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Phonetics based system to learn characters and words adopted for English-speakers


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(The up-to-date variant of the system is in the most recent posts)

I have adopted the phonetics based system to learn characters and words for English-speakers. Firstly about learning characters, regarding learning words see below.
The main problem was that English is an analytic language, in which grammatical features are reflected in the word order and the usage of service words, while the formulas of different kinds used in my approach required more free positioning of words (and in poems there should be metrical structure). My approach is very well suited for Russian-speakers, but the most widespread language is English. In this topic I present an adopted system much more suitable for English-speakers. Also I'll give all necessary information here and will not direct readers to any links for details. 

The number of elements is reduced to two only, they're (i) seven poems by 声母 blocks (not poems but very short verses in fact) and (ii) the table with two sheets also arranged by the blocks. 

The blocks according to 声母 vs  韵母correspondence are: (1) B-P-M-F (2) D-T-N-L (3) Z-C-S (4) ZH-CH-SH-R (5) J-Q-X (6) G-K-H and combined 7th block for syllables without 声母 beginning with e, a, o, y and w.

For every syllable of some 400 of them if not accounting for tones a certain character is considered the key character, and the poems enable to learn them very quickly and reliably.

Then if accounting for tones certain characters are also selected as 'head' characters (key characters are head characters, too). In the entire Mandarin language there are about 1200-1300 of them, within HSK5 approximately 880. To memorize them one can use so-called intermediate presentation of poems.
Those syllables which are presented by more than one character are learnt seperately with the help of the Table (and horizontal formulas on the second sheet).

On the first sheet of the table one can see all characters from HSK5 organized by the initial sound and then by tones. When pointing with a cursor left from the key character one can see in the pop-up window a vertical formula, IN ENGLISH, a phrase, linking the meaning of the key character with meanings of other head characters. The direction to read the vertical formula is always this: firstly downward from the key character (if there are other characters below) and then upward. In the example the phrase is: 'The horse cursed, ate cannabis and began to chase our mother, right?' Target words (head words) are underlined. 

On the second sheet formulas link characters with the meaning of the head character according to the succession shown in the picture. Only seven target words can be in the formula (that is determined by the features of human brain). If there are more characters having the same pinyin, a new formula begins with the last character of the previous formula. 

Once HSK5 characters for a block are learnt, new characters added should be marked (for example, with green color), and a new formula should be designed to connect them with the basic HSK5 characters. 

Here is an adopted presentation of the B-P-M-F poem. Each stranza is given in four modes: English-Russian, English-Russian with comments (grammar abbrivations see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_glossing_abbreviations), Russian in Latin script and Russian in Cyrillic script. 
English-Russian modes mean that what is possible without breaking the necessary word order and metrical structure to give in English is given in English, the rest in Russian. In addition, combined words are used having English root or stem and Russian postfixes or prefixes. 

In the Latin transcription of Russian 'j' is used to show softness of consonants and 'y' is reserved for special Russian vowel 'ы', which sounds similar to 'i', but with one's tongue humpbacked.
With bold letters stress is shown (exept the English-Russian mode with comments where English is in bold).

At the bottom, please, find the first sheet of the Table for B-P-M-F in English and MSWord file with the Poem.
I hope that to some who struggle with learning Mandarin at not too advanced stage my approach can bring quick and reliable results.


B-P-M-F Poem (English-Russian)





Ostler holdit,
                   but afraidsia -
                                                law nie writtan.    
Bielyi nie desire
                   v raw standatj,
                                                                  …… zhestj.
V groupie all
                       lookiat v tarielki,
                                                         foodu chewiut.
Pomoschi nie lookia,
                sboku ostler keepitsia and that lish
                                                                 chtoby v corner vlieztj.


Ostler hold-it (3.SG PRS)
  but afraid-sia (‘-sia’ means ‘himself’) -
    stallion-u (ACC)
      law nie (not) writt-an (PPP).
Bielyi (white) nie (not) desire

  v (in, to) raw stand-atj (INF),

    priedatelj (traitor),

      ...... zhestj ('tin', slang meaning snth hard).

V (in) group-pie (PREP) all

  look-iat (3.PL. PRS) v (at, in) tarielki (plates),


      food-u (ACC) chew-iut (3.pl. PRS).

Pomoschi ('help' GEN) nie (not) look-ia (PRESP),

  sboku (aside) ostler keep-it-sia (3.SG. PRS, '-sia' means 'himself') and that lish (only)

      chtoby (in order that) v (in, to) corner vlieztj ('fit' INF).




Konjuh dierzhit,
                      no boitsia -
                                               zakon nie pisan.
Bielyi nie zhelaiet
                         v riad vstavatj,
                                                         …… zhestj.
V gruppie vsie
                  gliadiat v tarielki,
                                                    iedu zhuiut.
Pomoschi nie vidia,
                   sboku koniuh dierzhitsia i tiem lish
                                                           chtoby v ugol vlieztj.


Конюх держит,
                но боится -
                                      закон не писан.
Белый не желает
                  в ряд вставать,
                                                        …… жесть.
В группе все
                глядят в тарелки,
                                            еду жуют.
Помощи не видя,
                сбоку конюх держится и тем лишь
                                                      чтобы в угол влезть.





All uzh syty do kraiov,
                        but v koniushniu nie runut,
                                                           slovno koshka,
                                                                      …… something zhdut.
…… Zhdut
                      …… oni
                                                                          ……  Brut.


All uzh (already) syty (fed) do kraiov (to the brims),
  but v (in, to) koniushniu (stabling) nie (not) run-ut (3.Pl.PRS),
    slovno (like) koshka (cat),
      …… something (ACC) zhdut (‘wait’, 3.PL.PRS).
…… Zhdut (‘wait’, 3.PL.PRS)
  …… oni (they)
    chiego-to (‘something’, GEN),
      ……  Brut (Brutus).


Vsie uzh syty do kraiov,
            no v koniushniu nie biegut,
                                              slovno koshka,
                                                        …… chto-to zhdut.
…… Zdut

                 …… oni
                                               …… Brut.


Все уж сыты до краёв,
            но в конюшню не бегут,
                                    словно кошка,
                                                          …… что-то ждут.
…… Ждут
                 …… они
                                            …… Брут.





A iescho raisali glasses,
            brakom sochetaiutsia,
                                             lozhnyie prichiny putting forward, just a laugh.
Fundamental those reasons,
               and saliva spitting riano,
                             and lookiat at dvieri pianym
                                               tusklym glazom rozovatym s agitation at litse.
…… Hei,
                        nie vo snie lj you
                                      or in bad insanity chiornoi polosie?
You compare maybe
                     sily loshadinyie all us
                                    s that koniom, and it’ll clear: in delusion
                                                                                                   are we vsie.


A iescho (and also) rais-ali (3.PL. PRF) glasses,
  brakom sochetaiutsia (‘get married’ 3 PL. PRS),
    kazhdyi (everyone)
      lozhnyie (‘false’ ACC) prichiny (‘reasons’ ACC) putting forward, just a laugh.
Fundamental those reasons,
  and saliva spitting riano (zealously),
    and look-iat (3.PL. PRS) at dvieri (doors) pianym (‘drunk’ SG. M. INS)
      tusklym (‘dull’ SG. M. INS) glazom (‘eye’ SG. M. INS) rozovatym (‘pinkish’ SG. M. INS)
                                                       s (with) agitation at litse (‘face’ SG. M. PREP).
…… Hei,
  priiatielj (friend),
    nie vo snie lj (not dreaming) you
      or in bad insanity chiornoi (black) polosie (strip)?
You compare maybe
  sily (‘power’ PL) loshadinyie (‘horse’ ADJ) all us (GEN)
    s (with) that koniom (‘stallion’ SG. INS), and it’ll clear
      in delusion are we vsie (all).


A iescho podniali riumki,
         brakom sochetaiutsia,
                                 lozhnyie prichiny vydvigaiet, prosto smieh.
Fundamentaljnyie prichiny,
                   i sliunoiu bryzzhut riano,
                                i gliadiat na dvieri pianym
                                             tusklym glazon rozovatym s bespokoistvom na litse.
…… Ei,
                   nie vo snie lj ty
                               ili pomieshatieljstva chiornoi polosie?
Ty sravni, pozhalui,
                sily loshadinyie vsieh nas
                              s tiem koniom, I staniet iasno: v zabluzhdienii
                                                                                             my …… vsie.


А ещё подняли рюмки,
           браком сочетаются,
                                ложные причины выдвигает, просто смех.
Фундаментальные причины,
        и слюною брызжут рьяно,
                 и глядят на двери пьяным
                          тусклым глазом розоватым с беспокойством на лице.
…… Эй,
                не во сне ль ты
                      или помешательства черной полосе?
Ты сравни, пожалуй,
                  силы лошадиные всех нас
                                     с тем конем, и станет ясно: в заблуждении
                                                            мы ……все.





Such a comfort to sit here
                     and deceivatj nam each other
                                          hiding faces due to …… shame.
Vyrazhaiasj matiersсhinoi
                 that rastaiet tut zhe v vysi,
                                          we sly cowards are
                                                            …… m-m-m.


Such a comfort to sit here
  and deceiv-atj (INF) nam (us) each other
    hiding faces due to …… shame.
Vyrazhaiasj (expressing) matiers
сhinoi (‘swearing’ INS)
  that rastaiet (will melt) tut zhe (at once) v vysi (in the sky),
    we sly cowards are
      …… m-m-m.


Tak udobno nam sidietj zdiesj
                i obmanyvatj drug druga,
                              priacha litsa ot
                                               …… styda.
Vyrazhaiasj matiershinoi,
           chto rastaiet tut zhe v vysi,
                   my hitriuschiie trusishki
                                                …… m-da.


Так удобно нам сидеть здесь
                  и обманывать друг друга,
                                пряча лица от
                                               …… стыда.
Выражаясь матерщиной,
                  что растает тут же в выси,
                                мы хитрющие трусишки
                                               …… м-да.





Otlichaiemsia li
                   …… chiem-to
                               from utrativshih
                                               we …… conscience?
We were yet invited v gosti
             to taste dinner after all,
                   but besides we not disgrace zhe cheloviechiestvo
                                                                            …… dolzhny (must):
Satisfactory hotia by
              only straitforward proiehatj
                           chtob svoio uvazhitj imia (name)
                                                            …… (    )
grabbing the scruff of the horse's neck
                     like too scared elder woman
                                …… only prokatitjsia, even such we are nuzhny.


Otlichaiemsia (‘differ’ 1.PL. PRS, ‘sia’ – ourselves) li (question particle)
  …… chiem-to (in anything)
    from utrativshih (those who lost, PL PRESP PRF)
      we …… conscience?
We were yet invited v gosti (to visit)
  to taste dinner after all,
    but besides we not disgrace zhe (still) cheloviechiestvo (‘mankind’ ACC)
      …… dolzhny (must):
Satisfactory hotia by (at least)
  only straitforward proiehatj (to go)
    chtob (in order) svoio (one’s) uvazhitj (to hornor) imia (name)
      …… (    )
grabbing the scruff of the horse's neck
  like too scared elder woman
      …… only prokatitjsia (to ride), even such we are nuzhny (‘in demand’ PL).


Otlichaiemsia li
                  …… chiem-to
                                ot utrativshih my
                                                 …… soviestj?
Nas zhe v gosti priglasili
             degustirovatj obied,
                        no escho nie posramitj my chieloviechestvo
                                                                             …… dolzhny:
Hotj na troiku,
              lish by rovno
                     prokatitjsia na konie, chtob svoio uvazhitj imia
                                                                                 …… ,
Uhvativshisj za zagrivok
               ispugavsheisia staruhoi,
                             …… prosto prokatitjsia, i takiie my nuzhny.


Отличаемся ли
             …… чем-то
                         от утративших мы
                                                …… совесть?
Нас же в гости пригласили
                    дегустировать обед,
                                  но ещё не посрамить мы человечество
                                                                                       …… должны:
Хоть на тройку,
             лишь бы ровно
                        прокатиться на коне, чтоб своё уважить имя
Ухватившись за загривок
        испугавшейся старухой,
                                …… просто прокатиться, и такие мы нужны.





…… Maybe
            …… they’re not we
                       but they’re niekto (some people),
                               or they’re we, but we not here, niet (are we)?
We did not want that kind of shame
      that they know everywhere,
              chtoby (that) matieri (mothers) uznali (get to know)
                    how not fulfilled the plan we, only s’eli (‘ate’ PL PRF) viesj (whole) obied (dinner).

…… Maybe
  …… they’re not we
    but they’re niekto (some people),
      or they’re we, but we not here, niet (are we)?

We did not want that kind of shame
  that they know everywhere,
    chtoby (that) matieri (mothers) uznali (get to know)
      how not fulfilled the plan we, only s’eli (‘ate’ PL PRF) viesj (whole) obied (dinner).

…… Mozhet,
        …… to nie my,
                a niekto,
                    ili my, no my nie zdiesj, niet?
Nie hotieli my pozora,
         chtoby znali povsiemiestno,
                   chtoby matieri uznali,
                           kak nie vypolnili plan my, toljko s’eli vesj obied.             


…… Может,
         …… то не мы,
                  а некто,
                         или мы, но мы не здесь, нет?
Не хотели мы позора,
           чтобы знали повсеместно,
                  чтобы матери узнали,
                        как не выполнили план мы, только съели весь обед.




English example.png


B-P-M-F Poem_EngRus1.docx

BPMF table_English.xlsx

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Here are two pictures of the process of drawing complete intermediate poem presentation. On the first picture orange characters are key ones, black are other head characters, and characters having pinyin represented by another characters, too, are marked with small blue triangle in the right upper corner. On the second picture these are reproduced as macrocards (characters of the same pinyin organized in the order described above).

Macrocards as they are (two pictures below) can be made only for difficult syllables and learnt seperately.





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Then, I came to an idea even to make 'verse cards' in intermidate presentation, one card for each verse line, i.e. for each syllable (all tones) for whole blocks by 声母 vs 韵母 correspondence. For example, a card for 'ban-pan-man-fan', 'bian-pian-mian-...', etc. On the reverse there is the beginning of the phrase in the line (pic.). See also in the second picture how these cards are revised. 
The number of cards required is more than reasonable, 120. And it allows to learn all 'head' characters, from 880 for HSK5 to 1200 for the whole language, since the number of cards will not increase if to add new head characters, these will just fill blank and crossed out sells. The full set of 'head' characters, for all possible syllables with tones, represents perfect framework to learn thousands of other characters by linking them to the 'head' characters. 



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At last (this time it's really 'at last'), as soon as intermediate poem presentation cards are memorized, complete poem presentation cards can be made and learnt, see picture. They include ALL characters meant to be learnt, HSK5 or any bigger range. It's recommended to draw key and other head characters in another colors than other characters. The number of these cards is only 120, too. So, the system has again four elements actually, but different as to the previous version of it:
1) seven short poems (120 lines in total),
2) the Table

3) intermediate poem presentation cards (120 cards)

4) complete poem presentation cards (120 cards). 
This set should be added by macrocards in cases when syllables are represented by more than 7-8 characters. Also, macrocards can be used to memorize most difficult syllables regardless the number of characters.

I don't expect I'll be adding any new elements to the system as far is learning characters is concerned. The system is complete and very effective. There could be some new approaches worked out in the future, but they would concern other aspects of the language learning, not characters. And, of course, I'll upload the rest of poems and the complete table with formulas in English in the first sheet (vertical formulas) as soon as I've composed them.


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I hastened to draw the final line. Macrocards are very desirable for all syllables that are represented by more than one character, but of a bit different type: on the other side there should by an icon of the head character instead of pinyin of the syllable. All is linked to the head character, which is a sort of representative for the whole syllable (with respect to tones).

Taking into account, that in the HSK5 more than 500 syllables are represented by a single character, the number of macrocards of this type (or normal type) required to cover HSK5 is some 350 cards only.


Thus, to learn all HSK5 characters one needs to memorize only 120 intermediate poem presentation cards and about 350 new type macrocards (or only 120 complete poem presentation cards, but it's more difficult; those can be used for finalyzing the material though). That's all. All the rest is just auxillary means.




Edited by Pall
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Why head characters are so important? Yes, they are of conventional nature. Someone could select another characters to represent syllables with tones. But it doesn't matter, some characters must take that place.


Even in science there are conventional things. For example, when electricity was invented, they didn't know in what direction it flows and decided that it would be from Plus to Minus. And even special term was introduced, 'anode current'. When I was a boy I was engaged in radio engineering as an amateur and read technical articles in special magazines like 'Amateur Radio Engeneer'. This term was broadly used then in those articles even though they soon realized their mistakein 19 century. But they decided to retain the term 'anod current' for convenience.


Head characters stand in the middle of the classification. There are different approaches to learn characters, of course. They are mostly learnt according to their structure and origin. But in any case these classifications begin with some top level, which splits in other levels, those split again, maybe more steps have place, and at last the learner comes to the level of characters. But it's a long classificational way, we have to deal with too many classification divergence points. The result is that   to memorize some two thousand characters we spend several years. 


In the 'meaning&phonetic approach' it's different. Let's take 没 as a head character. Going from it to the top of the classification we can see where it stands on the upper level. We recollect its pinyin and meaning even assuming we don't know it, but we know that in the intermediate poem presentation card it stands above 每 , which is a 'key' character, the tone and the meaning of which we know very well because they are easily memorized thanks to the poem. To recollect all that for 没  here we deal with only one chain link, the 'vertical formula'.


And we can go from 没 to the level below, to the head type macrocard, where it is drawn on the reverse. The other characters are associated with it in our memory, and thanks to that we can recollect the tone  and meaning of those characters, too. Again we deal with only one link chain, 'horizontal formula'.


The number of 'head' characters is between 880 and 1200 for any learner regardless his level. They can be learnt quickly and firmly thanks to the 'poems' and 'internmediate poem presentation' cards, the number of which is only 120. And these are predominantly most used characters within their tones.


By the way, even Stephen Hawking is a supporter of the conditional approach in explaining the Universe, he adheres to some theory as long as it helps to relate facts to each other. If it cannnot do that any more, the theory is thrown away and he takes as the basis a new theory.



Edited by Pall
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  • 2 weeks later...

Probably I should compose first of all seven 'poems' and upload intermediate poem presentation cards with all 880 head characters (one character for each of all possible syllables in HSK5), because that would provide quick basis for further learning. As soon as it's available any new character can be attributed to its concrete place in the system and remembered thanks to that. Making and learning 350 head character cards would become just additional exercise.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Head characters are very helpful in learning words. For example, I need to learn Mandarin for 'irritable', it's '暴躁‘. However, it's better lo learn it firstly as 3报4造, since 报 and 造 are head characters in the macrocards, see in the pic. Someone may think that it's additional useless and confusing  information. But it's quite the opposite: (1) it helps to learn quickly the pinyin provided that I know the head characters confidently,  (2) in addition at this step I get an idea where in the framework created in my mind the characters sit, and even may recollect faint image of these, for I am learning from the other end, too, from the macrocards. As soon as I've learnt this approximation  I begin to learn the word in its normal writing. But it's easier with 'daring' as 大胆, because both characters in the word are head ones.

However, we mostly learn from Mandarin firstly. In this case it's also recommended to concentrate initially on the intermediate form with the use of the head characters, (1) this is for quickier memorization of pinyin since in one's mind the asociation between two characters works better than the association between a character and latin transcription, (2) knowing confidently where the characters sit will help to memorize the opposite conversion, from one's language to Mandarin, required for speaking and writing. 


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The number before head character will never be bigger than 7. It's because horizontal  formula comprises seven characters as maximum, and the seventh character of the initial macrocharacter is the head character of the next macrocharacter. In the picture you can see macrocard for characters sounding shì. Approximation for 市 is 3事  , but for  世  it's    25式 since 式  ,ending the first macrocharacter acts as the next head character. In the 25 number 2 means that it's the second head character, and 5 shows the position of the 世. 


The utmost used characters like  是   are always shown as they are whatever place they sit in.


Also I put symbol ° above characters that sound in the neutral tone in the word, like  请    in  性情  ,or 2姓2晴.



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Summing up. 


In the system words are learnt in two views, normal view and approximation with the use of head characters.


Head characters are learnt with poem intermediate presentation cards, one card for each line, i.e. for the block of 声母 with the same 韵母, 101 cards totally.

Other characters are memorized with macrocards like ones above, the number of which is from 350 for HSK5 to about 800-1000 for the entire language.


However in addition all characters are learnt for recognition with character flash cards, but of special type, in which the position of the character relating to the head character is shown, pic. I believe this little prompt will not deteriorate the recognition of the character in the future in real situation when it doesn't exist, and on the contrary help to establish reliable menthal association between the character and the head character. In the card the position of the character cannot have number more than 7, the two colomns on the right are reserved for words.


Nevertheless, the basic sets of cards are two: 101 poem intermediate presentation cards to learn head characters and some 500-700 macrocards to memorize othe characters, that's ENOUGH. When using these cards all characters are written by memory, and it can be a solid basis to remember them and probably to recognize. (Also the Table is kept up to date with all new characters).


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  • 3 weeks later...

Now I decided to learn all 4,500 characters from the 'Contemporary Chinese Dictionary' for 20,000 words that I have in order not to bother with that in the future. And I'm going to do that simultaneously in two ways. 


One is the approach described above: first of all 'head' characters are learnt with the help of the 'ancore' (key) characters, the meaning of which is used in seven mnemo-poems composed in accordance with 声母 vs 韵母  correspondence. Three types of flesh-cards are used: intermediate poem presentation cards (with all head characters), 'macrocharacter' cards (with other characters linked to the head character) and character cards (for each character).


The other is adding new characters to the Table and the flesh-cards, doing that by echelones  by radicals. Say, so far I added all characters with '手' radical as one of the most frequent. Character cards are learnt initially according to the same division, by radicals.


Also I have changed the design of the character cards proposed in the previous post. Now the cards don't contain any prompts on the face side, see pic. (on the right). On the reverse the character is shown in its spatial position in the macrocharacter in relation to the head character, and one of its meanings is given, no pinyin.


I have already composed all seven mnemo-poems. If anyone is interested I can convert them to the English-speakers adopted form as I did for the B-P-M-F poem above. The  Table with vertical formulas in English will be uploaded, too. In addition I can photograph the list of 4,500 characters from the dictionary if it's not available.



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4,500 characters mean only four characters per a 'head' character on the average. And I expect, it'll be very interesting to see which particular characters are used to make up words even though I'll know only one meaning of each character. For example, I have discovered several characters with 'hand' radical having the meaning 'to throw', several ones for 'to beat', etc. However I try to associate these characters with their other meanings in order to distinguish them.


Knowing some meaning of characters is very helpful in learning words, for each word can be associated with the meaning of characters whatever it is. For example,
大胆  is 'daring'. The meaning of 大 is 'big', the meaning I remembered for  胆  is  ' bile' . 'Big' can be interpreted as 'much', too, ' big amount'. So, 'daring',  大胆   , is a man having much  胆  . Of course, it's not true, but it doesn't matter. 

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It's going very well so far. In several days I've learnt 190 characters with 'hand' radical, 40-50 remain to be learnt (about one forth of that I new already before learning since I had learnt almost all HSK5 list). It's very important to learn all characters with a certain radical within a reasonable frequency horizon. Then when one sees a character with such radical, which he cannot recognize at once, it means either he must have learnt it, and it makes him to concentrate his memory better to recollect the character, or it's a rather rare character.


Other radicals with such big number of characters are 'mouth', 'water', and 'tree'. Altogether they will amount to about 1,000 characters. I expect learning the first thousand will take additional month or so. Then I'm going to learn characters for the next 13-14 radicals by frequency with 100-150 characters per a radical, it'll make the next 1,000-1,500. After that come some 20 radicals with 50-100 characters per radical, around 1,000, too. And the remaining 1,000 will be constituted by a big number of radicals with few characters per radical. That will be the easiest to learn since it'll be possible to observe in one's mind the whole set of characters with a given radical. 


But I had to make an ajustment to the character cards. Now they include not only the 'head' character in addition to the character, which is to be learnt, but also the relevant 'anchor' ('key') character that is used (its meaning) in the poems. The anchor character is shown in the right bottom reserve sell (the number of characters in the 'macrocharacter' cannot exceed 7). The 'anchor' characters, the number of which is less than 400, is the keystone of the system, because they are known very confidently thanks to the poems. It's not easy at the beginning  to rely on linking in one's mind a new character with only the 'head' character, the numbers of which come to 1,000-1,200. The number before the 'anchor' character in the card means the tone of the character to be learnt. One cannot confuse it with the tone of the anchor character itself since the latter is known very well. So, now the character, which is to be learnt, is memorized in the system of coordinates, the 'anchor' character and the 'head' character (in the card on the right these two coincide). It's that new feature of the system that allowed me to move so fast. 


As to the other types of cards, described earlier, I think they will be used later again for cementing the knowledge. Besides, character cards are learnt only for recognition, while poem intermediate presentation cards and macrocards are used to learn characters by their handwriting. 




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  • 3 weeks later...

I have to acknowledge that I faced difficulties with learning characters in sets by radicals, using character cards as described above. I learnt all characters with 'hand on the left' radical, about 250 of those, by recognition, and it seemed OK. But when I was learning the next set, with 'mouth' radical (also about 250), I felt that I wouldn't remember them confidently. It was necessary to fix knowledge from the other end, i.e. using some multycharacter cards and reproducing them by handwriting. The question was what kind of multycharacter cards I should use as the main tool. I keep the Excel Table with all characters that I've learnt or am going to learn (these are added by radicals), but it's not for learning, just for reference (and keeping 'formulas'). I could use macrocards with the head character on the face, but the number of those cards is big, 1,000-1,200, and the advantage of combining characters according to tones or 声母 vs 韵母 correspondence isn't used. Then I resorted to the opposite, poem complete presentation cards, but only with head characters and those, which are added (some of the latter are head characters, too), see pic. The number of such cards is only 123. However I found that some of these cards include too many characters, and that it wasn't good that characters of different tones were near one another, leading to confusion. Then I decided to split these cards in vertical strips, containing only characters of the same basic pinyin with different tones. But in this case the advantage of using 声母 vs 韵母 correspondence will be lost, while the number of these cards is still rather big, anout 400. Quite a dilemma.

What I did finally is that. I glued the strips relating to the same line of the poem, or it can be expressed as similar syllables of the 声母 vs 韵母 correspondence  block (gan-kan-han, gai-kai-hai, etc.), to make 'booklets' containg 3-4 pages, pic. There is the beginning of the poem line on the reverse. The booklet contains the same characters that were in the poem complete presentation cards, but with very important difference: now vertical sections of the cards are seperated, each page being percepted seperately, but at the same time these are revised one after another, and they are combined in one's memory and mutually associated. The number of booklet cards is only 123, of course, and all characters of the 4,500 will be in them finally, being added by radical sets.

So, poem intermediate presentation cards become obsolete. Macrocards with head character on the face do, either. However the initial type of macrocards that I used earlier, with pinyin syllable on the face instead of the head character, still can be used if there are difficulties with remembering some 'starbon' head characters. But the number of such cards will be very limited, some dozens as maximum, and the'll be used only temporarily, at the initial stage. As soon as all head characters are learnt confidently macrocards of any type woun't be needed. Basicly, the system now include only the booklets, charactercards and stanza presentation sheets to remember the anchore characters, the meaning of which is used in the poems, pic.


Now I'm quite sure that I'll be able to pack in my mind all 4,500 characters in reasonable time, provided that they are added by radical sets, and each 'layer' of knowledge of some 500 characters is introduced with character cards, then substantiated by reproducing booklet cards and finally checked again with character cards. 




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It seems it's better to learn firstly more uniqe characters, ones with rare radicals, living "water" and the like for the end. These can be aggregated in 'sevens' (since it's the maximum number of not interconnected pieces of information that human mind can easily remember). For example, 'cliff', 'box', 'to divine', 'scope',  'table', 'seal' in the form of 'to wrap' and 'son' (not 'child') make up a little more than one hundred in this 4,500 list. It's important to remember characters with what radicals you're supposed to know, it makes you to do your best in recolling  when you see a character with this radical. 

Edited by Pall
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It seems I made the most important improvement, probably, which may have crucial effect. It concerns character cards. I replaced meaning on the reverse for an expression that contains not only the meaning, but also ties up it with the meaning of the anchor character and the head character, if present. In the pic. on the left the meaning is expressed as 'outhouse in the village for thought', where 'outhouse' is the meaning of the target character, 'village' the meaning of the head character and , what is most important, 'thought' is the meaning of the anchore character. On the right it is 'to correct madness', 'to correct' is the target character (the target character happened to be the head character). The number of anchor characters is only 400, and they are learnt firmly and quickly thanks to the poems, and with this type of character cards they become true anchors, indeed. That the meaning is altered a bit is not a problem, since only few characters are used independently. Any kind of the meaning of characters can be used to distinguish them and also to make menthal association with words, which they're a part of. 

I'm going to make two sets of character cards. This type is for learning, it'll be kept in series by radicals (or their aggregation in 'sevens'), the other type, normal, will be for final check, all those cards being mixed up. 


Besides, this type of character cards solves the problem of inconvenience that a number of characters may be of similar meaning like 'to shout', 'to beat', etc.


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  • 4 weeks later...

Corrections. The instruments remain the same, but the procedure changed. Now it's such. I learn some number of characters chosen by radicals with character cards as above. They are simultaneously marked in the Excel table or added to it in defferent color. I subdivided the whole amount of 4,500 characters in four principal parts according to the frequency of the radical. (1) "hand on the left", "mouth", "tree", "water" -  900-1,000; (2) thirteen less frequent radicals -  900-1,000; (3) twenty five still less frequent radicals - about 900-1,000; (4) the least frequent radicals - 1,500-1,600 of these. Also there is some remainder consisting of uniqe characters and characters with very simple radicals, which may be present also in other radical set in my list. I'm learning two parts at the same time, the first and the fourth. The latter is learnt by "threes of sevens", i.e. seven radicals are combined and connected to each other with a phrase to remember them (it's important to remember which radicals were learny already). The first 'seven' , as I wrote, is  'cliff', 'box', 'to divine', 'scope',  'table', 'seal' in the form of 'to wrap' and 'son' , and it's remembered thanks to the phrase "under a cliff in a box to divine being surrounded, to swaddle on a table one's son" - the word order is not according to the grammar. The sevens are combined in threes. Totally there are six "threes of sevens", meking up some 1,500-1,660 characters. In the Excel table learnt characters of the first part are marked in color, for those of the forth part the whole sell is marked , in light green in the pic. 


I am learning them during a day and on the next day those, which I cannot remember completely (for both pinyin and meaning) at the first check, are to be written down on the long vertical sheets described above. In the Excel table these characters are marked in bold. This time I started from "zero", I don't put all head characters on them and don't glue the sheets to each other from the very beginning. Along with new 'difficult' characters head characters (those, which correspond them only, but anchor characters are put every time) are put on the sheets, too (some new characters may be head characters). When I see that there are two neighbouring sheets I glue them to one another. If they are just of the same 声母 vs 韵母 correspondence block, but not neighbouring, they're connected together with a paper clip for now. 


The long vertical sheets are revised permanently. It's happened to be only for the meaning because it's easy to determine the pinyin according to the anchor character and the tone according to the position as well as the head character. The character cards continue to be learnt, too. Only when they are recognised on the next day at the firts check they are put in the file of "learnt". 


Revising the vertical sheets is easy. Of course, if one can recollect the meaning of each character on them it doesn't mean he'll recollect it as well as the pinyin when meeting them in the text. Nowever, firstly, there are character cards for that. Secondly, I changed my objective. I don't hope to learn all 4,500 characters with their pinyin and meaning in order to reproduce them when seing the character randomly. I just whant to cover all 4,500 with my procedure. The result will be that I'll be able to recollect the pinyin and meaning of the majoruty of characters, it's become obvious. Lets put it as two thirds as minimum. But the remaining one third, which I'll not recognize when meeting them occasionally, will be still remembered in special sense: when I encounter these I'll know at least that "I was learning them". It's good enough, because if looking up them in the dictiobary again I'll remember them for sure since they'll be not just seperate characters but parts of the word and in the context. 


And now all is learnt only for recognition? no hand-writing (only while making cards). 




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  • 1 month later...

Hi! New alterations of the system) But it becomes better and easier. 

First. The vertical sheets glued to each other are not needed. It's enough to learn the character cards only. I don't remember if I explaned what they were correctly. The design of them you can find above. At the bottom of the reverse there is a phrase linking the meaning of the corresponding anchor character shown in orange in the bottom right corner (with the tone of the target character before it), the head character, which is on the left in the middle, and the target character (sometimes the target character is a head character, then it's easier to compose such a phrase). 

Second. Now I'm not going to learn the whole set of 4,500 characters at once by that manner only. I decided it's enough to learn firstly a half of that, some 2,200 characters. It's exactly the first and the fourth parts of the set, represented by four most frequent radicals and, on the contrary, 140 most rear radicals exclusive unique. So, the second and the third parts with not so frequent and not so rear radicals plus some uniqie remain not learnt. 

Third. As soon as a half of the character set is learnt (I'm approaching this goal) I'm going to retype different texts using anchor character writing as shown below. The characters from the learnt half will be typed as they are, while the characters from the remaining part will be replaced by corresponding anchor characters with superscript indicies. It'll help to fix the knowledge of the learnt characters, to become to learn words and grammar, and to give faint indication of the characters of the remaining part (their use in words, their transcription and their place in 'macrocharacters'). 

Fourth. I'll continue to learn the remaining characters with character cards. As soon as some are learnt (some distinct series according to the radical), they are put in proper places in the texts rewritten already. (When all characters of the set are learnt, the texts will take their initial shape with the exeption of the most rare characters beyond the 4,500 set, which still be shown in the anchore writing).


Writing in anchor characters is like this. If real characters happen to be anchor characters they are written as they are. If they are different, they are replaced with a corresponding anchor character with superscript index consisting of two digits placed before the character (because its necessary to see the right tone at once in order not to use the real tone of the anchor character). The first digit can be 1, 2, 3, 4, 0, and the symbol =. It means the tone of the target character. If its tone corresponds withe tone of the anchor character, the symbol '=' is used. The second digit means the place of the target character in the macrocharacter, which can be from 1 to 6, for the 7th character becomes the next head character. Also in the anchor writing spaces between words are made. (Besides, some very frequent characters like 是,上,的,etc. are typed as they are even if they are not anchor characters). See that at the example:


Real text


The text in the anchor writing

21    11     
你好            哪儿
    2141刀了,21作天     晚上     32雾了?
21作天    晚上     2121喜了。
真的     吗?


It's not convenient to type these indicies, though.




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Frankly speeking, I've learnt some 1,300-1,400 characters in that manner, however taking into account those that I learnt in other way when was aimed at HSK5 set only, the total amount is nearly 1,800, I suppose. And I decided to switch to the procedure described above right now, not waiting till I can approach the meridian. What I'm doing is this. I've begun to work through different learning materials, and if some characters beyond those that I've learnt are met, I either type these in the anchore writing or mark them in the Excel tabel, make character cards and distribute the cards according to the radical into plastic files to learn. So, it's possible to determine the proportions of the efforts one wants to spend for learning words, word use and grammar or , on the contrary, characters. The more new characters are typed in the anchore writing the more time can be devoted to learning words, word use and grammar.


I believe, it'll be easy to controle knowledge of all characters represented by the four most freguent radicals (1st part) and not so frequent ones (2nd part). Also it'll be possible to observe knowledge of the characters of the not so rear radicals (3rd part), with more difficulty though. The biggest problem is to control if one knows characters of the 4th part , those of the most rear radicals, and also unique characters. However, learning those requires just more accurate and insistant repetition. For each combined series of characters I keep a big plastic file in which there are smaller files for different stages of memorization, see pic. The whole set of 4,500 characters will be split in ten big plastic bags.


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