As I have kids myself, I have just recently looked for fun, easy and playful methods for my young children to learn a few chinese characters in their past time.
The ambition was not too overload them with more schooling, nor was the objective to get them to speak chinese up to a certain level in a set time frame. Clearly my “hidden” goal was to stimulate their learning agility by exiting them about calligraphy, about writing and reading chinese characters for fun.
My own motivation in this area is based on my own experience. When I was studying Chinese at university in my early 20s I noticed an impact on my learning agility in other fields such as a better and faster understanding of other foreign languages and even mathematics. Since then I have followed the academic research in this field to see if my personal observations were valid. Also Chinese reported the same observations when they studied a phonetic language such as Portugese or English. The same effect on the other hand did not occur when I had learned English, French and Russian previously.
I came across three research projects that showed a link between learning chineses characters and an increase in the Intelligence quotient IQ, an improvement of mathematical skills and a support to children in second grade with reading problems (see the list of scientific research at the bottom of this blog post ). Yet I have not come across any research that would confirm the personal observations of my chinese friends. The unanswered scientific question remains if the learning agility of a chinese child will increase as well when learning a phonetic language?
The approach I use is based on the following methods:
a) Baker/baker paradox and loci-method Reference: How to train your mind to remember anything
b) Minimal invasive education approach by Sugata Mitra
c) Swarm creativity and intelligency by Peter Gloor
d) Inner Game coaching by Timothy Gallwey and media education approach by Prof. Dr. Klaus Jantke
For this fun project I use several methods.
One method is based on story telling, This also works very well with pre-school children. I have written a short story where I introduce related chinese characters which I selected from the most frequently used chinese characters list. Did you know that the same 152 chinese characters can make up to about 50% of any chinese text ?
The example: The Story of the lonesome human being and The story of the sun
Besides having fun it is important for children to build confidence. In the first warm up I show them three characters, that are quite easy to remember.
It is the number 1: 一 yī. Then I ask how would a chinese child write the number 2 and I show it: 二 èr and then I let them guess how to write the number 3: sān. Additionally to help them remember the pronounciation you could tell a very short story. One day a little girl walked to school and on her way suddely she saw a monster. The little girl shouted “eehh“(yī) and the monster said “errrr” (èr). But when the “sun” (san) came out the monster ran away.
Example: Speed Learning Chinese in 5 Minutes – 3% of all Chinese Characters used in any text – learn 5 Strokes, which make up 6 characters and represent 78 English words. This builds quickly the confidence and shows that it is not so difficult and complex as it people in the West are saying.
The story telling element is based on the research findings on the Baker / Baker paradox and builds as well on the technics used by the world memory champions.
In the Baker / Baker paradox research psychologist showed a photograph of a person with the name Baker to the research participants. One group were told the name of the person and the other group instead were informed about that the profession of this person is a baker. A few days later when they showed the photograph of Mr. Baker again to the different members of the groups, the one who were told about the profession were much more likely to remember the name of Mr. Baker. To quote the world memory champion Joshua Foer: “If you want to make something memorable, you first have to make it meaningful.” Reference. This demonstrates why stories about chinese characters work so well for children.
The second time I will read the story and I will not show the characters again. Instead I will have all the chinese characters of the story shuffeled as cards on the table.
Now I ask the children based on the relevant part in the story to pick the right character. Astoundingly in one event a five year old boy selected all chinese characters in the correct order.
What I also like to do is a short association guessing game. If I show them the chinese character for tree, what would three trees in a chinese character stand for ? Answer should be forest.
What is also working with younger children as well is to give them the chinese characters in the correct order in the way they were introduced in the story and ask to them to retell the story.
For children who are comfortable in painting I introdue the loci-method (memory palace). I let them draw their favorite house, room with whatever they put inside or related to the story I have just read. In order to memorize the characters I let them place the characters on the picture. This is a fun exercise once they master more than 50 characters.
From time to time I also show them one character and ask them to describe the character and build their own little story to remember the character.
For older kids I have more challenging options. I let them in a group of maximum 5 children come up with their own mind map of the characters in the story or of the 152 character list. For them to identify characters that are similar is like playing a puzzle.
The other challenge is to ask them to try and form short sentences out of the chinese characters in the story. They can use google search to validate if this combination exits and use google to translate it.
Further I give them new not known chinese characters which are similar and have them come up with their own chinese characters stories.
After a few session I introduce the Chinese Radicals. I let them first analyse some more complex characters and ask them identify smaller parts that made up the character and also if they have seen this subpart somewhere else used as a character.
When they are more advanced and know the radicals I ask them to construct their own characters out of the radicals. We then look these constructed characters up in the dictionary and see if they exist.
The other question I give the older children is to think about, why chinese characters do not use triangles and circles and what are the basic strokes they can identify and why we use the alphabet instead and who invented the chinese writing. I let them explore with the help of the internet in groups of maximum 5. This is based on the minimum invasive education approach by Sugata Mitra. See Self Organized Learning System.
Once they know at least 100 characters I let them read chinese children song and textbooks. The characters they do not know they can look up via google and the wiktionary.
The key of the activities is to have fun and never ask them to learn, just to enjoy the activity. This is where Gallwey and the research of Prof. Jantke come into play. Never should there be a goal or objective to how many characters they learn in the period of the activities nor a test how many they learned. This will build gradually their confidence and increase their motivation.
I also would ask them once they are quite comfortable with Chinese characters to come up with their own little games and what else they could do to have fun. This is then using the so called swarm creativity (Peter Gloor) of the kids in the room for new types of activities.
If you had any other fun activity and method to share in the comment section, this would add to the swarm creativity of how best to learn chinese characters in a fast, fun and easy way. Thank you.
I just found another great example of a fast and easy way to learn Chinese.
“Learning Chinese in 7 Minutes” Ted Talk by ShaoLan. Linkedin Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/heidihsueh
Example that ShaoLan shared with the audience. Fascinating.
My kids (9 + 5 years) just learned eight characters in 2 Minutes.
First Row: 1) Fire 2)Tree 3)Sun 4)Moon
Second Row: 5)Human Being 6)Mouth 7)Door 8)Mountain
Ted ShaoLan Chineasy Ted Talk on Youtube:
Ted ShaoLan Ted Talk: Learn to read Chinese … with ease!
Excellent discussions below the talk on Chinese Characters and how to learn.
And ShaoLan Hsueh has more examples here: http://www.chineasy.org/
…..more insights and examples to follow soon. Results of a very interesting project… blog post is in progess…
Telling a story with Chinese Characters –
a) The Story of the lonesome human being
b) The story of the sun
d) The story of the tree
d) The stroy of the heart
e) The story of the roof
f) The story of the mouth
If you have created similar stories would you like to share the link to your story or even guest post. email to: email@example.com . Thank you.
Example on Youtube:
The Story of Chinese Character : 卜
(2014) Ping Li et al. learning Chinese leads to rapid improvement of gray matter density and white matter integrity. Reference
(1975) Alan Watts in Tao, The Watercourse Way, page 11: Rozin, Poritsky and Sotsky University of Pennsylvania showed that school children in the second grade who had reading deficits could learn to read and write simple chinese sentences in just four weeks time. Reference: Rozin, Paul, Susan Poritsky and Raina Sotsky: “American Children with Reading Problems Can Easily Learn to Read English Represented by Chinese Characters”. In: Science, 26. March. 1971.
(2005) “Learning to read 2,500 pictorial symbols, as Chinese students do in grade school, yields a 5-point advantage on IQ tests, compared with the scores of Westerners whose languages are based on alphabets.”
Andreas Demetriou of the University of Cyprus, Nicosia led the greek and chinese reserach team. Reference
120 greek and 120 chinese children with equal gender distribution and family backgrounds took part in the research. “The two groups showed roughly equal intelligence at eight years old. By twelve years old, however, the Chinese children tested significantly higher for spatial problems.” Reference
(1987) Irene Miura, lead psychologist. Research on mathematical learning agility between US children, chinese children and koren children. Reference.
(2005) Further research shows that the capability to write chinese characters is key in learning to read chinese and is therefore different to learning to read alphabetical languages.
“Here we show that the ability to read Chinese is strongly related to a child’s writing skills and that the relationship between phonological awareness and Chinese reading is much weaker than that in reports regarding alphabetic languages.” Reference
(2013) Dyslexics children: parents report to Shaolan Hsueh how learning chinese characters helped their dyslexics children see facebook “chineasy”
If you aware of any other similar research results or individual observations please share in the comment section of this blog post. Thank you.
James Heisig discovered the fastest way to learn chinese characters – Shaolan Hsueh’s approach is similar.
See: Remembering the Hanzi
A very similar approach as the one of Shaolan Hsueh was develop in 2007 by Jakob Hirzel. See Lenaia. This sites has over 1200 pictorial mnemonics and also teaches chinese grammar in an engaging way.
Tuttle Learning Chinese
Uses stories children can relate to. This book covers the 800 most common Chinese characters that are necessary for the HSK Level A exam.
Chinese for Smart Kids: Chinese for Kids Age 3-8
Stepping Stones at Clavis Sinica
If you want to study the 300 most used commen chinese characters using simple text and poems go to Clavis Sinica: Stepping Stones
Kaiming Guoyu (开明国语)
This is the best seller in China to teach Chinese Children to read.
More details here
1) Chinese Writing Games
2) Chinese for Kids: Animation of Chinese Characters
3) Chinese for Kids: Online Reading
4) Activity Builder:Practical Chinese Reader Vocabulary
5) Learn to write Chinese characters (stroke order animated)
6) Easy way to learn Chinese with Children Songs
7) Arch Chinese: online Chinese learning system crafted by Chinese teachers in the United States for Mandarin Chinese language learners at K-12 schools and universities
8) Animated intro into Chinese Writing Dikk Kelly
9) Writing Chinese Charakters Stroke Order and pronounciation
10) Basic Eight Strokes
11) Chinese Character Canon – 4 Characters per picture
12) Chinese Characters Mindmap
13) Turbo Chinese
14) Valid Pinyin Initials and Finals Combination Table
15) Learning Chinese in Budapest, Hungary
16) Children Learning Chinese Q&A on Linkedin
17) Traditional Texts for Children and Young Adults
18) Chinese Children’s Stories: Chinese Reading Practice
19) Learn chinese for kids through a Chinese Song “Mom is the best in the world”
20) Chinese Children’s Songs
21) Chinese English Talking Dictionary
22) Qianzi Wen – a thousand Character Essay
23) Best Chinese Websites
24) Chinese Made Easy For Kids
25) Chinese for Kids Learning Resources List
26) The most common Chinese Characters in order of frequency
27) Learning to See Chinese Characters (Meaning)
28) 152 Most Used Characters
30) Frequency Statistics of Chinese Characters
32) BBC A better way to learn Chinese
33) Network and Meaningful Learning of Chinese Characters
34) Efficient learning strategy of Chinese characters based on network approach
35) The Network of Chinese Characters
Tags: about.com, BBC, Beijing Normal University, Budapest, chineasy, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese characters, Chinese Text Computing, Clavis Sinica, Dartmouth, David James Scott, dyslexia, dyslexic, Feng Zikai, Hanzi, HSK Level A, IQ, Jakob Hirzel, James Heisig, Jinshan Wu, Joshua Foer, Kaiming Guoyu, Learning agility, Lenaia GmbH, mnemonic, NihaoHello, Patrick Hassel Zein, Peter Gloor, Pinyin, Qianzi Wen, Qiu Gui Su, saurabh sharma, ShaoLan, Sugata Mitra, Timothy Gallwey, TOCFL, Tuttle, Ye Shengtao, YellowBridge, 开明国语课本