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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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  • 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 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.

  • Re:Same? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Judinous (1093945) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:59PM (#31552044)
    You've got the same amount of total information to memorize no matter what when it comes to learning a new language. Any type of writing system has its advantages and disadvantages, though. When you're using an alphabet, it's true that once you know the letters you will be able to pronounce any word that you come across, but you probably won't have any idea what it means. When you're using ideographs, such as in Chinese, you'll probably have a pretty good idea what a new character means, but not how to pronounce it. I'd say that the latter is far more useful in everyday practice, personally. It's true that you can achieve a similar effect once you start to learn the etymology behind an alphabetic language (such as guessing meanings through Latin or Germanic roots in English), but if you've progressed that far it doesn't really matter what kind of characters are being used, anymore.
  • Re:Same? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Smauler (915644) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:31PM (#31552286)

    When you're using an alphabet, it's true that once you know the letters you will be able to pronounce any word that you come across

    Not a chance in English. There are loads of rules involving combinations of letters (ce, ge, kn etx). There are loads of letters and letter combinations that don't have a set pronunciation (th, ough, etc). There are at least hundreds of downright exceptions to all the rules (get, acknowledge, etc). To learn English well, you need to memorise _all_ of these, and many of the exceptions are in common words. As an example, do you pronounce thought like though, but with a t on the end?

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

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:36PM (#31552334)

    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, memorizing words. No native speaker learns language that way. Learn by example and your brain will build the grammar and vocabulary as it goes. TV/Radio, newspapers, web sites all help and can be downloaded usually. Better, move to China.

  • 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.

  • by fruitbane (454488) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @07:25PM (#31553282) Homepage

    I feel like your post might be sarcastic, but I don't think it is. If it is you suck at sarcasm, sorry.

    Actually, computers are rather bad at language translation. Handwritten and printed characters are presented with such stylistic variation that even the simplest aspect, optical recognition, is very difficult. Hell, even high-grade OCR software for roman character sets is still imperfect. And then there's translation. Some characters have both multiple meanings and multiple pronunciations, most of which is dependent upon context. Computers don't grok context well since it relies a lot on complex relationships concerning meaning.

    So yeah, humans are actually really good at language and the memorization that goes with it, especially in the ways that the computer is not good at it. Nothing wrong with using a digital pocket dictionary or phone app that's a dictionary as an aid, but no practical computer can replace the wonder that is the human mind when it comes to language-related tasks.

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