a Mac).


When I find I'm having trouble recalling the difference between Hanzi that are very similar except for one component I head for MDBG or Hanzicraft, which have ways for searching for characters with shared components (which may or may not be radicals, if I understand correctly). 

 

Since you can speak/listen OK but not read/write so well that puts you in an unusual class of learner, equivalent (forgive me) to an illiterate adult, or maybe adolescent.  I wonder if there are specific learner resources for that group already available in China?
 

Bon voyage!

 

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Shelley
10 minutes ago, mungouk said:

Since you can speak/listen OK but not read/write so well that puts you in an unusual class of learner, equivalent (forgive me) to an illiterate adult, or maybe adolescent.  I wonder if there are specific learner resources for that group already available in China?

 

Often referred to as heritage learners. Usually of ABCs or other Chinese people born overseas and have learnt to speak and understand because of interacting with family members.

There are a lot of learning materials aimed at this group, But I am not sure as the OP has only reached approx HSK3 that this would be the best route.

 

I still would suggest the text book route because it gives you the characters in an orderly sequence as explained well by @mungouk

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Wurstmann

I would recommend doing a system like RTH (but with Chinese keywords instead) once you're at a high level. If you're talking about learning how to read them, just learn them as part of a word which themselves are part of a sentence. That way you have more context than if you were to study single characters. Most of the time you won't come across a character in isolation anyway.

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Shelley

I am sorry but I have to strongly disagree with using Remembering the Hanzi.

 

This is a system of mnemonics that in my opinion adds a level of unnecessary kludge between you and learning.

It sometimes uses Christian themes to make stories around the characters with idea that are suppose to help you remember them. This is almost laughable because these characters are from another culture entirely and trying to shoehorn Christianity into them is wrong.

Even the other stories are stretching things and it all becomes chaotic and messy as you progress through the book.

 

Just pick a text book - start at page one and work through it, you will start to make quicker progress as you go though them

 

This is all only my opinion and obviously you can/will ignore my advise as you wish.

 

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Wurstmann

That's why you make your own stories. Or if you don't like mnemonics, do it the old fashioned way.

The main point I was trying to make was waiting until you're reasonably good at the language before starting to learn handwriting and using Chinese keywords. It's much easier if you already can read them. Textbooks might have their use for beginners of Chinese, but for beginners of handwriting? I'm not so sure. Nowadays one could argue that it isn't even a necessary skill anyway, because of cell phones and computers make writing by hand quite obsolete.

 

anki_rnV05u8ncf.thumb.png.edf1de7344c5357c80f461f0502d398d.png

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Shelley

Textbook for the beginner writing Chinese? Yes because it introduces the characters in a sensible order. or as @mungouk put it so well.

 

7 hours ago, mungouk said:

textbooks are useful because they give you structure and sequence which makes pedagogical sense (hopefully)... or at the very least they introduce words in terms of higher frequency first

 

It is the old fashion way and I think its the best way. Lots of writing, build up the muscle memory. From experience the ones I wrote a lot I remember really well.

This problem of having to go back and basically start again is why I think you should learn all of it together.

Yes there are electronic devices now that remove the need to learn to write but I think it helps with your all round understanding of Chinese if you do.

 

I think this is one of those perennial discussions that will go round and round.

 

The OP asked for suggestion/advice on learning to write now they have reached a certain point in their studies, that was my advise.

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Szymon456

Thanks a lot for all your feedback, very valuable and few new sources I haven't hear about before. Don't want to get busy with too many learning apps and methods, but it's worth to spend a bit of time to pick the best ones before I spent months in learning through them. Tofu sounds amazing. Like Anki, but with additional writing and dictionary, and for free (so like free Skritter?).

 

Let me clarify a bit the 'radicals' as I believe I confused @mungouk at first. The list is here: https://www.hackingchinese.com/kickstart-your-character-learning-with-the-100-most-common-radicals/

So this is also referred to as component - when part of a character I guess. example I know 羊 or 人 and my question was - once these become part of a character (and character a part of a word) - how to study it. Is there some method and logic in this 50,000 character madness.

 

@Shelley thanks for all the resources based on your experience. I guess the Outlier thing is probably what I'm looking for. Would you say it is much more detailed in the character explanation than the  https://hanziyuan.net? And I notice they have the on-line course. 99$ is quite expensive but something to consider.

 

@Wurstmann thank you for your perspective, from what you are saying I guess my plan of learning by reading books will be a good fit in here, and I've came across HSK 150 and HSK 300 books - so that's part of my next steps. And yes - I mean how to recognize/read them, not just by memorizing, but by understanding.

 

I will get into hand-writing as well. To know meaning of a character when I see it; and to write down (whether on computer or by hand) or say a word I want to say are very different things. I know that well enough from my learning so far, and that's not even related to characters - had that issue when learning based on pinyin.

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OneEye
7 hours ago, Szymon456 said:

I guess the Outlier thing is probably what I'm looking for. Would you say it is much more detailed in the character explanation than the  https://hanziyuan.net? And I notice they have the on-line course. 99$ is quite expensive but something to consider.

 

I'm obviously biased, but the stuff at hanziyuan is not reliable. Richard Sears, who runs the site, is a hobbyist and doesn't have any training in paleography, phonology, etc., and a lot of the explanations on the site are way outside the mainstream of scholarly consensus.

 

Also, use the discount code 'chineseforums20' when you check out to get 20% off our course. You'll also get a code for 15% off our other products if you sign up for the course.

 

You may also find some of our blog posts interesting, particularly this one about radicals.

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Shelley

@Szymon456 Yes Tofu is like free Skritter but different. It is very good, you can load pre-made lists, so if you are using a text book you can load that word list, big plus.

 

OneEye has replied with a discount code, maybe this will make it more affordable?

 

Glad to be of help, hope you do well.

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Szymon456

@OneEye thanks for your contribution, already checked the blog post and got me more confused actually. Kind of sounds like just a semantic argument. Don't use the word 'radical' but sound or meaning component - and it's fine :) And keep in mind a radical(component?) isn't always a sound or meaning component. Further it can be also misleading sometimes due to historical errors.

More reading ahead of me, but to this moment your masterclass sounds like the best route to move forward; perhaps that one will clarify it further for me.

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OneEye
6 hours ago, Szymon456 said:

Kind of sounds like just a semantic argument.

 

It isn't.

 

Radicals = dictionary indexing and lookup. That's their use, and what the concept of "radical" was created for. Each character has one radical—the one it's filed under in the dictionary (though which element is the radical may differ depending on which dictionary you're looking at!). 部首 literally means "section (部) heading (首)." A character's radical may or may not have anything to do with the character's meaning or sound, though it usually is a semantic component. Importantly though, which part of the character serves as the radical is a choice made by a dictionary editor, not an intrinsic part of the character's structure.

 

Functional Components = character structure. Functional components generally express sound or meaning (though some don't—they may serve as a mark to disambiguate, or maybe they used to express sound or meaning but became corrupted over time), and they're what people had in mind when the characters were being created.

 

The fact that people use "radical" when they mean "functional component" just means they're not clear on what the terms mean.

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Szymon456

@OneEye I see where you coming from I think with the last sentence you well summarized what might have been mine (and not only) misunderstanding.

 

With that in mind, what is the proper way to call characters such as 马 人 鸟 刀 . Just 'characters' ?  And when they are part of another character - then a functional component? 

 

I hope I'm not asking you to repeat what your class already includes - haven't made my purchase yet, on the way to the ATM 😉

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OneEye

It's a common misunderstanding. :)

 

If you're talking about the characters themselves, they're just characters. If you're talking about a section of the dictionary where all the characters contain 马, for example, you're talking about radicals. If you're talking about 马 playing a semantic (as in 驻) or phonetic (as in 妈) role, then you're talking about functional components.

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Szymon456

@OneEye very clear; no more procrastination reasons for me anymore; and relieved that what I learned so far is not totally waste of time

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mungouk
On 7/26/2019 at 10:19 AM, Szymon456 said:

Let me clarify a bit the 'radicals' as I believe I confused @mungouk at first. The list is here: https://www.hackingchinese.com/kickstart-your-character-learning-with-the-100-most-common-radicals/

 

I wasn't confused at all.  I read that exact same blog post when I started learning Hanzi.

 

It's just that I disagree with the premise that you should learn the most common radicals "first", as apparently recommended by so many people.

 

In the days when you needed to know the radicals in order to be able to look up words in the dictionary — an essential task for beginners — then maybe this made sense. But with electronic and online dictionaries where you can enter the characters using pinyin it's just unnecessary, and I found it actually got in the way of me getting on with learning vocabulary.

 

When as a beginner I moved from pinyin-only and started learning Hanzi I followed the advice on that exact blog post... I had a print-out of all the common radicals on my kitchen wall, a Skritter deck with them all in, and was trying to learn them on my phone along with their audio pronunciation (because that's how Skritter works).

 

Firstly, as a beginner, I think learning names (as opposed to general meanings) for the radicals just creates excess brain-clutter... which slows down your learning:

  • Many of them can't actually be used standalone as words so you're learning a lot of stuff that you can't actually use for communication at this stage. 
  • So that they can squeeze the information onto a page or poster, most of the radical charts I've seen have a massively-simplified one-word English name for each, which can vary a lot from one chart to another.  This is confusing because you see the same radical called different things in different places.
  • Learning the Chinese pronunciation of isolated radicals is arguably only useful if you want to have in-depth conversations about characters, or to teach them, which certainly doesn't apply to most people starting out. Furthermore this is also potentially confusing... yes it may on occasion be useful to know that 犬 quǎn refers to "dog" — although most characters using that particular form of the radical aren't related to dogs. But you don't call an actual dog quǎn — you need to learn 狗 gǒu*.  So arguably this is an impediment, learning a radical that "means" dog and then having to learn a word that means dog.

 

(* Yes this does include the modified version of the radical,犭, but knowing the radical is called quǎn doesn't help you to remember gǒu at all.)

 

Secondly, for me, I found it much more useful and motivating to just get on with learning vocabulary (in Hanzi) at the appropriate level, and gradually building my ability to notice and recognise the meanings of character components and how they are similar or different in similar or related characters. 

 

In other words, allowing that skill to develop organically, rather than attacking it systematically.

 

Of course this is just what I found as a beginner — everyone has their own learning preferences.  I just think it's important to challenge the "learn the common radicals first" approach because it's outdated (at least regarding dictionary use) and potentially demotivates learners by creating unnecessary obstacles to learning.

 

 

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Enjune Zhang

Radical(部首)is to Chinese what the etymon(字根)is to English. Both act as the root meaning of the characters/vocabularies. For example, cogn=known, by=side, cord=hear, it makes sense why "recognize"has something to do with "know", "byproduct" has something to do with "side", "cordial"has something to do with heart. Similar situation falls on Chinese,so you know 河湖泊海洋 are water related based on the radical 氵, while 钉钩锤锹铲are something made of metal due to the radical 钅. Four aspects below concerning radicals are worth your attention.

 

1.部首 is 偏旁,but not every 偏旁 constitutes a 部首. Only those 偏旁 which you could search a character with in Chinese dictionary could be called 部首. Therefore, you could check all the radicals listed in Pleco by clicking the icon like a jigsaw.

 

2.It is not necessary to memorize each radical but you will find it helpful to learn the basic meaning of a character if you pay attention to its radical. Just trying to figure out the radical of frequently applied characters may help. And you may see that memorizing characters with same radicals may be a good connection you could build among characters.

 

3.Some of the radicals act like a characters themselves, like 女广日一厂, and they require extra attention.

 

4.There would be a basically essential meaning for certain radicals but not every radical stands for something. Therefore, start with those representing concrete and physical thing will be efficient. Once you learn the meaning or implication of a radical, apply it to verify the next character you come across with the same radical.Think about how this radical will have something to do with the meaning of the character. The more you do, the more you will be familiar with the radicals and the characters concerned.

 

Radical & Meaning related fyi http://xh.5156edu.com/page/z2443m7618j19616.html

QQ截图20190814090505.png

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mungouk
1 hour ago, Enjune Zhang said:

Radical(部首)is to Chinese what the etymon(字根)is to English. Both act as the root meaning of the characters/vocabularies.

 

And yet, as @OneEye already pointed out, the radicals are used as indexes in a dictionary and many don't necessarily have anything to do with meaning at all.

 

I think that image is from the same poster of the radicals I used to have on my wall, and 尸 ("corpse"!) was one of the ones that used to perplex me the most.

 

How is "corpse" the root meaning of 尼, 层, 屁 or many other words which apparently have nothing to do with death or dead bodies?

 

"etymon" is a new word on me... thanks :)    But I think it's probably misleading to conflate the etymological roots of English words (which come from many other languages including Old French, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Latin, etc.) with the radicals of Hanzi.

 

 

 

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