I have finished working through my Heisig book – my closest non-human companion for the last 6 – 7 months. I have studied 1500 hanzi using the Heisig and Richardson book Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters. If you need a bit of history on my experiences in studying hanzi with the Heisig method, then please have a read.
This post should have happened a week ago when I finished my last hanzi but I needed some time to gather my thoughts – with this post I will try and speak from the heart.
Often during my posts I had been anxious at my slow progress in studying Mandarin and I had wanted it to go faster – I wanted to learn more in the time I had available. I often felt frustrated with myself. Now when I look back I still have the same desire for speed – wanting to progress at a much faster pace – but I have realized that faster doesn’t necessarily always mean better.
Sometimes it’s better to focus on a few basics first – mastering them if you can or as best you can in the hope of securing, building a strong foundation – and I think this is exactly what I have done with Heisig. I have used this method to study and understand hanzi – and by understand I am not just referring to the characters’ meanings… it’s hard for me to explain but I now *get* hanzi. Now that this foundation is solid, I know that the real learning can start and it has in several ways already started.
It’s just a method yes – but it’s a great one:
Heisig gets its fair share of criticism as a method for studying hanzi. One of the main arguments is that Heisig doesn’t teach pinyin and it also doesn’t teach tones. That’s true yes – Heisig doesn’t “teach” pinyin but Heisig doesn’t prevent you from learning it either. (In fact it has the whole list of pinyin with tones at the back of the book and you’re welcome to study it if you want to…). (You’re also welcome in my humble opinion, as a beginner to the language, to burden your mind and possibly neglect one of the crucial aspect of learning Chinese – being able to read and write Chinese characters – one of the only ways beside context to clarify meaning in a homophonic language.)
So you can learn everything at the same time or you can stagger it out – do incremental learning or break the process down a bit and see how it works out in the end.
The traditional way of studying Mandarin:
We all know that Mandarin *should* be learnt with 5 things in mind. The character, the pinyin, the tone and the meaning as well as the stroke order and on top of that a sixth thing to combine it with other characters to form new vocabulary. I refer to this method as the “traditional” way of learning Chinese. I’ve done it before – in 2006 when I started my first Mandarin course. Unfortunately this is a rather intensive method of study – with several things learned at once, and as such, it is hard to reach perfection or even near-perfection in a singular aspect of your studies. In my case I truly neglected truly learning hanzi the first-time around…
Re-born with Heisig:
Now that I have a good foundation – I look forward to building on that. For example, I’m now looking at ChinesePod print-outs of lessons and identifying characters that I’ve learnt in Heisig and I can make more discoveries about the words that I learn.
- Hanzi used to consist of lines – I didn’t know where one stroke started and another one stopped. Now I see components or mini characters. I see patterns in hanzi and I recognize exceptions too.
- I have a method of distinguishing similar looking characters from one another. For example I don’t have issues with most of these similar looking characters. Here’s a good post on similar looking confusing characters
- As I spot new hanzi I know whether I’ve studied them in my Heisig book or whether they fall outside the scope of my Heisig book. (I guess this counts for something?)
Stats and joys:
I have two methods of testing myself on Heisig characters. I have two decks in Anki. One deck presents the English keyword and I have to draw the character. The other deck shows me the hanzi and I have to identify the English keyword.
- 83.7 % overall retention rate – going from English keyword to hanzi
- 83.5 overall retention rate – hanzi to English keyword.
- Small pleasures count when I had studied the second character in 香港 and realized I was able to really write Hong Kong in Mandarin I was so happy. These are probably two of the most beautiful characters for me in the Chinese writing system.
- Learning vocab like 香油 and having to scratch my head why sesame oil gets to be *the* fragrant oil in Mandarin. Is it truly the most fragrant oil in Mandarin?
- Heisig doesn’t quite end here no – I have to iron out those characters that I still forget – I want to improve my retention to about 90% – at least.
- I’m looking forward to heaps of reading through and listening to ChinesePod podcasts and reinforcing what I’ve learned.
- I need to get the time to order Heisig book 2 as that’s something I’ll be doing in the future. (When I’m ready).
- I need to practice consistency and form a good study habit. I have been random in my study routine.
Conclude and thanks:
Rome wasn’t built in a day. I guess this concept applies to most things in life and I’m not sure why language learning should be any different. Perhaps I am speaking for myself only when I say this. I’ve achieved one minor milestone and it feels good. I have realized that my road to “fluency” requires one step at a time in the right direction.
I thank Greg (MandarinSegments.com) from the bottom of my heart for his blog that have helped me with tips and tricks and his support with finishing this book. I am not very sure I could have done it without your support Greg. You’re awesome. Thank you