There’s no doubt about it, learning any language requires a commitment of time and effort, even more so when there’s a great difference between one’s native language and the new one. Here are some suggestions and on-line materials to maximum your effectiveness, minimize the time spent, and make learning Chinese easier
. Relate new information to material already learned. This is sometimes called “scaffolding.” There are many ways to integrate new items with familiar material. The more connections you can make, the stronger your foundation.
Create either a concept map or a table to analyze parts of characters or group similar characters together. The key is to make the clusters meaningful. Some ideas for creating clusters include
Words that fit into the same pattern
Learn Chinese Ⅲ – Mandarin Chinese
Characters sharing the same radical
Characters sharing the same phonetic component (similar pronunciation)
Characters sharing any other component
Words or characters with a shared idea (such as “places,” “colors,” “activities involved in studying,” “polite language,” etc.)
Create a top-down hierarchical chart breaking a single character into smaller, meaningful components.
Create a mnemonic device to remember the parts of a character. It could be a picture suggested by the character’s strokes (looks like a tall man wearing a hat, standing above the crowd), or a story connecting the components (iron is a metal, the earth-mouth king (king of the mine) used to make spears).
Review within the first 15 minutes after class. Studies have shown that students have much greater retention of learned material if they review briefly right after class.
Preview by reading out loud. The preparation guide tells you what to do each day to prepare for class. On the days when you are to read the textbook dialogue, do so by reading out loud, rather than silently. This way you can practice your speaking and find those words you haven’t quite mastered yet. When it is time to read in class, you will be able to do so easily and smoothly.
Studying a little every day is more effective than studying for a long period just before a test. It’s impossible to learn a language by studying only once a week, even if the study period is very long. Studying one to two hours each day throughout the term will make it easy for you to do well on tests without cramming at the end.
To learn new vocabulary, using several short sessions (a few minutes at a time) is more effective than using one long session. You can use the time while riding the bus, eating breakfast, waiting for class to begin, waiting in line at the grocery store, and even walking across campus, to review new words.
The only way to learn Chinese characters
is to memorize them. Writing will enable you to use motor memory for recall; otherwise characters can be quickly forgotten. Rather than writing one word many times before doing the next one, write each word once or twice then go through the whole list again until you’ve done the required number of repetitions. This will put the new words more firmly in your memory. Make vocabulary flashcards. The physical act of writing reinforces words in your memory, while also giving you an easy way to prepare for tests
. Code cards for word class (verb, noun, etc.) and carry them with you for review during spare minutes. Play on-line games to reinforce character recognition. To prepare for vocabulary quizzes, make a 3-column vocabulary sheet with characters, pinyin, and English definitions. Fold the paper so only one or two columns are showing and take practice written quizzes.
Some find that a 5-minute review before going to sleep enhances memory. The review should be short, and not so late at night that your brain has already gone to sleep, even though your body seems to be awake.
Do the practice drills with a study partner. Have one person read a line, then the other respond without looking at the book. To check understanding, have the first person put the response back into English. Alternate roles every line.
Reading Chinese means understanding by looking at the characters, so cover up the pinyin while reading the text. Write vocabulary notes on a separate page, not on the text. Developing these habits now will make your further study of Chinese much easier.