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Remembering Simplified Hanzi 1: How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters Paperback – 30 Oct 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press; 1 New Blg edition (30 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824833236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824833237
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 330,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

James W. Heisig is professor and permanent research fellow at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan. Timothy W. Richardson is coordinator of world language instruction and assistant professor at Brigham Young University Hawaii.


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I already have Tuttle's Learning Chinese Characters: v. 1 which I thoroughly recommend, but thought I'd give this book a go as it seems to promise a different approach.
I have to admit when I first got it there was something very obvious about it that made me think "what on earth??" But then after trying the first few chapters I realised that what I thought was a fundamental flaw is actually a clever approach.

Here's what's missing: you are presented with several hundred of the most common Chinese characters. You are told their meaning. But not how to say them.

There. Told you. Doesn't that sound bizarre? Well that's because it is and yet...

I gave the book a go and let me tell you, the trick works. By the end of the first couple of chapters I knew many more characters than I did using other methods because I was focusing on recognising them, not pronouncing them. The idea is that once you have the characters stored in your brain you can start to focus on how to actually say them later, and it's an approach that really seems to work.
I came back from Singapore at the weekend and while I was there I found I was able to recognise the characters I'd seen in this book, and figure out what they meant on signs, far more reliably than characters I'd encountered through, say, the Tuttle book where I was simultaneously learning the character, it's meaning and its pronunciation.

This book encourages you to work quickly, and I'd say it's a good approach. Read the character, write it a couple of times, move on. That's all it needs.
The book is organised intelligently.
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Amongst Japanese learners Heisig's kanji book is generally very well known, and includes a very large online community. This adaption to Chinese is much less well known, as evidenced by the total lack of reviews here. I guess most people who buy it will be people who have already learnt some kanji the Heisig way, and want to do the same with Hanzi so they can make as much use as possible of the overlap between the two.

In brief, the book's method is to organise 1500 chinese characters into a made-up logical system of interlocking sub-parts which you remember using silly little stories about genies, celebrities, santa claus, etc. Heisig's method is very controversial because:

a) it usually ignores the historical explanation of characters in favour of total fiction, assigning to elements fairly arbitrary meanings
b) the arbitrary meanings often feature American slang and the bible, as a result of the author being both American and Christian. This is rather anti-thetical to immersing yourself in Chinese culture and history, and particularly annoying if you are a European athiest
c) the characters are not introduced in order of frequency, but rather in order of learning different sub-parts of characters (sometimes but not always these are radicals) and then combining these sub-parts with those you have already learned in different ways.
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I started learning chinese to go on holiday, and had no intention of learning to read and write- which I had heard was next to impossible to do.
A seemingly eccentric man recommended me this book in a bookshop. I was slightly sceptical, but once I tried it, I was hooked! In under 6 weeks, working a full time (v. demanding) job NOT related to learning chinese, I have already got 700 characters learnt. I say this so that you know you this works even if you are snatching study time on buses and London tube trains!
For many people the strange thing is the lack of pronunciation, but this is given in the index, and it is a very fair point that chinese is not an alphabetical language, but a symbolic one. I have found that I am picking up vocabulary faster, since starting to learn characters.
If you want to learn characters fast, then this is the way to go! It does still take effort to learn but the reward of progress is a great motivator.
Buy, buy, buy, and I now realise what the strange man in the bookshop was going on about!
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I pretty much agree with Mr. James Gregory's review (23 April 2011). My extra thoughts based on my own efforts to learn Mandarin: Positives: 1/ The logical order given by this book allowed me to work efficiently through the characters, and I absorbed many valuable tips about how the appearance of the primitives (character building blocks) change depending on their position in the character, and I had many "ahaah!" moments when I encountered a character I thought I knew, only to discover I didn't. 2/ It was interesting and productive for me to try the story method for memory retention. Definitely a technique I will continue to use.
Negative: memorising 1500 characters is a neat party trick, but it seems to me to be most useful if you already have good conversational Mandarin, thus enabling you to immediately use the characters in reading and writing. (Also 1500 chars might be useful if you are about to go to learn in China, or go on a full time university course, where you are flung into an immersive environment). Otherwise you have memorised 1500 characters with Keywords which may be only obscurely related to the meanings, and for which you don't know the associated words (i.e. real words made up of 2+ chars). Therefore you still can't read with understanding, or write sentences. I am learning Chinese part-time, and I got half way through the book and realised there was no suitable reading material for me with which to practice, and despite what the author says, I did not think the characters would stay in the memory forever if not used. And if I stopped half way through, I would have learned to write chars like “Superfluous”, but still not encountered “You” and “Me”.
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