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How I learned 4,000+ characters or Tuttle/Matthews “Learning Chinese Characters – Part 2”


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I quite like your format - it looks easy to read. Having the stories is a plus/minus for me. I suspect you partly drilled the character by thinking up the story and committing it to writing. It’s highly personalised to you and therefore the memorisation process is much more profound for you. Don’t let that take anything away from the value of the pack. It may work for other people but perhaps that part might be less effective for others. For example, myself, I don’t find any connection with the stories so far (disclaimer - I looked briefly)

 

Since I have already been exposed to Chinese characters and count myself at around the HSK4 level, I really liked the breakdown into the radicals and their meaning. I could probably very quickly recognise a character from that but recalling the proper sound would be hard. That’s also a form of SRS with the radicals getting repeated.

 

In the equation column, what do you do if one component has several meanings in English?

 

I think I would quite like each components’ pinyin to be included to see if there was a relationship to the whole character.

 

Not sure what format I would like it in - I might just like it as a ebook that I could put on the ipad and rote copy the characters. Then use anki as a test deck to identify which ones were harder to remember, then go back to the ebook and write those characters out again. In anki, the sound can be included in the card which is quite an advantage. It would be quite nice to use Anki to output the sound with two different native speaker voices.

 

I don’t have the Tuttle book.

 

BTW - how did 俞 come to mean catamaran?

 

 

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I'm not sure whether or not this approach would be helpful for me.  However, I wanted to mention that in whatever format you eventually decide on, you'll need to make sure that the characters are easy to see for someone who doesn't have perfect eyesight.  

 

In the sample you provided, I wasn't able to see the characters clearly no matter how I zoomed in, printed out or transformed the sample.

 

For what it's worth, I generally have no trouble at all on Chairman's Bao or similar sites if I select "large" for font size.

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I admire you dedication and speed in getting to HSK6 level!

 

13 hours ago, HSK Pro said:

1. Would you find this kind of material useful for learning hanzi?

 

Yes. I kind of gave up on learning characters until first ran into the Tuttle book and learned how to use mnemonics. I then switched to Heisig and did Part 1.

 

13 hours ago, HSK Pro said:

2. If you learned your first 800+ characters using Tuttle, would you want to continue learning the next 3,200+ characters this way (provided all the stories and data were neatly prepared for you)?

 

Yes and no. I find the mnemonics (pronunciation and meaning) a good way to hang on to the character info until I learn how to use that character in a word. I've found I usually end up quickly forgetting lists of characters and words I don't actively use, so I didn't proceed after Heisig part 1. But I did find it super useful to get going with reading. I'm currently not sure if I'd be better off going through Tuttle Part 2 (along with Skritter reviews), or just learning new characters as I read, applying the Tuttle/Heisig method to remember new ones.

 

13 hours ago, HSK Pro said:

3. Would you rather see this material in the form of a book/e-book/website/any other "proper" format (other than just plain excel/csv/Anki)?

 

I'd be happy with a google sheet myself. As for website, book, etc, may depend how Tuttle feels about an unofficial Part 2...

 

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Flickserve – that's a great point, making those stories yourself makes memorisation quite effective. You spend a lot of time with the character and come up with connections that are logical to you. However, story-making takes absolutely forever and is incredibly tiring – in addition to already having to learn the character! I guess that’s why Tuttle’s 800 stories proved so popular – it’s a ready-made study set. I thought it would be great to deliver a ready-made study set for 4,000+. As for the content – in the equation column, same as in Tuttle, I settled for one main meaning for the story – but added a note on additional key meanings. To this day, I find having one main meaning for a character helpful when studying and compartmentalising it in your head – while being keenly aware of the additional meanings. Component pinyin clues – that can be easily added in, as they are available in many hanzi databases online. As for the format – ebook could be done, Anki is easy – although might have to hire someone for the pronunciation!

Realmayo – yup, that meaning is also stuck in my head now (although I later found out that the character means something different in its actual, ancient context lol).

Moshen – my apologies about the image resolution, it is merely a single screenshot with a lot of content in it – would not reflect on the quality of the text in the Excel sheets or any output format.

Thelearninglearner – good to see you again! Since all this is already in Excel, it could very easily be turned into a CSV and in turn into Anki. I might eventually do that too - but first want to go for something better and more well-rounded. Anki doesn’t give you the freedom to include a lot of the stuff that I eventually want in – no stroke order, no custom layout, even images, bolding and colors are an absolute pain to deal with.

Lechuan – hello again to you too! I had the exact same experience as you – running into Tuttle initially saved my study of characters. I also completely agree that it’s at least a two-part process – first you learn the character and then you have to see it a lot in context. As you get better, you are also better equipped to learn by encountering new characters in texts – but at the very least for all the characters up to the end of HSK 6, it helped me immensely to:
a) study character lists
b) have a consistent method for doing so
I guess you might need both approaches at the end of the day, but the balance between the two changes when you become more advanced.

Thanks for the feedback guys!
Will keep you up-to-date if something interesting comes of this.

Also welcome any more questions and comments on people’s study needs – will do my best to reply here ASAP.

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On 1/8/2021 at 4:38 PM, HSK Pro said:

I was able to go from a very poor Chinese level to passing HSK 6 within 1 year (Credential ID: H61902005576, just in case anyone wants to check lol)

 

On 1/8/2021 at 4:38 PM, HSK Pro said:

Anyway – I thought that in order to help others who find learning hanzi a struggle, but really want to eventually become fluent in Chinese, I need to somehow publish those stories in a proper format - allowing anyone to learn up to 4,000+ characters in a fun, effective way.

 

This is a huge achievement, to remember so many characters and pass HSK 6 in one year! Huge 1ell done for that!

 

I would hesitate though, to suggest that this is a pathway to becoming fluent. You could memorise 1 million characters, and still not be able to comprehend or communicate  a single sentence of Chinese. It's part of the path, no doubt, but you are going to have to combine this, with a huge amount of listening, speaking, grammar, tones,  pronunciation practice etc. To memorise a characters meaning is not to be able to use it in a conversation.  I just say this, to not over-egg people about what is achievable in Chinese acquisition

 

That being said, given your effort at memorising the characters, I'm sure you have practised these other areas and made significant progress.

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On 1/8/2021 at 5:38 PM, HSK Pro said:

1. Would you find this kind of material useful for learning hanzi?

2. If you learned your first 800+ characters using Tuttle, would you want to continue learning the next 3,200+ characters this way (provided all the stories and data were neatly prepared for you)?

Personally, I cannot imagine learning it with stories. Even the stories in your examples sound incomprehensible to me. 🤔 Is there any logic in your stories? There is a story of a comet hitting Africa, but neither "comet" nor "Africa" are meanings of the character. How do you remember, which word of the story is the meaning and which are just fluff? This would totally confuse me...

 

Anyway, I still admire your dedication and progress. 

 

Regarding your second point: I think learning the first 800 characters is easy, it gets difficult later on, especially when you get more and more similar looking or less common characters.

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42 minutes ago, realmayo said:

into a memorable story whose outcome matches the meaning of the character

 

45 minutes ago, realmayo said:

勃 = 孛 (comet) and 力 ‘power’. So you combine the two into a memorable story whose outcome matches the meaning of the character ("flourishing"). The second part of the story is for the pronuciation: all second tones involve a "fairy", and "bo" in pinyin is "botanical". Personally when I did this I changed the four tones to different people (I think my "second tone" person was the actress/character in a Wuxia TV series I was watching at the time).

Thanks for the explanation! :) 

 

This still implies that you have to recognise 孛 and 力 in order to even approach "勃" as a character!? How do you learn comet and power?

 

So, how does that system work with similar characters, e.g. 已/己 ?

 

 

50 minutes ago, realmayo said:

To be honest, I sometimes think this approach to learning characters is a bit unfair - unfair on people who can't, or don't want, to try it.

 

I would rather say there people have different learning preferences. Some learn well with stories, others with pictures or by writing the characters down 100x.

Also, some people are just outliers when it comes to learning characters. While it is rare, there are other people that have learned 3000-4000 characters in a year with other methods.

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I've also used the mnemonic methods from Matthews and Heisig 1 in the beginning and can attest to their effectiveness. Especially when starting out learning Chinese, characters seem like a huge, almost unmanagable task, and using those methods I felt much more confident and made faster progress than my classmates. That being said, at some point I focused almost exclusively on reading and found that I don't really need mnemonics anymore. Nowadays I usually rely on simple SRS and the Outlier dictionary to help me remember new characters.

 

On 1/8/2021 at 5:38 PM, HSK Pro said:

1. Would you find this kind of material useful for learning hanzi?

2. If you learned your first 800+ characters using Tuttle, would you want to continue learning the next 3,200+ characters this way (provided all the stories and data were neatly prepared for you)?

3. Would you rather see this material in the form of a book/e-book/website/any other "proper" format (other than just plain excel/csv/Anki)?

1. In general yes

2. I would go further than 800 but not as far as 4000. Maybe 1500 like the first Heisig book, that gave me a good start.

3. I would prefer pre-made flashcard decks or a universal format such as excel/csv.

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杰克 – thanks! Also, the above post only describes what allowed me to quickly memorise characters. I did a lot of work on reading, listening and speaking that I could describe in a separate post. I had a limited time window for getting a job working with Chinese clients – so I didn’t cut any corners 🙂 Just to clarify – I didn’t learn all 4,000+ characters in 1 year – I learned the 2,663 I needed for HSK 6 in 1 year, and then the next ~1,500 over the following 1 year. I used Monday-Friday to learn new characters and Saturday-Sunday to revise old ones.

Flickserve – 俞 in ancient Chinese means affirmation/permission. However, it does have boat-related origins (symbolising something along the lines of a single-person kayak), which are explained quite well here: https://baike.baidu.com/item/俞/54117 I don’t think they had catamarans in ancient China though, so this is probably just an exaggerated description by Tuttle to aid memory.

Jan Finster – Realmayo's description is accurate. In addition, reading just the introduction to the original Tuttle 800 character would also explain the method well. I had the exact same reaction as you when I first saw Tuttle’s stories, basically “what a bunch of BS” – but I decided to give it a shot, since a friend who recommended it to me. The keywords highlighted in bold in the story retain their meaning, 孛 means comet and 力 means power and the point is to make a very weird, short, memorable connection between them. I guess the story I made for 勃 is a bit of an outlier compared to the other ones. It happened to remind me of the movie Black Panther, where a strange comet hit the African "country" of Wakanda with great power and afterwards all the flora and fauna started flourishing in an unusual way 😉 For learning the basic characters, the ones that cannot be broken down into anything – I think Tuttle did a great job with coming up with visual images for them. I highly recommend that you check out the Tuttle 2007 book to see how they did it. As for the difficulty you mentioned in learning more advanced characters – using the stories, I found learning all the 2,663 HSK 6 characters fairly easy and fun. The ones after that – 2,633 to 4,000+ were slightly more tricky – mnemonics still work well for memorisation, but you have to upgrade your reading to use texts that actually use them and reinforce them in context – at least advanced modern Chinese literature. You simply won’t meet many of them in your average 金融时报 article. When (and if ever) you start learning 4,000 to 5,000 – you should already be reading classics regularly.

Realmayo – thanks for the explanation! I think it was a huge leap of faith for me at the time – but I felt so jaded learning characters the “old” way, that I was willing to try pretty much anything. Also, just like you – I eventually I many details of 4,000 stories, but using the stories drilled the characters and pronunciations into my memory really well. I found that I could also quickly drill the stories for any rare characters I forgot – and they instantly became vivid in my memory again.

Wibr – exactly, I remember that feeling of finally hitting a breakthrough when I discovered the mnemonic approach. I think eventually we all move towards doing more and more reading, although I still do my best to keep a hanzi routine for multiple reasons (not the least being that I sometimes need to write things without a keyboard in my Chinese bank!)

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@HSK Pro, you can @ another poster, like I did here, by typing @ and then typing their name. You can quote by selecting the text you want to quote and then clicking the 'Quote selection' button that appears. (Please quote as sparingly as possible.) And of course you can also continue as you are doing now, with names in bold, that's fine too!

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Hi HSK Pro, thank you for all your work. I would like to have this deck in some format that is easily searchable using hanzi/pinyin input. Some characters I find very easy to learn, some very hard. I might like to supplement my current approach with your approach for those hard to learn characters.

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@Mantou thanks! Yes, I think easily searchable is key, so that anyone can revise a character they encounter in a text.

@艾墨本 yes, this system is used for learning hanzi. However, I think mnemonics can be used to learn anything - mnemonic stories are used for example by people who participate in memory competitions. For example, reciting the number π to the 100th decimal, where a person might assign each digit from 0-9 with a story character and make a long, long story with them in their head. Our brains seem to like stories and they also seem to pay attention to weird things that "stand out".

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3 minutes ago, HSK Pro said:

π to the 100th decimal, where a person might assign each digit from 0-9 with a story character and make a long, long story with them

But isn’t that more memory palace rather than individually retrievable stories for each character?

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