Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ChinaTown Update (It Works!)

I have not posted anything recently for two reasons: 1) I am improving my incremental reading skills and 2) I have been working on the Chinese version of KanjiTown (A method of remembering Chinese character readings based on chain-stories using a central location). While I am still working on perfecting incremental reading, I finally finished the Chinese version of KanjiTown (Last night, in fact). Here was my three step plan:

Step 1: Learn the keywords of the Hanzi
Step 2: Link groups of keywords with a particular reading
Step 3: Learn vocabulary with ease (Profit!)

Step 1: Learn the keywords of the Hanzi
This involved working through James Heisig's "Remembering the Hanzi" book. Because I had already finished "Remembering the Kanji," this book was not very difficult. Many hanzi I already learned as kanji, I simply had to associate a different keyword with them.

Step 2: Link groups of keywords with a particular reading
To do this, I needed a list of the Hanzi along with their readings. After a bit of searching on the internet, I located this wonderful thread on the "Reviewing the Kanji" forums. The thread contains a spreadsheet of the Hanzi/Kanji covered in "Remembering the Hanzi." The spreadsheet contains the keyword assigned to each Hanzi, along with the corresponding reading (Woo hoo!). This spreadsheet allows you to organize Hanzi based on their reading.

Next, I spent a number of very long days studying at home or at the library, creating a story-chain for each reading, using a different location for each different reading. Keep in mind, the connection between the reading and the location does not have to be significant or meaningful. All we need is a connection, no matter how loose.

With the above sentence in mind, let's look at the reading "dian." "Dian" is used on a number of characters, but one of them is the character for "electricity." I have been to the Hoover Dam before, and the Hoover Dam is used to generate a great deal of electricity. Thus, I decided that "Hoover Dam" would be the location for all characters pronounced "Dian." Again, this connection is purely based on my own version of "six degrees of separation" so logic isn't necessarily required to create such a connection, as long as some sort of connection is established.

Here are my entries for Dian: (Note that each word in CAPS is a keyword assigned to the Hanzi)
Hoover Dam generates a great deal of ELECTRICITY 電
There are some shady men working at the Hoover Dam STORE 店.
These mischievous men decide to paint SPOTS 點 all over the smooth surface of the Hoover Dam. This causes the ELECTRICITY to go out (The Hoover Dam doesn't like looking bad, so it shuts down until it looks pretty again) .
These employees are going against the "CANON 典 of Hoover Dam Employee Code of Conduct Handbook." The police in the area are constantly on the lookout for these men.

Now, these four characters (典點店電) are all associated with each other, the connection being "Hoover Dam."
One thing to keep in mind: A single long and flowing story that incorporates all of the characters seems to work better than a series of bullet-points, such as "Hoover Dam has a STORE." "Hoover Dam has ELECTRICITY." "Hoover Dam has SPOTS," etc.
Each Chinese character should be a smaller part of a larger story. This also makes it easier to "expand" each story when you need to learn new Chinese characters.

The one flaw (Although I would argue that it is minor in significance) is that this system of reading memorization does not include memorization of tones. I have tried memorizing the tone AND the reading for quite some time, but none of the mnemonic efforts bore fruit, just a haze of noisy images that I could never recall with clarity. Even though I did not deliberately try to memorize tones, I had no problems recalling the appropriate tone when I spoke words that I had memorized (Using the ChinaTown/KanjiTown method). Why is this? I am no scientist, but I postulate that my brain treats tones in a similar way it treats sense stress in English or Japanese.

In English, there are certain syllables that are stressed. One does not say "memoRIZE" or "meMORize," but the word is stressed "MEMorize." Japanese is similar. The greeting "konnichi wa," is not stressed "konNIchi wa," or "konniCHI wa," but "KONnichi WA." I did not realize that I had adopted the correct pattern of sense stress of Japanese until I noticed incorrect uses of sense stress when spoken by other foreigners (I recall thinking "That doesn't sound right"). I do not think TONES are minor in significance, but the need to deliberately memorize them does not seem necessary; I highly doubt correctly recalling tones will be very problematic to the point that it requires another 1,500 flashcards to "patch up." I will update you on my progress.

Now that "ChinaTown" is complete (At least until Heisig releases a second book), it is quite easy to learn new vocabulary words. How? Simply learn new words as combinations of keywords: 手机 (Cell Phone) is "Hand - Machine." How do you pronounce it? Well, "Hand" is located in Tokyo Tower (Shou) and "Machine" is located in a big metropolitan area I visited while in Japan (Ji). So that's got to be "shou ji." I already know the correct tones for 手机 because I have used the characters in other words before, so it is not too difficult know how to properly stress the word (Shou3ji1).
词典 is WORD - CANON or "dictionary" (ci2dian3)
"Ci" is the boat from the popular Playstation 2 game "Metal Gear Solid 2" and "dian" is "Hoover Dam," as described above.

In the end, learning new vocabulary feels like stringing together quotes from a personal movie collection; the more words you learn, the more those mnemonic "movies" stick in your brain. Learning new words, reading, even guessing at words you haven't learned yet are enjoyable journeys as you explore a giant mnemonic landscape. Like building a bridge, it takes time, but in the end the benefits are immense and gratifying.

Along those lines, I remember the kanji section in the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). A number of the kanji test questions consisted of four different characters, each differing slightly from the other (Usually by only a few strokes). As I looked at each kanji, as if talking to them I would say "OK, you're in the desert, you're at the lighthouse, you're at the zoo and you're in downtown Tokyo. The correct answer is clearly x, because it's at the lighthouse." I easily breezed through the kanji section with much time to spare, all because I knew the kanji and their distinct meanings and locations so well. I'm starting to feel the same way about Chinese; and since Chinese is more dependent more on characters than Japanese (And Chinese characters usually have just ONE way of reading it), I have a feeling that my Chinese proficiency will greatly increase from now on.
When there is something worth updating, I'll post something.

(I just hit 50,000 flashcards in my Supermemo database. Yay for numbers!)
Also, here is a song by Jonsi (The singer in the Icelandic band "Sigur Ros"):

UPDATE: I just got a response from the author of Remembering the Hanzi. Right now "Remembering the Hanzi 2" is over 80% finished, and hopefully it will be completed over the summer of this year. Therefore, while I might learn the readings of a few significant characters, I will wait until the new book to "take the jump" to 3,000 characters.