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Tips for reviewing Chinese characters

Chinese words, reviewing Chinese, learning Chinese

Learning Chinese characters is something unique to Chinese. The other parts of learning the language works pretty much in the same way as for other language, and if you hear some good advice about how to learn pronunciation in Spanish or improve your listening ability in German, it basically works well for Chinese as well.



But not so with Chinese characters. Learning Chinese characters is different from learning words in most other languages, simply because the link between the written and spoken word is much weaker.



For Chinese, there are phonetic clues in many characters, but you can never be sure how a character is pronounced just by looking at it.



Learning vs. reviewing


One thing many people forget, both students and teachers, is that learning the characters is just the first step.



The real challenge when learning Chinese is to remember the characters and be able to tell them apart. Of course, if you study a character properly, it's likely that you will remember it later, but without reviewing, you will forget.



How to review Chinese characters


There are two important principles you need to be aware of and that you should follow as much as possible.



The first is that the more actively you process what you are reviewing, the better you will remember it.



This means that just looking at a character is not a good way of reviewing. Looking at it and imagining how to write it is better. Seeing a sentence in Chinese with a gap where only the character in question fits is very good, as is seeing the word in English or Pinyin and then having to recall how to write the character. Actively looking for the answer is always better than just looking at the answer. This is why simply reading a book isn't a good way of remembering it, you need to process the content for it.



The second principle is related to time and is called the spacing effect. It basically means that if you put intervals of time between each review, you will remember the character better than if you review the character the same number of times.



This effect has been researched a lot and there are now algorithms that help you space the reviews optimally. These programs are often called SRS or Spaced Repetition Software. A few examples of such programs are Anki and Skritter.

这个效应已经被多次研究,而现在有很多算法可以帮助你优化复习的间隔时间。这些程序常常称为SRS (Spaced Repetition Software, 记忆软件),这类程序的一些例子有Anki和Skritter。


Learning characters is not easy, but remembering them can be even harder. First make sure you actually review characters properly. Second, make sure you review them in an active way. Third, use a program that helps you space the reviews optimally, or find another way of ascertaining that you review enough.



Translated from: about.com

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