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Reading (/writing) and aphantasia


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Jellyfish

I recently learned that I have a condition (?) called aphantasia. Basically all it means is that I can't conjure up mental images at all, not even very vague ones, not even a colour, not even a shape. More info here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphantasia

 

Now, I've always struggled reading and writing characters in Chinese. Basically I only have two ways of remembering them, which is a) repeated handwriting following the correct (or any consistent) stroke patterns and b) breaking the character down into radicals and trying to explain the meaning somehow, and retaining the memory of that character that way. To recognise/read a character I then have to look at the individual radicals and often make the hand movement of writing it in order to know its meaning.

 

I always thought I don't practice enough, or that I've just got a really good "ear" (as opposed to really bad visual memory) but ever since I learned about aphantasia I have been wondering if it's connected to that. I've been trying to Google it but found nothing, so I thought I'd ask here: is there anyone else here who has aphantasia and is learning Chinese? What are your experiences with characters? And inversely, anyone who doesn't have aphantasia but struggles with characters much more than with speaking?

Would be great to hear some other experiences of you don't mind sharing.

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Jellyfish

Amazing, thank you so much! Sorry for double posting, I did search for aphantasia but couldn't find anything. Admins, feel free to delete/merge! Sounds like most people without aphantasia use the same or similar techniques for memorisation so I guess visualisation doesn't help all that much. I'll have to find a different excuse then haha

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Shelley

I am interested in how you learnt to write English and if your aphantasia caused any problems with that and if so how did you over come that and would any of those methods help with Chinese characters.

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Jellyfish

I don't remember learning how to write the alphabet. Based on my experiences learning Chinese characters I guess muscle memory must have played a big role.

I think just like with people who do have a mind's eye, there are degrees of aphantasia, or rather people seem to deal with it in different ways. So while I can't conjure up images in my mind, I think I'm quite good at conceptualising visual memories (which is how people with aphantasia experience visual memories in general, and which is why we often don't realise we have aphantasia, because we think people who say they "see" things mean they're referring to the concept of the thing). So eg I could definitely draw the house I grew up in, and the floorplan for pretty much every flat I've ever lived in, and I can draw faces from (conceptual) memory, and I do revisit the (conceptual memory of) places where last had my keys when I lose my keys etc.

So yeah, I think conceptual memory works very well in some ways, and after reading the other thread and learning that apparently the things that work for me work for most people without aphantasia too I guess it doesn't make much of a difference when it comes to learning characters. There goes my feeble excuse haha

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mungouk
7 hours ago, Jellyfish said:

Based on my experiences learning Chinese characters I guess muscle memory must have played a big role.

 

This is an interesting point... I find many (most?) hanzi are just too complicated for me to properly picture them "in my mind's eye" anyway.

 

Plus: don't all Chinese schoolchildren learn them by writing them out again and again and again?

 

I'm all in favour of using as many sensory modalities as we have available to us for learning.

 

Having said that, I have never concentrated on learning to write characters by hand... only reading them and typing in pinyin. 

 

 

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oceancalligraphy
8 hours ago, Jellyfish said:

Based on my experiences learning Chinese characters I guess muscle memory must have played a big role.

  

53 minutes ago, mungouk said:

Plus: don't all Chinese schoolchildren learn them by writing them out again and again and again?

 

13 hours ago, Jellyfish said:

Basically I only have two ways of remembering them, which is a) repeated handwriting following the correct (or any consistent) stroke patterns and b) breaking the character down into radicals and trying to explain the meaning somehow, and retaining the memory of that character that way.

 

This isn't that different from how native learners of Chinese learn characters. We had a format for homework with each new character we learned: radical, number of strokes, and then writing the character five times. This was in a notebook. The workbooks then had exercises like making a sentence so we would remember the meaning.

 

Even now, the best way I learn or remember things is by writing them down. I'm not sure if it's because I've used the technique multiple times and I've taken to it, or if it's the way my brain works and I can only memorize with that technique. All attempts to memorize with flashcards have failed. 

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