I recently joined the Hacking Chinese Character challenge and I'm wondering what methods the users here on SMC have used that have worked best.  Also, if you have any experience with using tech like Anki, SkritterWCC Bigram or the new site HanziCraft, I'd love to hear about it.  Are there any tricks or techniques I should know about before I get started?

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I have used Anki before with mixed success but I think that has more to do with my learning method than it does with the actual tool. I like the spaced repetition methodology but you have to be careful not to add characters or words that are not key to your learning priority at that moment.

I never felt like I was making sustained progress on recognizing characters until I actually learned how to write them by hand. There are theories out there that I now completely agree with that the kinetic hand movement (with mental focus on word meaning) can vastly improve retention & later recognition.

In my opinion, those programs can help drive which characters to study or as a good way to review what you've already practiced writing. But whenever I was only doing reading & apps/programs, it was learn 5 characters, forget 4 characters kind of progress.

In terms of incorporating new character vocabulary, I would always start with handwriting them.

Here are a few related discussions people might be interested in:

Should I learn Chinese Characters?

Do you have to be serious to learn Chinese Characters?

Skritter Chinese iOS app review & video

I've only check it out briefly but I know a lot of people love it.  I haven't seen gurulu yet. Thanks for the tip.

Chinese is my mother language. Based on my learning experience, I totally agree with Brandon.

If you want to make sustained progress on recognizing characters you really have to learn how to write them by hand. Even now if I meet a new character or I pick up an old character I forgot, I would like to write it down, that will help me remember it better.

I can still remember when I was in the elementary school, our Chinese teacher always gave us lots of writing homework, such as copying each character 10 times even more.  :-P  Probably the teachers are still doing the same thing nowadays at school in China.

I have not tried those tools you guys mentioned above. I will try them later when I have time.

To tell the truth, Writing Chinese Character is weaker than before becauce of the development of computer technology.

Personally I believe you need:

1. Clear Goal - I personally want to read books and newspapers as I enjoy this in English.  This lead me to initially set a 2000 character goal, which I have now increased to 3000.  Size and scope of the goal helps define how seriously you use the next two pieces....:

2. Method for memorization - I never made it past 150 characters without a method.  I recommend purchasing Heisig's "Remembering the Hanzi".  Sites such as NCKIU and HanziCraft are useful to support this method but are not the method itself.  For me the breakthrough came after reading "Moonwalking with Einstein" and realizing that I had to build good mnemonics using vivid, detailed visualizations.  It takes 2-3 minutes per character to make such a picture in your head.

3. An SRS tool.  I recommend Skritter for this because the writing is built in to the method (works with a touch screen device - iOS seems to be the development focus).  Skritter will correct your stroke order and help you with the fiddly bits.  I still recommend wrtiting out by hand sometimes (I copy stuff - two days ago I copied out the tray liner from KFC China until my hand hurt).   If you use Anki, be sure to write the characters as part of your method. 

Using Heisig, Skritter and daily practice, in the last 7 months I have learned 1700+ characters and going strong.  It does consume a significant segment of my study time... but since I have a long term goal to read, it's all good.


That's awesome Tyson!  I think your recommendations are right on the money.  I recently signed up for the Hacking Chinese character challenge and I hope to be able to write about 2,000 characters by 2014.   I'm using Skritter and mnemonics as well.  In addition, I've been using HanziCraft for reference on radicals and loving it. I'm interested in Heisig's "Remembering the Hanzi."  Why has that been an important part of your studies?  Does it provide you with any tricks on remembering the characters?

Why Heisig?  Helps you solve one problem – how to quickly remember thousands of characters.

1. Orders and then introduces the characters introducing one component (radical or other) at a time, focused on getting top 1000 most frequent characters (in book 1) and top 3000 (end of book 2).

2. Suggests mnemonics for components (hot sauce, Santa Claus, salad, kiddie cocktail, etc) which help you remember larger chunks of characters.  This overcomes the “man in a hat” problem with Chinese characters – there are a lot of men in hats -- so how can you assign other visual images to the components.

3. Provides a reading in English for each character that is suggestive of its meaning, and unique.  E.g. fragrant, aromatic, fishy smell are all given unique mnemonics (of course the full meanings are wider and multiple). 

4. Teaches you to build mnemonics for whole characters – at first they are all provided for you with a story and suggested visualization, but then less detail is given until you are just given the components and come up with your own story.  The mnemonics are proper visualizations of (often absurd) situations that allow you to deeply remember the character.  Uses and encourages you to use wordplay, real world characters and images to cover abstract concepts. 

For example I am using Chuck Norris to represent 人 (better to use a specific person than a generic person) and have a series of Chuck Norris “facts” that represent all the concepts I need to cover.

Writing is used to drill on the characters.

5. Covers 3000 characters - most other methods only hit around 800-1000 which is not enough if your goal is to read.

There are pros and cons to this approach.   It doesn’t cover pronunciation (but this is a much easier task in my opinion).  It doesn’t do the characters in frequency order.  It’s not the kind of book you use if you just want to learn beginner Chinese.  It does help you solve one problem – how to remember thousands of characters quickly.

Thanks for the details Tyson.  Heisig sounds totally useful - maybe even necessary - for learning to write as a non-native speaker.   Thanks again for the tips. Quick question about writing: are you particular about what kind of pen you use?  For example, I don't really like writing with a ballpoint pen because I can't approximate the stroke very well.

Actually I recently purchased a "Sharpie pen" which is a fine tipped marker.  It's my favorite thing to write with.  Glad that I bought two.  Writing with a ballpoint pen is not fun, and the last thing I need when writing many thousands of characters is to make it not fun.  I also bought graph paper notebooks to write on.

Plenty of people have learned without Heisig, but I found it takes a significant burden of organization and planning away from my efforts.

That's good to know that a Sharpie pen works well.  I was just looking at a calligraphy pen at an art store but it was kind of expensive - wrote beautifully though.  Do they make paper with hanzi squares on it? I feel like I've seen it before but there wasn't any at the art store and they had no idea what I was talking about.   I guess graph paper works just as well when you're writing small.

I have the feeling that Brandon is right about the handwriting. I've started to incorporate it in my practice routine.

I completely moved away from tools like Memrise. I ended up twisting my brain to get the English (!) translation right just to put a card down which really wasn't my purpose of using the tool.

Although I'm using Anki. There's a deck with more than 20,000 sentences, classified by HSK level. I'm exclusively using it on my Android. Whenever I have a moment, I try to read a few sentences. I find learning and recognizing characters in context more useful. For that, Anki's SRS also helps.

I liked Skritter. Unfortunately it is not available for Android (and Flash based, so I can't use the website on my Android). So, for handwriting, I'm back to paper and pen... I'm using "Tuttle Lerning Chinese Characters" for that. I ignore the stories (that's just not how my mind works) but I like the grouping and the breakdown of the characters.


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