I recently started working through James Heisig’s & Timothy W Richardson’s book – “Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters”.
I’m only 225 characters in (out of 1500) and thought I’d share with you how I’ve been finding it thus far.
Well… I LOVE IT and I seriously hope my love for it remains until I reach the end of the book because I’ve still got a long way to go… I think it is a great method for learning characters and I SO wish I had known about this sooner!
My stats thus far show that I am actually retaining what I’ve learned pretty well – this is really promising I think (even though I’ve only studied the first 225 characters in the book.):
Mature cards: 100.0% retention
Young cards: 90.0% retention
First-seen cards: 90.0% retention
I have to acknowledge and point you in the direction of Greg’s blog – Mandarin Segments. If it wasn’t for his blog and his success with Heisig I may never even have started down this path.
Instead of me reinventing the wheel – I suggest you have a read through Greg’s posts for an overview on Heisig and some tips and tricks on using Heisig visualizations – there are many posts all useful but I recommend this one in particular: Tips & Tricks for Heisig Visualisations.
Reading the Mandarin Segments blog made me realise it was ok to let my own mind guide me a little bit where needed, so I will share some of my personal findings with you below.
Finding #1: If the Heisig story doesn’t quite “gel” with me – I aim to make it more personal and change the story so that it will work best for ME. I know my mind and I know there is NO point in me trying to remember a story if it doesn’t “gel” with me…
#133 Swim 泳
You see the primitive for drops of water to the left and to the right the character for eternity. Heisig suggests an eternity of bliss best represented by an expanse of water to swim in without a care in the world.
I needed to make the visual image stronger for ME so my story goes something like this instead: If I’m in water e.g. the ocean – a never ending mass of water – what would I do? Would I drown or would I swim? Well I’d turn into a mermaid and swim forever .
#147 Yangtze 江
Heisig’s story has a number of images just a little bit too ‘alien’ for me e.g. water and i-beam and bringing Huck Finn into the story just further complicates it for me so I changed it to:
Water primitive + the character for work = the biggest water ‘work’ in China which I’d answer with ‘the Yangtze’ – easy enough for me .
#178 lluminate 照
I use Heisig’s idea as a basis – making something obscure evident for example the process of glazing a pot where you put it in the oven to “fire” it and in the process illuminating it. Instead I think of how the Lord of the Rings ring starts glowing (being illuminated) and how it reveals its inscription when held to a fire. (This works better for me than the Heisig version because it’s just a little bit more visual and personal for me).
Finding #2: Drop the Heisig primitive meaning if you can replace it with another meaning that more closely matches the base character’s meaning. (NOTE OF WARNING: try at own risk and use sparingly – I am not necessarily advocating this).
I know this one’s a tad risky and I’ve done this in only one instance thus far – but so far so good…
#166 Chinese inch 寸
Heisig suggests glue / glued to as a primitive meaning. I changed its meaning to measure / measurement instead. This not only helps me with remembering additional characters but it also helps me remember the meaning for this character 寸.
This is how this change in the primitive’s meaning works out for me in some of the characters that follow:
#167 Seal 封
Earthly measures of importance in historical China could for example have been a red wax seal with the Emperor’s signature that was used on his messages and scrolls. These sealed scrolls may have been burried with him in the dirt to accompany him in the afterlife but in actual fact these “eartly measures of importance” may not have had much importance in the afterlife.
#168 Time 时
The sun is the reason we can measure time (all creatures need sun – we cannot exist without it).
#169 Buddhist temple 寺
The soil /ground where people go to in China to measure themselves (figuratively and morally speaking that is) would be a Buddhist temple. (It helps that Buddhist temples are everywhere to be found in China.)
Finding #3: That sometimes but rarely I can’t come up with an alternative story to the Heisig one, but in thinking about a story of my own I inadvertently memorize the primitives and characters anyway – it ends up being a simple “addition” to get to the result.
#129 削 candle primitive + saber primitive = peel
Makes no sense whatsoever I know but in my breaking my head trying to make up a different story I’ve memorized it anyway without really intending to do so.
#133 奇 big + can (ability) = strange
I was just totally lost after reading the Heisig story involving St Bernard Dogs with kegs and nails etc – it was too much for me – and now I remember it because there’s just no other way to do it anyway – it’s already ingrained in my memory.
Finding #4: Drop the story altogether if you can see a strong enough visual in a hanzi. It means less memory work . This one gets interesting. Again I’ll use this one sparingly.
#187 Lovely 丽
Well this one looks like the lovely collar bone of a woman (top horizontal stroke) and well … her two lovely breasts (two shapes below the collar bone). I don’t ever imagine boobies but in this case I can’t really help it – the character almost lends itself to the idea – yes and I know they are the wrong way around but that shouldn’t matter because apparently all types are lovely.
And no we’re not going to start a debate on that last statement please
It’s obviously not all I can share with you and naturally there are some characters that I do struggle with – I think listing those though would require another post
On another note…
I was browsing through some old photographs taken during trips to China in 2007 and time spent there in 2008 and found a photo of a building which I (from memory) believe to be the Shenzhen train station – see below. (Don’t know if I entered the same building or one nearby to go through HK customs – sorry if I’m confused. )
Before Heisig, I was only able to read the 3rd character for ‘mouth’. Now after studying these few characters in Heisig’s book, I know the meaning of the first one too – which is ‘silk gauze’. (Small victory – small smile).
Even so, I have absolutely no idea what that would mean in the context of the Shenzhen train station …
If you do know – please let me know. That would be appreciated.
If you’re also studying characters using Heisig – share your findings in the comments please! I would be interested to know if you too change and twist the stories a “teensy bit” to make it work for you…