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Mark Yong

"Reading & Writing Chinese" by McNaughton & Li

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Mark Yong

I was in a bookstore recently, and was browsing through a copy of William McNaughton and Li Ying's Reading & Writing Chinese (published by Tuttle Language Library). The cover of the book says that this has been the standard text for teaching basic Chinese characters since 1978. It also uses the so-called "Official 2,000 Chinese characters".

I would like to enquire if there is anyone out there who has had experience in using this book for learning Chinese characters. I have been asked by a number of friends to offer them an express course in learning to read basic Chinese characters, and I am wondering if this book provides a good framework for teaching.

Of course, I am also aware that Chinese reading programmes such as 中華字經 exist.

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novemberfog

I have used the book and I like it. It introduces characters in a logical way. For compoud characters, it introduces the individual parts, and then finally the compound. I made it through the first 1000 characters, and now I am getting ready to work on the last 1000. That book, coupled with Routledges Basic Chinese Grammar and Intermediate Chinese Grammar will take a student quite far. I have done much better with those three books than I ever did with "Integrated Chinese" or "Practical Chinese Reader".

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Jose

I have the book, and it is an excellent book to learn characters. It is interesting that it is currently available in both simplified and traditional editions.

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novemberfog

I wonder what the difference is in the two versions? Just the style? I must have an older version. It has the traditional characters for the main text, and then has the simplified version but much smaller.

I guess there is a really big demand for the simplified chinese version of texts these days. One of the three reasons why I chose to learn to read/write tradtional, and just read simplified is what the author wrote in that text. I left the book in the office, but he says something along the line that learning traditional helps you to access more information in most foreign libraries, as the books are older and tend to come from Hong Kong and Taiwan, or China before the character reform. (In Japanese universities, this is true. BUT! In book stores, there are ZERO books written in traditional Chinese. Everything is simplified.) Anyway I do NOT want to get into a character system debate, I just find it interesting how the times are changing.

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Jose
I wonder what the difference is in the two versions? Just the style? I must have an older version. It has the traditional characters for the main text, and then has the simplified version but much smaller.

The simplified version is just the other way around. The big boxes contain the simplified characters, while the traditional variants are shown in a corner, in a small font.

I also have the traditional version, which is the original one. I suppose the fact that most students of Chinese learn simplified characters only has encouraged the publishers to publish a new version of the book where the emphasis is on the simplified forms.

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carlo

I've seen this book in the library, I've always thought 2000 characters were not enough, 3000-3500 would be just perfect. In my own experience, there is a threshold past which you begin picking up characters through reading and you don't really need to memorize them separately anymore, and this is found somewhere around the 3000 mark. On the other hand IIRC this book seems to be more geared towards college students on a 4-year course that need to master all the characters included in the textbook. However it's probably still useful as it teaches you to think of characters in terms of individual components.

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novemberfog

Yes carlo, I think you are right. Sure it is not enough to be able to read Chinese with ease, but it is a good start. The first ~1000 serve as a solid base, and the next ~1000 help the student progress. From that point on the student should study the characters that are best for his/her study. Students in economics should focus more on economic terms. Students in engineering would do better to learn characters in technical terns. And of course chinese language experts would do best by working with literature.

I am curious, carlo, what system did you use for learning characters? Did you memorize characters at first? I assume that now, if you find a character you don't know then you look it up and make an effort to learn it. How long did it take you to get to such a level?

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Mark Yong
The first ~1000 serve as a solid base, and the next ~1000 help the student progress. From that point on the student should study the characters that are best for his/her study.

That's an interesting point. I have been pondering for a long time about what the approximate cut-off point for number of words is, such that beyond which, the student can progress and self-learn the rest of the words without guidance. For me, I think 1,000 words sounds about right.

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atitarev

I find the dictionary has a lot of typos, wrong page references (on radicals) and goes into details only for the simplest characters, then where you really struggle to understand, it doesn't give enough information. The format of the book - you could fit all this characters into a pocket-size book. Yes, there should be about 3,000-4,000 with stroke orders and examples, which could easily be fit into the same size book.

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gato

The Cheng & Tsui Character Dictionary is like a pocket version of the William McNaughton book. However, it's organized alphabetically by pinyin rather than the stroke difficulty as done in the McNaughton book.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0887273149/qid=1109873192/sr=1-53/ref=sr_1_53/002-4392260-1977662?amp%3Bs=books&v=glance&n=283155

Cheng & Tsui Chinese Character Dictionary: A Guide to the 2,000 Most Frequently-Used Characters

by Wang Huidi

Price: $16.96

This pocket-sized guide to the core 2,000 characters provides the easiest road to success in written Chinese. The many rules and characters of Chinese present learners with what can seem like an overwhelming amount of complicated information, and tasks such as writing characters correctly are often a major stumbling block.

In this dictionary aimed specifically at learners, characters are organized alphabetically by pinyin and are printed in large, clear fonts (both Kai and Song script) in two colors, making it easy to discern their appearance and structure, and to distinguish between similar-looking characters. Basic meanings and examples of use are given in English and pinyin, and each entry also includes information on radicals, number of strokes, stroke order, structural classification and the diagrammatic form of each character. Simplified characters.

EDIT: fixed amazon.com link

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stephanhodges

The link didn't work, but search by title did.

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carlo

n-fog, I did try to memorize a dictionary for 初中 students with about 4000+ characters at one point.

If you can read a novel, say, by looking up one character every three pages you can actually *enjoy* the act of reading, and learn the characters that you don't know by repeated exposure. On the other hand a small character vocabulary limits your chances of finding something interesting to read, and that in turn makes it harder to learn characters by exposure.

My own experience was that after reaching a certain point (I think it's about 3000, but this is not rocket science) I could read the kind of stuff I like (SF, history, modern literature) without getting frustrated. When you reach this stage, you also develop a kind of analytical eye for characters, and you can recall new shapes more easily and efficently than before.

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