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Chinese Characters: Learn & Remember 2,178 Characters and Their Meanings Paperback – September 1, 2009
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About the Author
Alan Hoenig is a professor of mathematics at the John Jay College of the City University of New York. He is the author of Finite Mathematics and TeX Unbound. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
But I think overall the pros outweigh the cons. I use maybe half the mnemonics in the book, and the rest I just make up myself or find other references. I think one of the most useful features in the book is that characters and their sub-components are cross-referenced, so you can easily look up unfamiliar parts of characters and come up with your own mnemonics. It also makes it less brain work for me when I do use the ones in the book.
- sound methodology for memorizing characters (using vivid stories for each character)
- Fairly comprehensive list of frequently used characters
- definition includes pinyin, char frequency, and cross-references
- many of the mnemonics are strange and/or overly complicated, when the original Chinese etymology would suffice
- no Traditional forms of characters
- only includes 1 definition for each character, a little bit simplistic since many characters have multiple meanings
Overall it's a good reference to memorize characters, but you'll need use other books to cross-reference when needed.
Why I use the book:
It's sturdy, you can carry it around anywhere you go, and it won't fall apart
It has the 2,260 or so most commonly used characters
The book has wide margins, so there is ample space to write
Why this book is bad:
1 Instead of giving simplified and traditional versions of the character, there are two different fonts of simplified characters.
2 The stories are extremely bad; some of them are so bad and uncreative, that it's actually unpleasant to read them.
For character Ä¤£º''A membrane is the body part that covers choice cuts of meat (steaks, chops) when an animal is freshly butchered. Do not eat this!'' [Instead of illustrating the obvious connection of Äª being used for it¡¯s sound]
3 The author seems oblivious to the character's true interesting stories/linguistic evolution/pictograms. (By the way, there is no info about whether any of the definitions are indeed historical.) Most readers would find learning these ¡°true meanings" much more rewarding than the (often) gaudy imagery. For example:
ÅÓ (large, colossal)"true definition": ¹ã, a shelter, signifies a building of some kind, and Áú, a dragon, means this is referring to the imperial palace, the symbol of the royal family being a dragon.
±¼ (move towards)"true definition": Used to be a pictogram of many people moving running in a crowd towards something. You can still see it if you look, and it's a nice clean story.
Instead, the stories in the book are as follows:
ÅÓ Look how the dragon sticks out from its shelter because it's so very large! [Not a bad story, but it has no historical charm and is not a better mnemonic.]
±¼ (The author breaks that character up into 'ó(big) and »Ü(kinds of grasses). »Ü is very obscure and only useful as a "building block" Here is his story: That pile of grass clippings on my neighbour¡¯s lawn is so big that all the circus elephants are heading for it. [What is he talking about? First of all, many of us don't have neighbors with lawns, especially if you live in China, so it's not a helpful memory aid because it's a dim association. Second of all, the story is just trash. Many of the stories clearly come from the author's own life and don't help strangers remember, as he uses "My uncle" "My dentist"..."My psychiatrist"]
Why this book is awful:
1 The organization of the material is some sort of practical joke. Like some previous reviewers mentioned, the most useful characters aren't presented first. Instead, they are grouped by radicals, which doesn't really help learning them since his stories do not make use of this organization. Actually, I still don't understand how the book is really organized. This makes studying a mess and probably explains why the book is so sturdy...since you have to flip through it all the time.
2 The names of the chapters are totally absurd, for example:
Curiouser and Curiouser
A Mighty Fortress...
Movers and Shakers
These titles are all attention grabbing, but they have no value, nor are they fun to read ._.
Why the author should never have written this book alone:
1 He has a great bio in Math, but as for Chinese, there is nothing to say. The definitions picked for the characters are often archaic or very uncommon. As a result, every single time I learned a character in this book, I had to look it up myself in the dictionary; otherwise there is a material risk of learning the wrong meaning. Effectively, this renders the definitions useless. Fortunately, the book is sturdy, so I could use my iPod dictionary as a bookmark :)
If you are interested in learning Chinese, I strongly encourage you! It takes a lot of time, so creating a sustainable and enjoyable learning strategy is paramount to keeping your ambition alive. It truly is a journey, and you may want to enjoy the rich linguistic scenery while you slowly plod along. That way, you'll attain a better understanding of the culture and not just technical mastery of the language.
...so pay careful attention to the learning materials.
Thank you for reading this review. And dear author, despite the book's many flaws, many thanks for this compilation. I hope there will be a better and significantly improved version coming.
It arranges characters so as similar characters are bundled together.
Reference available to go back to of previous characters related to the one character you are studying.
The actual Chinese word for the character is practically hidden and in small font.
Many of the small story lines provided to remember the characters are not related at all to Chinese culture.
Some characters are well illustrated and have a simple story.
Other characters, depend on a story for recollection; but the story makes no sense.
The book is a good reference; but, I would not recommend it.