Posts Tagged ‘hanzi’

The Origins of the Heisig Method

peckishlaowai Posted in Heisig, Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

Over the weekend a tweet about an interview with Professor James Heisig caught my eye.
Professor James Heisig is the co-author of Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters alongside Professor Timothy Richardson.

This post will be short and sweet but I wanted to do what was within my capacity to do, to highlight this great article which you can read here: Interview with Nanzan University’s Prof. James Heisig by David White.

You may or may not be aware of my Heisig adventures. In my opinion, if you’re interested in learning hanzi (simplified or traditional), or Japanese kanji, you can (and should) consider the Heisig method to do so.

To get back to the article, I enjoyed reading this because it was amazing to read about Professor Heisig’s life and how he had devised his method of studying Japanese kanji which led to further books on how to study and remember hanzi later. I love hearing people’s life stories especially if it is about them crossing borders into a foreign country and living there for an incredible amount of time. (I wish it had been me who had the opportunity to have an in-person chat / interview with someone like that.)

I, for one am very grateful for the Heisig method and the part of the article that resounds best with me, is the bit in bold below:

‘I was once waiting in Kansai airport and there was a guy sitting next to me reading Remembering the Kanji. I asked him, “Is that book any good?” and he replied “Yeah, it’s like my bible, I take it everywhere.“‘

(I did say in a previous post that my Heisig book had been my closest non-human companion for the duration of my Heisig studies.)

And just so you can get an inkling of the personality of this author I have quoted, the rest of his words too:

“So I said to him, “I hear the author’s a real whacko,” and he said “What do you mean?” and I replied, “Well, I hear he’s just nuts, he’s really strange.” And he said, “Well, I wouldn’t know that from this book,” and I replied, “Well, you better be careful what you read!” and he said, “Well, there are a few strange examples in the book. So this guy is really crazy?” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely. He’s been crazy all his life.” Later, he asked me to watch his bags while he went to the bathroom, and so I took his book and signed it when he was in the bathroom.”

Amazing story. If you’ve been a student of the Heisig method or are considering this method for studying hanzi (or kanji) then read the full interview with James Heisig by David White. Enough said. Read it.

Heisig: It’s going to get worse before it gets better…

peckishlaowai Posted in Heisig, Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , , , , ,
I'm coining the term 'Heisig Dip' ok?

It’s been a while since I said anything about my progress working through Heisig’s & Richardson’s book trying to get a 1500 characters stored in my memory.

I’m not one for inspirational, motivational books but of course one can always make an exception right? So around September of last year when someone talked me into reading ‘The Dip’ a short book by Seth Godin – I agreed – probably because the book is about the size of a lady’s purse and guaranteed to be a quick read.

There are some key messages this book gives, and you can take from it what applies to your life or like me may not have taken that much from it at all. To be honest I felt quite confused after I had read it. :)

The last few days however, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Seth’s little book. What you can take from the book is this – that “Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point-really hard, and not much fun at all. “ And so meet “the Dip”.

How does this apply to Heisig? Well – once upon a time, Heisig was a new adventure too and quite unexpectedly, I did experience “the dip”, something I only thought of or realised a few days ago. The dip for me was a low point in January of this year and I basically had to put Heisig aside for a bit. I must have been over the 1000 mark then. As much as I didn’t want to “cool things with Heisig”, I focused on listening instead for that month. I did this even though I knewthere would be a great likelihood I would not be speaking much Mandarin in Singapore.

I quote some more bits from The Dip: “Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt-until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons. In fact, winners seek out the Dip. They realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it.” I did say the book could leave you confused.

Well. I didn’t quit (not that it was ever an option) and I can safely say, I am past the dip. I am currently at 1293 characters and have just 207 to go.

I’m basically writing this post to say to you – if you have started Heisig or another book that uses a similar technique you will likely start off and find yourself enthralled in a Heisig “love affair” after a 100 characters. 真的.

You’ll be ambitious and that’s great – you should be! The first 500 characters will or may be a breeze. However – you might find the experience a bit lacklustre after a while when you’re a good few hundred in – and if it’s Heisig you’re doing then maybe you’ll also feel challenged around the 750 mark or so. ( I suspect this may be quite normal. Either that or I need to face the fact that I’m just a bad Heisig student.)

To be precise – these are some of the things that left me frustrated with myself after I reached the 750 mark.

  • I became much more aware of my own shortcomings – e.g. my creative ability to come up with creative, fun stories to help remember characters. I of course felt very frustrated with myself as I’ve always prided myself on having a good vivid imagination. I have that yes but you need that and a whole lot creative little stories and then some more. My advice: just keep at it – try a story – if it doesn’t work then go back and tweak it again till it works for you. Don’t force it too much and don’t be to much of a perfectionist. Move on if you want to progress and go back later to those chars that are giving you headaches.
  • My lack of a routine in studying – (I’m still struggling with this one… oh well…).
  • Skipping (near) daily Anki revisions – not that much of a hassle anymore. (I have had to balance this with time for studying new characters. Don’t add too many new chapters if you can’t handle it. Sometimes, you’ll just have to though. Unless you’re a better student than me and can study a little bit every day rather than a lot here and there.)
  • My natural instinct is always to value accuracy over speed. I still wanted to progress faster in order to be able to focus more time on other activities e.g. listening skills. So I experienced yet more frustrated feelings at times… I decided to focus on my own advice in bullet point 1.

You may or may not share my experiences and I’d be interested to know if you too had a little dip, a huge dip or nothing at all in your experiences of attempting a similar “project”.

I think the characters 700 – 1100 was probably the most difficult stretch of the book for me. I anticipate the next 200 to be a breeze again. It’s probably the thought of looking back and seeing how far I’ve come that leaves me happy with this achievement. I realize that completing the Heisig book is such a small achievement in the bigger scheme of Mandarin things…

Even so, I so look forward to the next 207!