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Chinese Characters: Learn & Remember 2,178 Characters and Their Meanings Paperback – September 1, 2009
A systematic, building block-style plan for mastering the most daunting aspect of learning Chinesehow to remember the meaning of more than 2,000 of the most common charactersis provided in this handbook. Beginning with the simplest of strokes, such as those for numbers, scepter, and earth, and progressing to the extremely complex, such as destroy, insert, and mouse, this manual presents a methodology employing memory techniques to associate meanings with the characters’ visual components. A sequence of numbered panels displays each character in two font styles, and a notation in the adjacent margin describes the character’s pinyin pronunciation. Graphics that identify the components or characters from which the featured characters are drawn, and a listing of both the names of these root components, and the panel numbers that cite their location in the book augment the presentation. Beginners will be best served by using this guide in conjunction with the development of language skills, while those who are familiar with the language will find this book to be a comprehensive reference and refresher.
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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.
- Publisher : EZChinesey.com (September 1, 2009)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 500 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0982232403
- ISBN-13 : 978-0982232408
- Item Weight : 1.46 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,323,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #6,293 in Foreign Dictionaries & Thesauruses
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
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.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
A few small quibbles: the Chinese translation is difficult to read on the left-hand pages, as it lies so close to the centre of the book. You can read it, but it often requires bending and tilting the book.
Two, I do wish the website ezchinesey.com, which is advertised on the back cover of the book, was active.
the crux of the matter you will have with this book is that you have to complete it before you can get any practical use out of it.
Because of the way the book it set out, the order of characters is not based on their popularity and you will have to wait until completing the book to find a lot of essential characters. Not only that, you can't skip to the back because it builds on previous material. You will also have to expend energy learning characters that you may never even see again just because they contain some element used later on.
For casual users - forget it, it will be a waste of money.
For those in it for the long term, willing to put in a lot of effort learning/reviewing characters - buy it. I have found it to be very helpful and there are times where you will fly through it and pick up another 10-20 characters in half an hour or so.
The drawbacks you will have are:
The true historic character meanings are provided - which may bear absolutely no resemblance to words that utilise the character nowadays. No examples of current words that use the character are provided,so expect to find a lot of words for weaponry, arrowheads, etc. These then may be used within characters that are in ever day use.
It doesn't teach you the language - you will only learn words. You will need to learn the language separately
It is frustrating to get bogged down learning obscure words you know that you won't really need
The author uses imagery to help learn the character - but there are many radicals that have a similar meanings and its easy to confuse them. A character for rice is used in dozens of other characters - but so is another for "grain". Its very hard remember which one to use when trying to remember the character. Multiply by numerous other examples, and then all the English words with >1 meaning and you get the idea. I suggest making a note of the ones you confuse often, and then finding some subtle way to separate them in your mind - it will help immensely.
There is a lot of work involved in learning and being able to recall over 2000 characters. Just be prepared to spend months even years going back to it, depending on how much time and ability you have. It doesn't matter what the blurb says about it being easy because it isn't (note the authors background - perhaps it is easy if you have a doctorate from Harvard and Yale and are a professor of mathematics)
At then end you will still have no idea how to form a simple sentence. This book will help you read what you see, not construct sentences yourself. I wouldn't mark it down for this as the book says the purpose is for learning characters
Finally - this is a criticism of the book: some of the "stories" used to memorise a character are pretty far removed and difficult to link to. You will need to create your own when this happens - be prepared to write all over it.
If you are still reading by this point, you probably have the patience to study the book. Don't be distracted by the negatives - if you are in it for the long term, the benefits easily outweigh the drawbacks.
We must also be specific about what it doesn't do: it doesn't help you remember pronunciations, grammar, "words" (i.e. anything more than one character long) or learn how best to draw the characters.
But what it does do, and do well, is to deconstruct things so that you learn how to build up the characters, and provide punchy, memorable ideas and snapshots to fix them in your mind. It evidently expects you to start at the beginning and work to the end - well, it would! - but in addition, since I've already been learning Chinese for a year, it allows you to go to complex characters and work backwards to put the bits together. The indexes are good, and you can tie together different characters with the same pronunciation. Each character is given its frequency rating. I'd have liked a further index list with the characters in order of frequency, but that's a minor quibble. Particularly useful is the early listing of characters which by themselves are uncommon (or non-existent) but which form common components of other characters. Altogether a very useful buy.
While the author has organised the characters from the simplest to the most complicated and suggests going through the book in this order, I used it alongside my university textbook, looking up the characters I needed to learn and then using the book to break down the characters into more memorable parts.
Because I had stories and names for each of the parts of the character and they meant something to me, I found I was able to recall a lot of characters almost effortlessly compared to when I had simply been writing characters out in order to learn them.
May not suit everybody's learning style, but certainly worth a try if you are looking to add a bit more interest to the process of learning characters.
Book also includes links to online activity worksheets which can help learning process.