Mandarin Experiments and Insights

This is the second time I have learned around 1000 characters and got the feeling that I was selling myself short by learning this way. I’ve always been good at making connections between things in my learning and I think I have made another one.

I’m sure this will be obvious to some people, it’s kind of common knowledge, but I’ll say it. In Chinese, the radicals often give a clue to the meaning of the character. Some radicals like the water radical or the hand radical, are used for around 200 characters each in the most common 3000. The characters with the hand radical mostly have to do with actions you make with your hand like tying a knot or climbing or beating someone. The characters with the radical water are things like ocean, and juice. A lot of the characters with the woman radical interestingly enough have to do with marriage and family. So When I’m learning these characters, I was trying to learn all the characters that used one radical, then all the characters that used another. I started catching on I guess. Also I was getting stressed, I was stressing myself out actually , about learning them all fast.

The next important thing is that most of the characters have more than one meaning so if you are just learning one meaning like people do with rth, you are still only having part of the story. What I am trying to say is that all those people that got fluent after learning rtk actually didn’t have the total grasp of each and every character. Not completely anyways, but pretty good.

What I am suggesting is that a person who is quick to catch on to these connections and become board might need to take learning into their own hands and learn in a way that is more natural for them.

Here is my suggested method.

1) Start off by learning all the 214 radicals.

2) Learn Hanzi using mnemonics RTH style and if you  burn out and feel what  described…

3) Switch to sentences and makes sure when you read you read each radical, each component making a guess based on the radical and any other knowledge you have.

4)At same time as 3 or maybe before, go through the 3000 most common Hanzi in RTH or an online deck and figure out how the radicals are mainly used. Meaning what types of characters each one is mainly used for. Then if there are any characters that deviate from the pattern, learn those RTH style. The rest just learn from sentences as part of other words and phrases.

See I started learning the Hanzi because when I first did the sentences method it felt like the characters were only vaguely learned. I felt I would enjoy it more if I new all the characters. Now after having around 1000 or so I feel like, I don’t need to have ALL the characters, I have enough that I would benefit from sentences. Now that I’ve gotten used to separating the characters into components I would be paying attention to that as I read, not like the first attempt at sentences. So I have around 1000 characters and a good grasp of the radicals and other character components.

This might be an INTP thing so any of you out there y’know… really…catch on to this. Like if you learn well by osmosis or by understanding what your learn rather than rote, you might enjoy this. I also like this just as an argument against this hesig traditionalism that seems to be the tendency. Like, you think you need 3000 characters? Why? Why isn’t 2000 enough? Why not 1000? I know studies say with 3000 you have like 95 % of the characters in modern use or something. However you’ll still be illiterate so that still isn’t an argument for learning 3000 rth style. Once you learn 1000, experiment. If you feel a flow in your learning of sentences and words after only 1000 characters then maybe it’s enough to start with.


Make the mnemonic stories entertaining in one of probably a billion possible ways there are. I will work on compiling a list of ways so I can make my sessions even more fun:

– Sexual
– Rhyming
– Dramatic
– Funny
– Dealing with intellectually stimulating material(physics, sci-fi, ect)
– Use people, places, and things that are personal to you
– Use them to hone literal style like creating funny phrases you can use anywhere
– Scary
– Romantic
– Positive messages
– have a song in your head playing and set the story to the song, or even cue a different song for each card and when the card shows up, think of the song and the story.
– Write a story that reflects something that happened in your day and put the date below so it acts like a journal entry
– Cool pictures
Write a story that reflects a nice memory or even a cool dream
– Use Characters from videogames, movies, and tv shows as primitives and create fan fiction.

Also very important is don’t rush them. Do them all with the intent on enjoying the stories and picturing them. When you do things this way it’s just like daydreaming and you lose track of time because you are focused and enter into a “flow state”. The minute you rush to beat some time limit or anything, your mind starts thinking about the future and everything starts to seem like a drag.

Recently I have been learning the Hanzi going by the 5min per every other hour + 1 minute routine. I have been doing my best to work out all the kinks in studying Hanzi to create a program that allows someone to almost effortlessly learn the 3000 Hanzi or anything else one would want to memorize for personal interest. I started with a variant on the Lazy Kanji Kendo Mod. It is a variant in that I make up my own stories, it’s for hanzi and not kanji, and I don’t have RTH I just use a deck called Taiwan grades 1-8 , aroud 3500 of the most common hanzi.

I have decided to change my approach from story on the front to Hanzi on the front because I realize the hanzi are beginning to run into each other now as my daily volume increases. I need to cards to be more of a test so that I learn them more thoroughly but not so much of a test as vanilla hesieg.

I have also decided I need to visualize the story in my head as in vanilla hesig.

I have also come up with a new concept as I work towards creating a fun method of learning the hanzi. I want to incorporate mindfulness into each work session. The idea here is that mindfulness is where the person focuses on the present moment only. Meaning not thinking about how long they’ve been studying for so far or how much longer they have left. When you are in the present moment, nothing is to hard because it’s only for a moment.

As well, in the present moment, one is better able to focus deeply on aspects of the present like the hanzi or the image the story provides. This concentration is not super intense it kind of flows from an interest that develops in whatever it is you focus on. Focusing on it from different perspectives like visualizing a story with a song playing in your head at the same time. Visualizing the story from a dramatic point of view. This for of observation when paired with being present and not thinking of what you could be doing otherwise, becomes extremely entertaining. Entertaining for the novelty it generates which produces dopamine or the simply the  fun of creating a weird story. When the learning becomes entertaining it becomes effortless as it becomes enhanced. Memory becomes enhanced.

So how does someone with no experience in mindfulness begin? I wont outline everything in this post but I will say that part of what makes it a fool proof method is that it starts of with a really low volume so it’s never hard. if someone were to start with the 5min+1 program and do each work session mindfully, they would be able to build up skill in mindfulness so that they would never find it too much of a challenge.

As well as learning the Hanzi I predict that this way of learning and the skill in mindfulness that develops can be transferred to many other areas in life. This program would simply be opening the door to a more healthy, fun, and enhanced way of learning.

The goal of learning a new language, for most people, is for enjoyment. The reason people quit therefore is because they can’t enjoy it until they know it and knowing it takes along time. So the real problem is people wanting something so they can enjoy it but not being able to put the work in to attain that something first. Therefore there are two problems and so there needs to be two goals.

Basic Goal : Learn new language

Prerequisite Goal : Gain ability to work hard to attain something you only want for fun.

Let’s not make any mistake about it, these are two separate goals and the prerequisite goal needs to be reached first. OTHERWISE IT’S LIKE TRYING TO SHOOT A BASKET BEFORE YOU HAVE THE BALL. The ability to have fun with the language is just that far away that thinking about it as a goal doesn’t even make sense yet. You need to make learning the language a path towards a separate goal that isn’t “having fun with the language”. I guess it’s like compartmentalizing your mind.

So how to do that. I suggest the gradual increase of time spent on the task that you are only working on to attain something you can have fun with. Start with 5 min ever other hour for 5 work/rest intervals daily and increase time spent by 1 minute each day. Couple this with having no other major goals being done for the sake of fun and couple with health, and you have a good method. With a method like this, the goal is increase the amount of time you can study up to 5 hour long sessions. That is the goal. Nothing to do with learning the language.

The mindset has to be there. You can’t be doing the work sessions and thinking about reaching the goal of being able to have fun. That is a separate goal now. You can’t have fun with the language yet and thinking about it will only be upsetting and discouraging. You have to let go of that want and focus on being able to work long enough to get the language first. Once you have the language, or at least the not fun part of it, then you can think about, using what you do have, to have fun. So let me give an example of what you should not do. Don’t try to understand bits and pieces of the language you are learning when you see it out in the wild. It’s will only remind you of how far you are away from being able to have fun. It puts you in a frame of mind where you are depending on something you don’t have yet, for happiness. So when you do your reps, don’t think, oh I gotta do 20 or 30 or however many in this work session. Only think, I have to work for this long at this work session. You really have to let go of learning the language for the fun of it. It wont be fun as a language not for a few months. You can make the learning can be fun which is cool, but it wont be fun for the reason you really want it for. Not yet. You know it will be fun to be fluent. Well fluent is months if not years away so you need to forget all about being fluent or even good, and just learn for the sake of putting in the time.

Well this is just my opinion. If you are like me this information will make sense to you. I’m sure for some people it doesn’t matter how far away a goal is they can still enjoy working towards it as if it was minutes to complete. That just is’nt my experience so I am finding a way around that.

I am using a program I have described earlier. It’s a daily habit and discipline forming routine. The routine is everyday wake up at 8am. First day of program is 8am 5min of work, 10am 5 min of work, 12pm 5 min of work, 2pm 5 min of work, and 4pm 5 min of work. Every day after that you add an extra minute to each work session up to 60min of work per session. This is effective because of the slow build up of duration that you can get use to.

There are requirements for the success of this program though:

It has to be the most important leisure goal in your life. You can have other things more important to you like kids or a job but as far as goals you do for the thrill, the interest, this needs to be the only one or at least by far the most interesting. Otherwise once another goal takes priority, doing this program will start to feel like a burden and that is where burnout will set in.

Also you should maintain good health in all areas including sleep and positive social interaction. Also try not to be hungry or thirsty uncomfortable while doing the worksessions.
Also have a few minor things to keep yourself occupied while in a rest period. I chose video games(ff10) and online streamed tv shows because they can be paused and they are the kinda thing that I find not to hard to pause for a work session. Just something entertaining, like a reward almost and then the routine becomes an excuse to indulge in marathon tv shows or video games. For video games it is important still that it not be something that could be a major goal. If you could play Halo Reach or Call of duty, don’t because it would usually count as a goal because they are very motivating. the video game should be a non-addictive game. I play Final Fantasy 10 cause its solo and there are periods of boring shit but the storyline is awesome and philosophical and relevant and I want to do a post on it sometime. Final Fantasy 10 bottom line is not addictive so I use it.

My observation at six days in is that if I start to think about how many Hanzi I have left to do it is extremely draining. If I even think about this program as a program for learning the Hanzi I feel like shit, I guess because the goal is so big. However If I think of this program as a program for learning persistence and discipline it’s fine. See that difference. And so while I do my reps if I try to get as many reps done in the time I am working I get this very negative feeling. However if I look at it as simply time. Just work for the set amount of time and that is the goal, then It’s fine.

That I would say is the difference between rewarding effort or rewarding results. At least for short term goals within a very large one. So if your goal is to do a certain amount of time, it even if you get less Hanzi learned as long as you still put in the right amount of effort your goal will be reached. It’s like a more visible, more measurable goal. More measurable than a goal of learning say 20 Hanzi where one day that could take 20 minutes and another day it could take 40. Also it makes more sense because the program is one where daily persistence is the ability being improved. I chose to improve daily persistence because it’s more efficient and therefore more motivating than simply working at hanzi for only 10min a day for a year or two. If it is my focus I should put as much time as possible into it and therefore that ability should be trained. If I don’t make it my focus and try to do 10min a day I notice a quickly lose interest and become distracted and then it becomes a burned and I burnout.

Also, the goal is huge, at least compared to my level of sustainable motivation to achieve it and so thinking about the whole goal of 3000 Hanzi is extremely discouraging. So discouraging in fact that I need to have other goals within that one. So increasing persistence is a great one because not only does it shrink the difficulty of the goal as I improve but the ability is transferable to any other field that requires that type of persistence. Therefore when I do the Hanzi I’m not even doing the Hanzi, I’m having fun for one cause I talk to myself while I do them and maybe play music, and I am focused on the mini goals of increased persistence which are goals I achieve daily.

As a (supposed) INTP I think I am prone to be interested
a certain goal but after a time I will lose the motivation.
I will lose interest as I become able to see how everything
will pan out and become accustome to the learning curve.

However, there are goals I’ve had that I have had for maybe a
day or two and gotten tired of. Then there are goals I have had
off and on for my entire life. Learning Chinese is a goal I have
had for my entire life. Well since grade two when I first met
Chinese students my age and begged them to teach me how to
write cool Hanzi.

This past summer I spent a month learning the hanzi at a pace
of 50per day using a psuedo RTH method that was harder than the
real thing. I burned out and have’nt had as much motivation
as that since. At it’s peak I was studying for 4-5 hours a day
in the summer in my bed room and it was hot even with the fan
on and the window open and the AC that does’nt properly
circulate to my room cause my room is perpendicular.

Recently I decided I would attemp to learn the Hanzi at a pace of
5 sentences per day. Reading the sentences and hoping to learn
how to recognize the hanzi from that. I have had success and
am able to read verbally in mandarin and understand about
150 sentences so far. 5/day for 30 days.
During this period thought I had changes of priorety in my life
which led me to be undable to stick to the routine of doing the
hanzi first thing in the morning simply because I had something
of glaring importance to look up on the net.

This planted a small seed of distaste of my everyday reviews
because most days I would have to delay that rush of surfing
the net to answer my life questions, in favour of the hanzi.

The total time on the hanzi shoul dhave only been 15min/day but
because of my slow as computer and indeciciveness in sentence
mining that time grew to around 30min+/day.

This extended time + the urge I’ve had to fight against was I
think a main factor in me losing yet even more steam. This is
because when in order to do one thing, you are forced to deny
yourself somthing else, it creates a bit of maybe resentment.
That might not be the exact word but close enough, it’s an
emotion of distaste that lingers and compounds for everyday
you are put through it.

I will note that somthing as small as denying surfing the net
would not have caused that resentment if I had chose to prioretize
it lower in my prioreties. However it was one of the top things
recently and that was where the problem came. The higher the
priorety you give up for something else, the greater the chance of

In fact, the lady Marissa mayer, of google, says it’s only the
thing that is highest on you prioreties that becomes the thing
you must not give up. It is possible that this past month, surfing
the interenet for information became the highest for me. Infact
I think it had.

Next, the reason I want to write my reason for learning Chinese
is that I do find I lose focus of that reason as I lose interest.
I notice that sometimes when I think of studying Chinese
my mental thought process is, “it’s so predictable now, I simply
keep learning 10/day and in under a year I’ll learn 3000 hanzi.”
This predictablity leads me to think, “wow, if it’s so easy is it
really a goal worth acheiving?” cause the feeling I’ll get is like
the language has lost it’s mystique. It’s like I’ve already learned

However, when I hear Chinese people talking, or see Chinese writing,
all I can think is, I should be able to do that. I’v been learning
of and on for almost 2 years. I could be able to do that already.
I wish I could be talking with them or reading that writing and
just being apart of that environment. I wish I could interact with
the Chinese environment.

In other words, I start to feel like I’ve already conquored the
languge way before I actually have simply because I’ve figured
out a really efficient path to getting there. This is a bit
demotivating because I feel like I’ve achieved the goal. However
I have’nt achieved the goal and this becomes apparent when I
am faced with the irl language I am faced with the truth of
my progress.

So what is happening is along the way, my reason for studying
changes from being able to use it, to knowing how to learn it.
A pseudo goal that I adopted in order to find the most efficient
path to goal achievement. Then I figure out how to learn it, test
my theory for a few months and when I see progress I have reached
the psuedo goal and get bored and want to quit. Then I quit and
some time down the road the real goal smacks me in the face again
when I bump into Chinese people speaking Chinese.

So here are the three major causes of motivational issues
that I have observed in myself and described here:

1) Underestimation of time I will spend (not as huge a deal)

2) Changes of priorety that result in a newly first priorety
being delayed for a previous first priorety that is routine.

3) Change of goal

Know that I have these understandings, here is my solution:

Chinese does’nt have to be the highest priorety but it has to
be the highest pleasure priorety. Meaning it has to be the
highest priorety out of the things I do for the pleasure of them.
I can still apply for jobs or study because I have no urge to
do those things and so delaying them wont be painful or cause
resentment. This means actively changing my prioreties by
swearing off anything of higher priorety, not for ever but until
maybe I finish RTH. Swearing off something in my opinion is the
easiest way to reduce the urge for it, as long as it is’nt health
related which includes social interaction. Marissa Mayer’s
examples of the one thing people just had to do were usually
health related like yoga, sleeping 8 hrs, or time with family.
This is a good way to prioretize because these are things that you
need for health but that you usually would’nt have a compulsion
or urge towards. Surfing the net, videogames, things like these
that can become compulsions are the worst thing to put at first
priorety because with a compulsion you will need it almost
constantly, basically an addiction, and denying yourself
an addiction for something else, will bread resentment for that
something else soooo fast. Cause it’s painful.

You gotta let go of the compulsion first though, it has to be a
willing and complete letting go, like, I’m letting this
go for 4 months. It can’t be, “I’ll only work on the compulsion
when I’m not studying”. The compulsion by it’s very nature is an
something you want to do right now, so you have to give it up
completely before you can even think about giving something
else priorety even if the other thing is only a 10min a day thing.

Second is to autonomously go about the goal of learning Chinese
with the knowledge that it is’nt truely enough to just know
how to get it. I need to actually get it to feel the true joy
I was origionally motivated by. I remember in the summer the
reason why I stopped was’nt really because I could’nt do it
anymore. I had it ingrained as a habit and I cut out anything
else that could become a distraction or a compulsion and
derail my motivation. However my motivation stil derailed because
of the feeling of achieving that pseudo goal. Then I was just
sloggin away with no emotion and actually it was stressful because
I was so afraid of this impending lose of motivation. That
plus the fact I had’nt been working out as regularily caused
a bit of insomnia. So in fear of that grey area I was in where I
had no desire to learn the language anymore made me decide to
quit in hopes that atleast that desire would return so I could
start again later at a slower pace.

Now I know that the lose of desire may come but that it
does’nt really mean I wont enjoy the language once I learn it.
It means I’ve forgotten the origional goal. See I know the
origional goal right now but even now I still don’t really
feel as much desire. I have a bit of desire cause of the rude
awakening of the difference between someone who knows Chinese and
someone who only knows how to know Chinese. I am going to slog
through RTH anyways because I am confident that once I learn
enough of the language that I can use it, it will be amazing
to enter that new world. Also I guess I just don’t want to spend
any more time thinking ” I could know Chinese by now I just have’nt
done it”. I want to have something to show for all my hard work.
That seems like a more negative motivation but it’s basically
learning from a mistake and the goal and the method are all
positive things so it should be fine.

I realize… once again, and I think it will stick this time, that for me to learn a language without sacrificing the enjoyment, I have to go slow. There was a time where I could have gone a bit faster and succeeded but now, after all the burnouts I’ve had, and the change to a less Asian environment, I feel like my tolerance for learning mandarin is much lower. I still feel that spark of interest in the language when I see a character in Chinese and I feel like, wow I wish I knew what that meant. However as soon as I sit down and decide I should be doing constant immersion or                                  20 sentences a day + pronounciations ect, I lose the motivation.

So I think I’m gonna try going as slow as possible, like 5 characters a day or something ridiculous, and just keep up with it. I’ll do like 2 minutes every morning. I know that if I do 2 minutes, the right way, I can learn a lot.

So to maximize ease:
– 2 min sessions(no one would break a sweat)
– focus on one aspect of the language(as much as I hate to let my listening comprehension go down the drain, I`m thinking of the long term and so far my attempts at enjoying the language are  have always been sabatoged by my own illiteracy. I need the literacy, I have been chasing literacy in Chinese since I was 7 actually, and was always the hare. What I need to really succeed in this language is literacy. The written word, and more importantly, the ability to read it, may be the biggest tool in the pursuit of knowledge. IMO all life on earth is a conquest towards knowing what we need to know to be truly happy. I can`t sit around and watch mandodramas all day, or even anime, that is`nt enjoyable enough to me. It may be partly stress of not having a good job that makes me un able to enjoy those things but either way I like to read…a lot. That is my argument for basically abandoning my quest for spoken/written fluency in favor of reading, as part of the easiest method.

To maximize effectiveness:
– 10 cards(enough that there is guessing being done between them)
– Sentences(added context strengthens over all recall ability)
– Traditional characters instead of simplified(cause they look better, are easier to distinguish, and are used in Japanese as well

The most efficient 2 minutes would be the study of sentences in Hanzi as srs cards. Hear is the format I think is most effective.

– Sentence in Hanzi [ full short sentence, 5 – 7 characters ]

– Meaning of full sentence

10 cards per day, or less with reviews, x 356 will be around 3000, 2 years at 3000 is 6000 which is almost what khatz did in 18 months. Of course I maybe add to my daily activity but the 2 min/day should be enough as until I am functionally literate. A year from now I can will be able to read and then Chinese will start to become fun. Might as well get over the hump slowly but surely instead of repeatedly trying to run up the steep slop and rolling back down only to try again with less energy. 2min/day is plently

It’s hard for the hare type to slow down this much. Having to slow down this much makes the goal feel like it’s almost not even worth it. This is the problem tho, this is where you become like your own parent making plans for when you get older, plans you almost couldn’t even care about right now. However you have to look at things logically and you’ll be able to see through the faulty logic. Things like, “What, 3 years from now? but I don’t care about if I’ll know Chinese 3 years from now, I just want to know Chinese now!” That is the type of thinking people need to grow out of. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t failed repeatedly being the hare, to figure this out tho. After being the hare and failing a lot I know now that 3 years later I would enjoy being Fluent in Chinese. I know that If I try to get fluent now or in 5 months it wont work because I don’t want it THAT bad, not THAT bad that I could sustain that want over a 5 month period working really hard. I do know that if I do 2 min every day, that in 3 years I will be very glad I did. So like a parent planning their child’s future almost, I will do it the long and fool proof way. Doing what I know will be good for my future, in a way I can tolerate in the present.