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Memorizing Language / Spelling Techniques? 237

Posted by timothy
from the save-up-for-neural-implants dept.
NotesSensei writes "My kids are learning Chinese in school. While the grammar is drop-dead simple, writing is a challenge since there is no relation between sound and shape of the characters. I would like to know any good techniques (using technology or not) to help memorize large amounts of information, especially Chinese characters. Most of the stuff I Googled only helps on learning speaking."
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Memorizing Language / Spelling Techniques?

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  • Flashcards (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fjandr (66656) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:23PM (#31551758) Homepage Journal

    Flashcards are great for learning Chinese or Japanese characters. There are also many characters, or parts thereof, that have a mnemonic relationship to the idea that they are used to impart. I can't think of any decent books offhand, but they're out there.

    Still, flashcards are awesome in this regard.

    • Re:Flashcards (Score:5, Informative)

      by schnipschnap (739127) * on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:34PM (#31551848)

      Yes, use flash cards, but not the dead tree type. Use anki. I use it to study Japanese, and I'm sure it's almost as good for Chinese.
      http://ichi2.net/anki/ [ichi2.net]

      • by Rand310 (264407)
        yep. Anki. It's the way to go.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Anki is based on an algorithm that reminds you of material just before you will have forgotten it, called the Forgetting Curve. The more times you are reminded, the stronger the pathways in the brain become and the easier it is to recall later. This algorithm was pioneered by a Polish man and implemented in a system called SuperMemo. You can read more about the inventor and his system in this great Wired article: http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/magazine/16-05/ff_wozniak

        Anki used version 2 of the Supe

        • by Hanzie (16075) *

          Dear parent-posting Anonymous Coward,

          Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have pointed me to a wealth of information. At bare minimum, it will save me at least $50 in entertainment paperback purchases, since I'll spend at least that much time reading where that site has led me.

          Also, the Wozniak who made the system isn't the Apple guy. I know you know, but I say that for the benefit of others.

          Thanks again, A.C.

          hanzie

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        nciku.com an online flashcard learning site just for Chinese, with handwriting recognition to boot. It's also from my experience the most thorough online english chinese dictionary, with both audio and lots of example sentences.

        As for non-web applications, heres a really good free Chinese deck:

        http://www.mnemosyne-proj.org/node/30

      • Bollocks.

        Flashcards are one thing that does not always do better in a digital form. Sure, use them on a computer, but also have dead tree format for when you're commuting or just happen to have a few minutes to practice.

      • > Yes, use flash cards, but not the dead tree type.

        I still much prefer the dead-tree type. Have not yet found a nice flashcard-maker program, that'll let you let you create the cards front and back and then print them out double-sided on a sheet of paper (several cards on one page so you'll cut it up into individual cards with scissors). Searching through the already entered vocabulary would be nice too. Suggestions anyone (pref. Linux)?

    • Use it or lose it (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith (2679)

      Import Chinese comic books.

      The language is simplified. They're designed for kids and they're designed to entertain, though you'll be missing many of the cultural references.

      There is absolutely no point trying to memorize something if you don't use it. It's like trying to hold water in your hands, it'll dribble away in weeks if not months.

      Trying to learn any language without being immersed in the culture is extremely difficult. I reckon current language teaching methods are bizarre; defining grammar, memoriz

    • This can be generalized: Any technique that is usable for memorizing a vocabulary, are also good for memorizing Chinese characters. Since they are more words than letters.

      Take the best ones, and you’re good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:23PM (#31551764)

    I'm learning Chinese right now too and I use http://www.nciku.com and put in all my vocabulary from each lesson and just continuously test myself every day on the vocab I'm learning and have learned to always keep it fresh in my mind. I think you're really at a loss here to do anything other than just practice, practice, practice as, like you said, there's no correlation between characters and sounds.

  • A proven technique (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chrysalis (50680) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:24PM (#31551770) Homepage

    Date a native speaker.

    • by beh (4759) * on Saturday March 20, 2010 @07:06PM (#31553118)

      My girlfriends first comment: Yeah right, that helped...

      Almost 5 years together, and she still hardly speaks a word of German because I almost automatically switch over to English when talking to her... ...which may be good for my English, but certainly isn't for her German... :-/

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Doesn't work. I'm married to one and that hasn't helped my Chinese much. We stick to talking English to each other (our common language, a foreign language for both of us). Living in Hong Kong however that helps. And I have taken classes, that also helped me a lot. So by now I can have a simple conversation in Chinese. Well that is as long as I don't venture out too far, Cantonese is spoken mostly in Guangdong province ("only" about 300 mln people), and I don't speak Mandarin. Mostly useless to me.

      Oh and f

  • Radical Spelling (Score:3, Informative)

    by NoTheory (580275) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:24PM (#31551778)
    There are ideographic relationships between concepts and what's in the characters. Each of the elements in complex characters bears some of the meaning of the word. Dictionaries for Chinese and Japanese Kanji are in fact organized in this manner (by character radical). I can't recommend a particular manner of memorizing them (i failed abysmally at the task as a child, and am functionally illiterate as a result), however the relationships are there if you want to look for them.
    • by Lars512 (957723)

      There are ideographic relationships between concepts and what's in the characters. Each of the elements in complex characters bears some of the meaning of the word. Dictionaries for Chinese and Japanese Kanji are in fact organized in this manner (by character radical). I can't recommend a particular manner of memorizing them (i failed abysmally at the task as a child, and am functionally illiterate as a result), however the relationships are there if you want to look for them.

      I also have studied Chinese as a child and Japanese as an adult, neither to a fluent level, and can vouch for the parent's suggestion to look at components during study. That's about half of Heisig's method, which other posters have mentioned, the other half being to not worry about pronunciation until you've first learned the meaning of many characters. (Aside: plenty of people vouch for Heisig, plenty criticise it too; I don't know of any studies showing that it really works, only anecdotes from individua

  • by mmmmbeer (107215) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:26PM (#31551792)

    Wouldn't this be something you could get best from their teachers? Not that there's anything wrong with asking Google or Slashdot, but the first place I would go is to their teachers. One would think - or at least hope - that they would have additional tools they could give you to help your kids study.

    • by gd2shoe (747932)

      ... Not that there's anything wrong with asking Google or Slashdot, but the first place I would go is to their teachers....

      Yes, but where do good teachers get their "additional tools"? There are a couple of places. (1) They go online. If they can do it, you can too. (2) They watch and see what their students and parents come up with. When they recognize a good idea, they'll perpetuate it. For this to work, some students and parents need to do independent research. (3) They use what they were taught with. (4) They receive teacher oriented marketing. Most of it is junk (as with all marketing), but there are nuggets there

  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:26PM (#31551796) Homepage
    I taught English to kids in Africa, and found very few natural connections between English sounds and letters. One of the few techniques that worked decently was to pick some words that could be formed into the letter. For example, the letter "k" can be drawn as a key. It's not great, but it makes a connection that otherwise wouldn't exist. If your kids are picking up words well enough, this might be useful. Good luck.
    • by MBCook (132727)

      Yes, there is no reason a K is pronounced like a K. You can make up mnemonics, but it's just an abstract shape. There are only 26 to learn (56 if you include capitals, which can bare resemblance to the lower case versions).

      I've been trying to learn Japanese and this effects me too. I learned Katakana and Hiragana pretty easily, using little mnemonics and memory tricks (Kana Pict-o-Graphics [amazon.com] is amazing), and so the alphabets are easy to learn and retain. There are only about 100 in total, plus a few combina

    • by jabithew (1340853)

      That's actually where our alphabet comes from [wikipedia.org] (via the Greeks and Romans).

  • Flashcards. I would have never gotten through grade school math without them. I have terrible ( self-diagnosed ) ADD, procrastination, and aversion to doing anything difficult and repetitive. Math was beyond me. I would have flunked out of grade school if my mom hadn't sat me down with the flash cards every night.
  • you'll find that some though not all Chinese words are meaning-sound combinations: for instance, many words that are pronounced "zhong" have one radical that is also pronounced "zhong" by itself though perhaps in a different tone.

    My wife and I have had success with making our own flashcards, each with a different character or compound word.

  • by i-like-burritos (1532531) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:35PM (#31551872)
    I've been studying Japanese for years, and flashcard software has really helped me with the Chinese characters. iFlash for OSX is an excellent tool.

    As others have said, there's no way around the need for repetition and a lot of practice.

    Also, diligence is extremely important. If you're not using them, then you forget the characters very quickly. If you're not careful you might actually find that you're forgetting characters as quickly as you're learning new ones.

  • Mnemonics (Score:4, Informative)

    by Judinous (1093945) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:42PM (#31551912)
    When learning kanji, I found that mnemonics were far and away the easiest way to remember all of those otherwise arbitrary Chinese characters. If you make flash cards similar to what you find at http://kanjidamage.com/howto [kanjidamage.com] and go through them every day, you'll plow through them at a steady pace. The mnemonic in that example incorporates the English meaning, pronunciation, and component radicals all in one sentence. If you can remember that sentence and recognize at least one of those components, it becomes easy to figure out the rest.
  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:47PM (#31551950)

    there is no relation between sound and shape of the characters.

    This is wrong. Many, if not most, Chinese characters give an indication to both meaning and pronunciation. For instance the Mandarin word for "same" is pronounced "tong". The Mandarin word for copper is also "tong", and the ideogram for copper contains two radicals: the "metal" radical, which indicates meaning, and the "same" radical, which indicates pronunciation.

    Once you learn the basic radicals, learning Chinese characters is not that hard. I can read Chinese much better than I can speak it.

    Flash cards work well. Some computer programs work well too. "Rosetta Stone" works really well, but it is expensive.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      I like how people purpose mnemonic techniques and everything for remembering the Chinese characters, when they're composed of relatively simple characters. Sure there are 214 radicals, and some chars without radicals, but seriously, remembering that a word is composed of "tree tree cover" is like remembering that "marajuana" has a "j" that is pronounced like an "h" because it's from Spanish.

      So much of this confusion about Chinese characters is because they're so opaque, and no one seems to bother to teach

      • It's more problematic for Japanese because there is no way to guess the reading from the radicals and there are many more readings than with Mandarin. One word may use the Tang dynasty reading whereas another the Ming reading for the same character. Throw in the native Japanese and it becomes a chore to remember everything.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      This is wrong. Many, if not most, Chinese characters give an indication to both meaning and pronunciation. For instance the Mandarin word for "same" is pronounced "tong". The Mandarin word for copper is also "tong", and the ideogram for copper contains two radicals: the "metal" radical, which indicates meaning, and the "same" radical, which indicates pronunciation.

      Once you learn the basic radicals, learning Chinese characters is not that hard. I can read Chinese much better than I can speak it.

      Flash cards w

  • Heisig's technique (Score:5, Informative)

    by vorpal22 (114901) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:01PM (#31552066) Homepage Journal

    James W. Heisig, a researcher at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan, has released an excellent set of books for memorizing Japanese Kanji, traditional Chinese Hanzi, and simplified Chinese Hanzi:

    Remembering the Kanji:
    http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Kanji-Vol-Complete-Characters/dp/0824831659/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1269118367&sr=8-1 [amazon.com]

    Remembering the Traditional Hanzi:
    http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Traditional-Hanzi-Meaning-Characters/dp/0824833244/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_5 [amazon.com]

    Remembering the Simplified Hanzi:
    http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Simplified-Hanzi-Meaning-Characters/dp/0824833236/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b [amazon.com]

    While this technique focuses on memorizing the meaning of the characters (and how to write them yourself) and not so much on the readings of them, I've found it an absolutely invaluable technique for doing the former. I have an abysmal memory to the point that it's shocking, and yet using his techniques, I was able to easily memorize the meaning of about 400 characters and how to write them in a couple of weeks with only a couple of hours of dedication a day, which I was very impressed with. His technique is based on building up from simple radicals and employing visual memory to make everything stick in place, which basically means concocting an elaborate and often ridiculous story for each character to tie the correct radicals into their correct places. The story is usually so silly that it cannot be forgotten, which is, IMO, in where the trick lies. As your skill in recall develops, you can let go of the stories and move to natural recall.

    Also, the use of timed memorization software is essential when we're talking about this amount of information. Here are two great free software packages for this that were largely based specifically at learning Japanese (and thus are quite suitable for other languages, especially Chinese):

    Anki:
    http://ichi2.net/anki [ichi2.net]

    Mnemosyne:
    http://www.mnemosyne-proj.org/ [mnemosyne-proj.org]

    (Personally, I prefer Mnemosyne a bit more, even though Anki has many more features, but this is because I'm making a set of cards to memorize all of Heisig's Kanji, traditional Hanzi, and simplified Hanzi, and I'm using HTML tables to store all the information. Mnemosyne preserves my HTML exactly, whereas Anki futzes with it and ruins the formatting.)

  • by Murmel84 (1033852) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:14PM (#31552162) Homepage
    I started studying Chinese in September too and I'm trying a lot of techniques to memorize it quickly and efficiently.

    As others have already mentioned, Anki (http://ichi2.net/anki/) is the way to go for memorizing vocabulary, as it uses a psychological algorithm that helps you repeating things as often as you need to. If you then install the pinyin toolkit plugin for learning chinese it's the best thing to learn chinese vocabulary as it imports all your translations, pinyin and even sounds automatically when you just enter the Hanzi.

    This pinyin toolkit also uses a nice colour system for the tones. Basically, every character is displayed in a color depending on its tone: red = first tone orange = second tone green = third tone blue = fourth tone black = no tone

    You can go even further and WRITE the characters in those colors when practicing. The tones of each character will stay in your memory WAY better!

    Another tip when trying to memorize chinese characters: try to grasp the meaning of their components and learning to read and write them will be way more easy. You can use sites like nciku.com or archchinese.com where characters are split up in their components. However, you won't find everything there. There's also an extremely good book called "Learning Chinese Characters" (http://www.amazon.com/Tuttle-Learning-Chinese-Characters-Revolutionary/dp/080483816X/) - it teaches you the 800 most common chinese characters by telling you everything about their components and even giving you stories to remember the components of each character. It's by far the best book I've found for learning how to write chinese.
  • This MMO was the subject of a previous /. story, and since others have commented on other useful techniques, I'll leave you with this:

    Zon [enterzon.com] (http://www.massively.com/2008/06/04/zon-the-mmo-that-teaches-you-to-speak-chinese/ [massively.com])

    I've also seen it said (in a comment on here perhaps?) that it is preferable not to use pinyin romanisation as that doesn't help as much with making the correct sounds. Whatever it was pointed at GR [wikipedia.org] as an alternative. Don't take that as gospel though as I may have no idea what I'm talking

  • I've been picking up some Japanese recently, via podcasts, torrented mp3s and the like but learning Kanji above Grade 1 isn't going too well. This is largely because I never get to use it in real life. My suggestion to pick up Kanki/Chinese Characters is to associate the symbol with the actual object. For instance, to learn the Kanji for "shoe" write the Kanji on a sticker and put it in your shoe, or all your shoes. That way, every time you put your shoe on, you will be reminded of the Kanji. Do this for ev

  • The complicated-looking characters are actually built out of smaller, standardized parts. If your kids want to be able to look up characters in a dictionary, they're going to have to learn to recognize the more common Kangxi radicals [wikipedia.org] anyway. The 7 most common radicals are used in about 10,000 characters. Most characters [wikipedia.org] are formed by combining a semantic part with a phonetic part. Once you learn a bunch of these, it makes it much easier to remember words made out of them. Lots of words are actually compoun

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:58PM (#31552502) Homepage

    one of the key reasons why the chinese don't need a large intelligence agency is because their entire population is actually their intelligence agency, having been trained from a very young age to memorise vast amounts of information - for example, the 10,000 or so chinese characters.

    tony buzan's memetic learning techniques were the first popularly re-published discovery of the greek "mnemonic" memorisation techniques, and he adapted them to get you to focus on the use of the five senses and "familiar" or powerful emotive things, such as "home" or "naked person" or "funny picture" as "hooks" on which to hang the sequence to memorise.

    the use of such "hooks" was well-known in medieval times. if you look closely at the top and bottom of the bayeux tapestry, there's a continuous but very small row of naked people in various sexual poses and performing various acts. the idea is that if you want to memorise the battle of hastings, and what happened, you get yourself all worked up "wha-heey!!" and _then_ you look at the pictures of the battle, and the pictures sink in.

    daniel tennet, aka "brainman" has also developed a similar sort of technique, focussing specifically on helping people to memorise languages. daniel is approaching this from a different angle from tony buzan, however: optimising the actual language learning process.

    tony's technique of "hooking" first gets you to associate numbers with familiar or exciting things. for example, the number 1 could be "red post box". the number 2 looks like a swan. 4 a sail-boat etc. etc. but you can equally as well use what works best for you (kinesthetics) - smells, movements, touch etc. it's _entirely_ up to you to use the right "hooks" which are appropriate for _you_.

    so, you now have your "hooks". to memorise things by numbers, let's say the number sequence 412, you imagine a sail-boat on a lake, and it goes past a red postbox, and there's a huuuge white swan sitting on top of it. voila, you have just memorised the sequence 412. this technique of picture/thought association gives you the ability to memorise absolutely huge sequences which you otherwise thought you were incapable of.

    so, if you were to use tony's technique, you would look at the character in one of two ways:

    1) see what the picture reminds you of (for example, tree is blindingly obvious: it looks like a tree) and then "hook" that in, in some imaginative way, with the actual object (as other people have suggested here)

    2) decompile the character by brush-strokes, both the sequence of the strokes (which is critically important for chinese calligraphy) and the direction, length and position, and assign each stroke's direction and position a numerical (or other sequence). you then cross-reference that numerical sequence against the "hooks". you also cross-reference the actual meaning at the beginning of the sequence, again in some imaginative way.

    by recalling the pictures / hooks, one after the other, you can turn them back into numbers. you then turn the numbers back into brush strokes: voila, you have your chinese character.

    it's a lot of initial work, setting up the "hooks" that are appropriate and creating the mnemonic interpretation, but if you're serious, you'll do it.

    all that having been said: it would be much much easier to do sanskrit. if you look closely at the written form of sanskrit, you'll notice that the actual written language - the brush strokes - are a _phonetic key_ to the pronounciation! a vertical line means "plosive" (as in - you're going to close your mouth in some fashion). a horizontal line means "make your voice-box resonate". a slash on top going top-left to bottom-right means "close mouth" and a slash on top going bottom-left to top-right means "open mouth", thus you get "taaah" and "aaahht" respectively when combined with the horizontal and vertical lines. various curly-bits mean "do different things with tongue" and thus you get "kuhh", "puhh", "tuhh", "buhh" or "aabh", "aaakh", "aahhp" if the dia

  • The non-radical part is often pronounced the same in multiple characters it appears, particularly for newer words or characters. This happened in older times, too. But pronunciations diverged with time, particularly after the Mongols mangled the northern dialect. I can often guess the pronunciation of character I havent seen.
    Unfortunately, I dont know if there a way to teach this. You just observe the sound patterns as you learn characters.
  • Someone above recommended Remembering The Kanji (and it's Chinese version, Remembering the Hanzi), so I'm going to leave that alone.

    ReadTheKanji.com is a -great- site for learning to read Japanese words. It is the single best thing to help me read Japanese that I've found, and I've spent a lot of time looking. I even thought about writing my own version, but other than some fairly minor features that I'm not ready for yet, I can't improve on it.

    I don't think anything like it exists for Chinese, but if it

  • And not just the radical (dictionary lookup) part. I wish all my teachers had named the parts from the start. But you gradually learn their names. Then you sort of remember character X is made up of the water and water and po-sounding part and so on.
    After a while you dont think of parts, but the "gestalt" or entirety. Same thing happens in English reading. You see the whole word, its length, the ascending and descending parts, the first and final letters. Theres a trick text going around where the i
  • by Frater 219 (1455) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @06:14PM (#31552636) Journal

    Having studied eight foreign languages (French, Spanish, German, Latin, Ancient Greek, Russian, Japanese, and Finnish) in my life, and after talking this theory over with friends who have attained fluency in some really different languages (e.g. Spanish and Bahasa Melayu), I feel safe in stating this here in pretty strong terms:

    The only way to learn a language is to use it.

    The only sort of "classroom" language class that works worth a damn is an immersion class, in which during the class period you do not speak any language other than the one you're studying. Even classroom instructions ("Open your book to page 23") are in the language, once you've learned numerals.

    The worst language classes I've taken have been ones in which the foreign language being studied is treated as a matter of abstract grammar and vocabulary to be memorized, not used ... and in which the teacher spends most of their time telling anecdotes in English about their experiences in the culture in question. I took two years of Russian in high school and a year of it in college -- and forgot more Russian than I learned in that last year, since the teacher spent the class time telling stories (in English!) about run-ins with the KGB, instead of helping us practice speaking and reading Russian.

    As regards Chinese: I've never studied Chinese, but I have studied Japanese including kanji, albeit only to the extent of a couple hundred kanji. The above applies fully to kanji, and I expect it applies to hanzi (Chinese characters) as well -- in order to learn them, you have to use them. Write them. Come up with silly sentences and write those. Don't just use flash cards and memorization; come up with things that you want to say in Chinese (even if just to be silly) and say those things with hanzi.

    The other half of the equation, of course, is to get someone who is fluent to respond to your crude childish attempts at speaking and writing. That's the point of a good language class: you get to make the sort of errors that a little kid makes, and they correct you. That method of language acquisition works for little kids, and it works for adults too if they're willing to be childish for a while.

  • since there is no relation between sound and shape of the characters

    Chinese characters aren't just pictures. Rather, they consist of about 200 radicals that are combined 2, 3, and 4 at a time. Many characters consist of just two parts: a sound indicator and a meaning indicator. There are plenty of books explaining this and using these relationships to help make Chinese characters easier to learn (look on Amazon).

  • There is a great children's book, "The Chinese word for Horse and other stories" by John Lewis ( http://www.librarything.com/work/1564984 [librarything.com] )which shows the structure of some (very few) Chinese characters. (Charles E. Tuttle co. published a small paperback that illustrated some basic Kanji in the same way, but I can't find my copy and I can't remember the name.) Look for a Chinese calligraphy guide that describes the meaning of the radicals as derived from pictures and you will be well on your way to binding

  • by Punto (100573) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (botnup)> on Saturday March 20, 2010 @06:46PM (#31552904) Homepage

    since there is no relation between sound and shape of the characters

    so it's sort of like in English then?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lars512 (957723)

      since there is no relation between sound and shape of the characters

      so it's sort of like in English then?

      You're right on the money. They call the complexity of a writing system's form-sound relationship orthographic depth [wikipedia.org]. English is a deep language, Chinese is deeper, Japanese is deeper still. Spanish on the other hand is orthographically shallow. So it's considered easier to learn to read and write in Spanish, than English, in English than Chinese, in Chinese than Japanese.

      • by Punto (100573)

        that's pretty interesting. I'd guess that the phonetic part of japanese (hiragana & katakana) is probably even shallower than spanish tho.

        • by Lars512 (957723)

          that's pretty interesting. I'd guess that the phonetic part of japanese (hiragana & katakana) is probably even shallower than spanish tho.

          Exactly. It's only the kanji script which makes the Japanese writing system as a whole deep. You take an already deep writing system from one language (Chinese), smush it over the top of an existing spoken language (native Japanese), salt it by borrowing pronunciations from the first language during three or four historic periods (i.e. different dialects), and you get a very weak relationship between the sounds you're saying and the glyphs you're writing, at least compared to other languages.

          Hey, that's wha

  • I've studied Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, and now Dari. The thing that has helped me the most has been to read children's books. I start out with the ones intended for kindergartners, and work my way up. Once I get halfway decent, I start on newspapers. These days you can find online newpapers in just about any language.

    I've also just found the International Children's Digital Library [childrenslibrary.org], which has digital children's books for many languages.

  • When I was in college a second language was still mandatory to graduate. Basically this meant at the time that you have to pass one full class in a non-English language. Today I don't believe a second language is mandatory any more, and 20 years before I was in school, it was four years of a second language or no diploma, sonny.

    Anyway, I took French like I had for four years in High School (we could also take German at our school, it was a bit easier to learn).

    My buddy in College took Chinese. I asked him i

  • Characters are a bitch, no way around it. Your kids will have to dedicate a large chunk of their time to learning reading and writing in Chinese. After that it's a continuous chore to retain that knowledge, especially in writing. After several years study, it can seem like you're set to the Sisyphean task of building a mountain out of sand--focus on building up the peak with new knowledge and other memories decay. That said, there are a billion plus living examples it can be done, and there are things that

  • I wonder what is the relationship between what "A" looks like and its sound?

    The way to learn Chinese characters is through repetitive writing in addition to learning what each radical means. Each character learned/day needs to be written at least 100 times. There is also a standard way to write most characters, top-down then left-right. Prepare for sore hands and fingers. At least people outside China would probably write the characters in Latin order on a page--left-to-right then top down instead of top do

  • I'm amazed no one has mentioned SuperMemo [supermemo.com]. It's based on an actual scientific theory of how to optimize the value of memorization effort. There's a Chinese character library [super-memo.com] for it already.

  • Ok, I know what you meant, but "relation between sound and shape of the characters" suggests to me something along the lines of the following: "see, o and u have this rounded shape, so you should round your lips when you make the corresponding sound; b, d, t, d, and k all have these big straight lines sticking out of them like spears sticking out of dead bodies, which suggest the violence of a plosive consonant."

  • Immerse yourself in the language. Write it and speak it every day. For some, this means living in the country; for others, date someone whose native language is the one you're trying to learn (and who doesn't have any other language in common with you; for example, my girlfriend speaks English, but my Chinese is much better than her English, so we always speak Chinese to each other, as it feels much more natural).

    But yeah, do anything and everything that increases exposure. Flash cards are just one way.

  • I loved tokenshi's response :-) My experience is fairly limited, but here are the things that helped me:

    Practicing the strokes makes a huge difference in learning speed. My tutor provided me with a workbook that had pictures of the characters displaying the order and direction of the strokes, and I was asked to trace the characters at least 10 times each before copying them down. It seems monotonous at first, but pretty soon I built a frame of reference. The strokes became more familiar (even developing
  • There is an online comic called Sinfest that occasionally has "cartoon-to-calligraphy" transformations that are interesting.

    If you go to the archive [sinfest.net] and search for "calligraphy", you can pull up all the relevant strips. They will make more sense if you're a regular reader. Also, I probably wouldn't suggest using these for kids, but if you were creative, you could probably come up with similar types of drawings on your own.

  • Tattoos (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088)

    Just tattoo the entire Chinese alphabet all over your arms. Then it's ready-to-use. Hide your lookups of hard-to-reach areas behind a cool Robot Dance.

  • I'm surprised no one has even mentioned this one [archchinese.com].

    Amongst the key features:

    • Animations showing the correct stroke order for all simplified and many traditional characters
    • Pronunciation
    • Character decomposition
    • Create printable worksheets
    • Search characters phonetically or by components/radicals

    The basic useful features are free. Didn't see a need to sign up as a paying member, although I might break down and buy a one-time sub just to show my support.

    Requires EVIL proprietary binary blob urrh hurrh hurrh Flash urr

  • Quoted at length from Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard [pinyin.info]. If you like this, go read the whole thing.

    1. Because the writing system is ridiculous. The other day one of my fellow graduate students, someone who has been studying Chinese for ten years or more, said to me "My research is really hampered by the fact that I still just can't read Chinese. It takes me hours to get through two or three pages, and I can't skim to save my life." This would be an astonishing admission for a tenth-year student of, say, French lit

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