Learn 1500 Chinese Characters in 3 months!!

Can you learn 1500 characters in 3 months?

Is it possible to learn 1500 Chinese characters? The simple answer is yes. However, the sheer thought alone of having to learn thousands of characters is enough to scare most learners away from even attempting Chinese in the first place.

Images come up of writing out a bunch of unconnected drawings and squiggles hundreds of times to no avail, constantly forgetting and struggling in an uphill battle.How is it possible to learn in 3 months what takes native speakers up to 5 years to master?

So for me to come along and say it’s possible to learn 1500 Characters in 3 months may seem like a mad claim, but to understand better, first we need to ask ourselves a few questions.

 

Firstly, do you even need to learn Chinese characters at all?

This may seem like a redundant question, especially considering you are already reading a post about how to learn characters, I can assume you have made up your mind already. But defining your goals and knowing why you are doing them is an important step to take when taking on a challenge as big as this.

So, do you need to learn them? This very much depends on your current goals and objectives. I know a few people that have learnt spoken Chinese to a very high level without even touching characters, and to some this is enough. This is possible through romanizations of the language (such as Pinyin for Mandarin), listening to dialogues while reading the Pinyin and then practicing them in conversation. This is a shortcut to being able to speak fast and certainly one I used when I first started to learn Chinese.

But is it possible to achieve native like fluency? Again, the answer is yes but you have to think about the practicality. Achieving true fluency requires an incredible amount of exposure and without characters on your side you are depriving yourself of all written forms of the language having to solely rely on audio input when accessing native level content.

If on the other hand, you learn the characters. Then you can watch videos with Chinese subtitles, text your friends, read books, visit forums and much more. Essentially you can transform your whole life and shift it into your target language offering significantly more exposure than you could ever get with audio input alone. This enhanced input and immersion is the key to becoming fluent in as short a time as possible past the intermediate stage, through a large volume of compelling interesting input.

On top of this, you get to access the real language, and be able to dive into thousands of years of history building up the complex writing system today.

What is a Chinese Character?

So you agree that learning Characters is the right way to go and you are ready to dive in and get started. Hurry up and get to the point, how do we learn them so fast already!!

Well in order to understand this first we need to talk a little bit about what is a Chinese character. It’s obvious right? Each character carries its own unique meaning and pronunciation. They all come together to make words and the entirity of the written language. But how does that tell us how to learn them?

Well in order to say that, we need to go in a bit further. You see Chinese characters, despite what you may believe, aren’t a bunch of unconnected squiggles, they are all connected. You see they are made up of smaller building blocks, called radicals. There are about 200 over all.

These simple components each have their own meaning, and come together with other components or radicals to form what we call characters. So because all characters are based on smaller ones as well as various components. This means the more you know the easier it gets. At a certain point you are just combining radicals you already know in different ways to form a new character. This is kind of like how we arrange letters to form words.

Let me give you an example, take the common character 好, which means good.

This is made up of two components, 女 which means woman. and 子 which means child.

From these smaller building blocks we can put them together to make a story and associations in our brain. This relates new information to what we already know forming the basis of all mnemonics.

So in this example we have, the component for “woman” and “child” coming together to make “good”. From this we can invent stories. Such as, we can imagine a happy family, a man with his woman and child. He will always be good to them, he will put them first because they are his family.

This helps build up a mental image in your head associating the smaller components to the character we are trying to learn, using imaginative memory instead of rote learning. This in effect, is the cornerstone of how to learn quickly and is what we will build on in the next section.

 

The Heisig Method

Starting with the smaller components and radicals, using imaginative memory and building up your knowledge of characters in a logical structured order to go through the most common characters encountered in every day life. This is the basis of the Heisig method and it is split into two parts. Book 1 covers 1500 characters which should be enough to read roughly 90% of written Chinese, and the second book covers an additional 1500. With all 3000 characters together this should be enough to read approximately 99.5% of written Chinese (see Page 8 paragraph 2 for reference) giving you a strong foundation to read anything!.

This is all done learning the characters one by one and associating them with a key meaning and is also done separate to the pronunciation, as that can come later. This book combined with one other thing will let you learn how to read and write characters at an alarming rate.

The second thing you will need is an SRS, spaced repetition system (my favorite is Anki).  SRS is a flashcard system designed on memory research following the forgetting curve. What this means, is that every time you are about to forget something the SRS reminds you and you review it at increasing lengths of time until eventually it sticks into your long term memory.

For example you learn a word on day 1, you will forget it after 10 mins. Then every time you relearn it, the time in which you will forget increases to an hour, then a few hours, days, weeks and so on.

The combination of imaginative memory combined with SRS technology is an incredibly more efficient way to learn because you are using your mind to conjure up strong links and then using the SRS system to make sure you are reviewing stuff you need to learn, in a time efficient manner.

Another point is that Anki has features inside the app that allow tracking of deck progress and to what degree you have memorized them. This makes it really easy and useful to see just how many characters you have learned so you can adjust your method to meet your goals.

The Game Plan

It is worth mentioning that there are actually two types of character system used for Chinese, the traditional characters (used mainly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) and the simplified characters (used primarily for mainland china).

There is a set of books for each and the ones I will be tackling are the traditional characters. So with that out of the way time to go into detail about what exactly I will be doing over the next 3 months and how I plan to use the tools listed above.

So because I have a goal and a time frame, I can plan accordingly and calculate exactly how many characters I need to learn each day. In the morning before work I will learn 10 characters and when I get back from work I will learn another 10 following the method used in the book. I will do this for two days and then on the third I will learn 10 in the morning and leave the spot after work to make sure I keep reviewing old content (this will also give me some leeway should anything come up or go wrong). Therefore across a three day period I will be reviewing a total of 50 characters. Across 3 months (or 90 days) this will add up to the total of 1,500 characters.

Once I have gone through the characters in the book I will enter the data into my flashcards (Anki). I will put the core meaning, followed by the jyutping (I am learning Cantonese, if you are learning Mandarin then you will be using Pinyin) and the story on side 1, and the character itself on side 2. Then I will carry around a small book with me and a pen and any time I have a spare few minutes I will take out the book, and using the prompt on side 1 try to reproduce the characters from my memory.

Apart from that, once I have acquired enough I will start trying to use them by reading and texting with friends.

And that’s it. Simple right? If I keep this up consistently across the 90 days I am sure I can reach my target of hitting 1500 characters in 90 days.

Conclusion

If you follow the steps in this guide you will pick up learning how to read and write Chinese at an alarming rate. That being said, there are a few drawbacks to this method. The first is that you are learning characters out of context. While this is a definite shortcut to being able to read and write, you will still need to do additional work to fill in the links and connect everything together. However, this can only be done through mass exposure and time with the language. This is just a first step to facilitate that.

I know some people don’t like the Heisig method for that very reason so let me know what you think in the comments. Have you tried learning characters before? Do you like the Heisig method, or do you think there is a better way?

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Two weeks without English?!?! Chinese immersion project in Hong Kong

This summer I will be going to Hong Kong for two weeks and giving up my own Native language (English).

Hey, my name is Luke Truman and for the past 9 months I have been learning Cantonese. I have been avoiding characters completely to focus all of my attention towards speaking. However, I am reaching a point where it is becoming increasingly obvious that to progress to any sort of level even close to fluency, I will need to learn Chinese characters. Otherwise I am locking myself away from countless resources and interesting content.

So. What does it have to do with this project?

As I said I will be going to Hong Kong for two weeks and giving up English in an attempt to only speak Cantonese for the entire two weeks I am there. Right now I am conversational, but nothing spectacular. The basic idea is to rocket my spoken ability in one last big effort before I set off in the coming months to learn Chinese characters through the Heisig method.

But enough about that. Why should you even care?

If you have ever learned a language before you will know its hard. There will be many ups and downs and you are going to make mistakes. A lot. So that being said, I will film the whole thing using my trusty Iphone and upload the whole thing to Youtube. You can see my ups, my downs, what went well and what went not so well. I hope in this transparency you can learn from the mistakes that I make, and you will know what to expect should you try anything like this in the future.

It will give you a good insight in not only how to create a good immersion environment but also how it will feel along the way. Will I want to switch to English? Will I get tired and give up or Burnout? Will I even survive, given the fact that I can’t read ANY Chinese? How or will I overcome this? Who knows, but you get the luxury of following me along every step of the way and laughing at my expense.

So what are my Goals, Expectations and doubts?

My Goal is simple. From the moment I arrive in Hong Kong (stepping through Airport Security) to the moment I leave, I will speak ZERO English.

Now I am no master when it comes to Cantonese, hell i’d still say i’m a beginner. So how do I actually expect this to go? To put it simply, I think its going to be hard. Very hard. And I know for certain there are times I will want to give up, switch to English and just forget this whole language thing once and for all. This is actually one of the reasons I am writing about this and putting it on Youtube in hope that it will put some weight behind my mad claims in hope I will actually follow through with it.

Speaking about forgetting I have been speaking English for a long time, all my life. So what are the chances someone wakes me up on a bus and I just forget this whole project and reply the first thing that pops into my head? English? Quite likely, and this has actually happened before. I was attempting something similar on a lazy Saturday with my girlfriend.  We were sat down, only supposed to be speaking Cantonese, watching tv, and suddenly a thought pops into my head and oops, I spoke English. Now, I am putting this down to the fact we were watching the walking dead at the time, an american tv drama, so I will be doing my best to avoid English media and tv for the duration of my trip to try and stay clear of this problem.

Other doubts I have, not being language related, is I have no idea how to Vlog and/or edit videos. I imagine it will be weird just speaking to the camera, especially with everyone else’s shifty eyes looking at the one gwalou trying to speak Chinese to his phone. But hey, nothing Ventured nothing gained.

RULES AND HOW TO CREATE AN IMMERSION ENVIRONMENT

So before I get into defining my game plan first I will define some ground rules.

1.) This Project is based on Spoken and audio Immersion, nothing to do with reading and writing. I will still be using English to text and/or message people if needed (Although I will be keeping this to the bare minimum as showed below)

2.) In the event of an emergency, I will be using English (provided my Cantonese hasn’t already become super awesome and leagues ahead of my English ability after the second day)

3.) speaking to family

Now I have set out the rules already you can see how the immersion environment is starting to slip. So what can we do to give ourselves the best possible chance of succeeding?

First of all I will be deleting all forms of social media off my Phone with the exception of WeChat (my only means of contact with some of my couchsurfing hosts so if I delete this then I will be sleeping on the street). This should eliminate the majority of my written contact with English leaving just road signs and menus left.

So if I am getting rid of social media for two weeks how will I contact people? and how will I keep my family up to date. Ok, so first off I will be getting a Hong Kong SIM. This will allow me to phone up all of my friends and people I want to meet with and completely bypass having to use any written language at all. Failing that WeChat enables the user to send voice messaging, so I hope that this will somewhat replace texting for the duration of my trip. Finally, what if I have to get on facebook or other social media to message my family or to arrange meetups of some sort? In case you don’t know my girlfriend is actually from Hong Kong, its one of the main reasons I got interested in Cantonese in the first place (apart from Bruce Lee and Stephen Chow of course). So what the battle plan is, is to basically to tell her what I want to say and who to say it too. Tell her in Cantonese, and then for her, either through her facebook or my own, message on my behalf. Is this a little silly? Perhaps, but it all goes towards my single goal of reducing my contact with English as much as feasibly possible.

So what else will I be doing? As I mentioned briefly before I will be using couchsurfing to stay with Locals. Five nights in Causeway Bay, followed by two nights in Macau and then 6 nights at the end staying with my girlfriend and her family in Yuen Long. So right from the start I will be in contact with zero expats and doing my best to mingle with the locals.

Aside from this, I have found a few meetups to attend through meetup.com. Some related to practicing languages and some that I have a genuine interest in (such as the hungry hungry herbivores going around to sample the best Vegan food Hong Kong has to offer). Also I have arranged several meetings with friends during my stay as well as a few strangers off couchsurfing. On top of that I have been in contact with a few friends learning Cantonese living in Hong Kong to practice with. so if you think one pale white guy recording himself speaking Chinese in Hong Kong is weird, what about 2? or 3? Also not to mention countless restaurants, bars, shops street stalls to discover.

To sum up. I will be banishing English as far from my life as possible. Right to that spot underneath the sofa that no one ever cleans but just pretends doesn’t exist. I will be going around meeting people, going to cool places and just HAVING FUN in the language.

So if this sounds like something you are interested in then please subscribe to my Youtube channel and this blog to follow me along the way.

Note: I won’t be uploading this series until I return in order to make the most out of this trip I can’t be spending 2-3 hours editing a video every night. You can expect my first video to be up shortly after my return (26th-30th August) and every proceeding one in quick succession. I plan to upload one a day once I get back so you can follow me along one day at a time even if its a bit late.

If you have any questions or even better yet advice, on language learning, Cantonese or vlogging. Please leave me a comment. and if you haven’t already check out my other Post on the add1challenge. Speak to you guys soon. Peace.

Add1challenge

Hello everyone, today I wanted to share with you my recent experience completing the add1challenge. So first of all, what is the add1challenge? The add1challenge, founded by Brian Kwong, brings language learners together from around the world with the common goal of holding a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker at the end of 90 days.

Before the challenge started I could speak a little bit of Cantonese, but it was far from perfect. Check out my video on day 0 of the challenge:

Out of looking at countless blogs, comments and videos, three obstacles seem to come up again and again. These are; losing motivation or “burning out”, getting overwhelmed with the task and resources and not knowing where to begin and a fear of speaking. From my experience over the past 90 days the add1challenge addresses all of these problems and pushes you out of your comfort zone with the support of other challengers to massively accelerate your learning leading to breakthrough results.

Keeping you accountable through the study tracker along with regular updates and an amazing community I found myself never short of motivation while in the challenge. On top of this the community has a wealth of knowledge giving plenty of advice to stop you from burning out. When I first set off to learn Cantonese I decided I was going to put in 2 hours every day, however this quickly became too much and after just 2 short weeks I was fed up, tired and didn’t want do do any more. The end result? I ended up doing nothing for an entire week!! What I learned, was that small achievable and regular targets is what work in language learning. The add1challenge makes you define how long you want to study each day, and holds you accountable with the study tracker as well as regular update videos.

Getting overwhelmed for anyone learning a new language can be easy. Endless resources to try out, countless words to memorize, grammar rules, verb endings, language partners. At times it can all be a bit too much. Which is why as language learners, we need to take a step back and break the situation down. One thing that helped me massively with this is the three mini challenges throughout the challenge, each with a separate goal to push you in a different area of the language. Instead of this never ending uphill battle, suddenly we have one challenge and one goal, and a clear path of how to achieve it designed to push you outside of your comfort zone.

This links in directly to the last point, which is a fear of speaking. Everyone thinks they are not ready to speak, and that they need to memorize more words and grammar patterns before they are ready imagining that some day, they will magically become fluent despite having no spoken experience whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is quite far from the truth. As blatantly obvious as it sounds, you will never become good at speaking unless you actually SPEAK. The minichallenges force you to do just that. The first of which being only a few weeks in, challenges you to find three different partners, online or otherwise, that you can practice with on a regular basis. There will be mistakes, lots of them, but this step is crucial if you want to get to any sort of spoken proficiency. Pushing you outside of your comfort zone and the best part is that these things usually go a lot better than you would think if only you would give it a try! All you need is that first push.

The final thing I wanted to touch upon was making regular video updates throughout the challenge. Check out my day 90 Video:

As a result of this, it forces you to do two things. Document your progress, giving you reference points to look back on as well as holding yourself accountable.

On top of this, one lucky person in every challenge will win a round trip flight ticket to a country of your choice where your target language is spoken. All of this together gives you the motivation, direction and support you need to accelerate your learning, join an amazing community and get the results you want. All that is left is you putting in the work!