Mnemonics - come and share!

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Mnemonics - come and share!

Postby Junesun » 2005-09-13, 9:46

I found that some Chinese characters are very difficult to memorise if you don't know what their parts mean, still difficult to memorise if you know that it's really a radical plus an outdated pronunciation hint and really easy to memorise if you make an explanation or a little story around them. For this reason, I'd like to invite everybody to share mnemonics for Chinese characters or words here. Not the official etymology (unless it really helps) but just things that you imagined in order to be able to memorise the characters or words. The crazier or funnier, the better - at least that's what neurolinguists tell us.

I'll write down some that I could just think of, in the order character - pinyin - translation - components - explanation/story:
矮 ai3 small arrow/grain/woman A few centuries ago, a woman was pursued by some bad people who shot arrows at her, forcing her to hide under/among the grain of a field. She made herself small (crouching) in order to be able to hide better.
罢 ba4 go on strike eye/go Eyeing your pile of work and then deciding to go away = go on strike
本 ben3 trunk/origin wood/- If you accept that 木 is the depiction of a tree, the extra line draws attention to the trunk of the tree, which is also the origin of all branches.
接 jie1 fetch hand/hold/woman A female relative of yours is visiting your country for the first time. Of course you're going to the airport, take her by the hand and fetch her to your home.
休 xiu1 relax human/tree To lean against a tree after a tiring race outdoors = to relax
续 xu4 formalities silk/sell Silk used to be a lucrative commerce that not everybody was allowed to trade in. I'm sure it required a lot of formalities to get permission to sell silk.
椅 yi3 chair wood/strange Come to think of it, a chair is actually a very strangely-shaped piece of wood, definitely not something you can find in nature.
早 zao3 early sun/+ The sun is rising ( | ) above the horizon ( -- ) in the early morning.
澡 zao3 shower/bathe water/3 mouths/wood 3 young children are supposed to bathe, but, like many children, they don't want to and scream (-> 3 open mouths) as they see the water in the wooden bath-tub.

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Postby Alcadras » 2005-09-13, 11:42

i like your topic.
本 seems like pair of sceles , balance.

早 seems like scarecrow.

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Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-09-13, 12:23

Wow :shock:, if you try to find a way to remember every character you want to learn, you'll end up losing much more time trying to figure out a mnemonic method than actually learning the characters, and you won't learn very quickly for sure... :lol:
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Postby Junesun » 2005-09-13, 13:26

勺园之鬼 wrote:Wow :shock:, if you try to find a way to remember every character you want to learn, you'll end up losing much more time trying to figure out a mnemonic method than actually learning the characters, and you won't learn very quickly for sure... :lol:


No, actually I found that I couldn't memorise e. g. "xu" or "zao3"(shower) as long as I saw it as an abstract combination of lines. And even though "ai3" was one of the characters I learned first, during my latest revision I wanted to write it with "day" instead of "arrow". On the other hand, once I had found some mnemonics, committing them correctly to memory was a piece of cake.

This isn't necessary with all characters, e. g. I very easily learned "cao1"(do gymnastics) once I knew "zao3". Also, some abstract characters just stuck in my memory for no apparent reason, like "dei3"(must).

Creating a mnemonic from scratch might take time if you're not very creative, you're right. But for characters that you can't memorise or can't correctly memorise otherwise, it's definitely worthwhile to think of a mnemonic. And who says you have to think of mnemonics all by yourself? Let's share our mnemonics here and perhaps we'll all be able to learn a couple of characters without effort!

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Postby Alcadras » 2005-09-13, 13:54

本 it also looks like a tent which belongs to the teenagers,who is camping :D

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Postby Aymeric » 2005-09-13, 16:03

偷 to steal : a man who enters into a house, the inside of the house it lit by the moonlight, and he is armed with a knife (bad intentions...)
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Postby Car » 2005-09-13, 18:04

Junesun wrote:And who says you have to think of mnemonics all by yourself? Let's share our mnemonics here and perhaps we'll all be able to learn a couple of characters without effort!


If you can't find them online and aren't creative, you can also find books dealing with this. Just by browsing through two books I could already remember a few characters (and could point at them in texts and say "that means 'mountain'", for example). I don't know the Chinese (or Japanese, since one book deals with both) pronunciation for them, but I didn't have a look at that since I don't study the language (yet, I hope).
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Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-09-13, 20:45

Junesun wrote:No, actually I found that I couldn't memorise e. g. "xu" or "zao3"(shower) as long as I saw it as an abstract combination of lines. And even though "ai3" was one of the characters I learned first, during my latest revision I wanted to write it with "day" instead of "arrow". On the other hand, once I had found some mnemonics, committing them correctly to memory was a piece of cake.

This isn't necessary with all characters, e. g. I very easily learned "cao1"(do gymnastics) once I knew "zao3". Also, some abstract characters just stuck in my memory for no apparent reason, like "dei3"(must).


That is the point actually. If you want to learn Chinese, you need either a very good visual memory (thanks God, I am quite lucky to have a very good visual memory) or as you mentioned, a few tricks to make characters stay in your mind.

Junesun wrote:Creating a mnemonic from scratch might take time if you're not very creative, you're right. But for characters that you can't memorise or can't correctly memorise otherwise, it's definitely worthwhile to think of a mnemonic. And who says you have to think of mnemonics all by yourself? Let's share our mnemonics here and perhaps we'll all be able to learn a couple of characters without effort!


I understand your vision, yet from my own experience, I believe that the best is to learn a few hundreds characters (among the most used ones) and then proceed to others, which are necessarily compounds of characters you already studied, or even better, parts of characters you already studied.
I am not criticising this mnemonic method per se, yet I believe it would be even more efficient if people focus on the real etymology instead of comparing Chinese characters or radicals to drawings; which they are anyway at first; so why not using the prime origin of these characters to learn them? :D
You gave a good example when explaining 本 is merely 木 (tree, wood) with an extra line at the bottom, which does mean this character refers to root. This is one of the very few ideograms among Chinese characters; this is also why its pronunciation (ben3) is completely unrelated to 木 (mu4).

I know you understand my remark on how making up a few mnemonic ways to remember a character is pointless as Chinese characters were already elaborated according to a pattern of evolution which can serve as a mnemonic way to study the language... The best, according to me, is to study Chinese the way young students do it: they already know the pronunciation and meaning of every character; the meaning of a given character is only another data we have to add when studying a given character.
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Postby Car » 2005-09-14, 8:32

勺园之鬼 wrote:I am not criticising this mnemonic method per se, yet I believe it would be even more efficient if people focus on the real etymology instead of comparing Chinese characters or radicals to drawings; which they are anyway at first; so why not using the prime origin of these characters to learn them? :D


Does it always work with its etymology? One of my books (which teaches the radicals only) uses it by showing how the character developped over time with a text explaining it even more, helping you to really see what it's supposed to be so that it's more likely to stay in your head.
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Postby Junesun » 2005-09-14, 10:39

Car wrote:
勺园之鬼 wrote:I am not criticising this mnemonic method per se, yet I believe it would be even more efficient if people focus on the real etymology instead of comparing Chinese characters or radicals to drawings; which they are anyway at first; so why not using the prime origin of these characters to learn them? :D


Does it always work with its etymology? One of my books (which teaches the radicals only) uses it by showing how the character developped over time with a text explaining it even more, helping you to really see what it's supposed to be so that it's more likely to stay in your head.


For me it doesn't always work with etymology. Especially when the simplified characters use different parts than the traditional ones, when the phonetic part of a radical+phonetic character no longer sounds at all like it should or when reference is made to a character that I never saw before, e. g. for that bird that's supposed to be part of shei2/shui2.

That's when mnemonics come into play: if the original background isn't colourful or comprehensible enough to help with the memorisation, your own stories will certainly be.

Car: I know those books, I have a few myself. I can also recommend to you http://www.zhongwen.com, which is really a great reference for what characters are made of. Sometimes they also give hints as to how the parts could relate to each other to form the meaning, but not always.

Aymeric: thanks for that suggestion. This is just the kind that helps me learn characters very quickly if not instantly.

勺园之鬼: Unfortunately I'm not gifted with a good memory of pictures. I tend to remember the meaning of a picture rather than the exact looks, just like I tend to remember the meaning of a story rather than the exact words. I have immense difficulty memorising something that consists only of appearance, such as definitions or poetry. That's why I put sense into Chinese characters in order to memorise them. Perhaps a different method is easier for you, but this one works better for me.

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Postby Aymeric » 2005-09-14, 11:39

By the way, I've been wondering how come almost all characters depicting body parts use the radical of the moon ?
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Postby Car » 2005-09-14, 12:15

Junesun wrote:For me it doesn't always work with etymology. Especially when the simplified characters use different parts than the traditional ones, when the phonetic part of a radical+phonetic character no longer sounds at all like it should or when reference is made to a character that I never saw before, e. g. for that bird that's supposed to be part of shei2/shui2.


I see.

Car: I know those books, I have a few myself. I can also recommend to you http://www.zhongwen.com, which is really a great reference for what characters are made of.


Thanks for the link! I have Edoardo Fazzioli's "Gemalte Wörter" (the Italian original is called "Caratteri Cinesi") which tells something about the history of the language before it teaches the radicals. These are grouped into themes. After an overwie over the group, each radical looks like that. In the top left, the way it's read, below that the translation. Right to it the radical which is big enough to see it clearly (really big). Below, there's a picture which has to do with the radical and the way it developped. Then there's a quite long text (all in all, one radical takes one page) which picks the etymology up again. The stroke order with numbers standing for what kind of stroke it is (a description can be found earlier) follows, as well as the radical in a square to help you get it right. At the end, there are characters derived from it with their reading and their translation. There's more than that, all in all, it looks extremely good!

Then I have "Edith W. Lewald"'s "Nicht überall schreibt man mit ABC" for both Chinese and Japanese. After a quite lengthy introduction and background information, it starts with the characters: The character and its translation, but no pronunciation. Here, too, a text explains it further, pictures are used to go from the picture we're used to to the character. If a character is made of several ones, is one is given with its meaning. Not as great as the other book, but it has other characters. At the end, there are characters for tatoos, typically Chinese/ Japanese characters and a few other things.

In Kauderwelsch "Spaß mit Sprachen", there's an extract (at least I thought so, but maybe it isn't) where they have the character, it's Chinese and Japanese pronunciation and mnenomic tricks to help you remember them.

Which ones do you have?
Please correct my mistakes!

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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-09-14, 14:59

Aymeric wrote:By the way, I've been wondering how come almost all characters depicting body parts use the radical of the moon ?

From Wenlin:

When you see a character which contains the component 月, it might be from 月 yuè 'moon', or it might be from 肉 ròu 'meat', or, in a few cases, from 舟 zhōu 'boat'.

So, in the case of the parts of the body, it's actually 肉. E.g.:

胳臂 gēbei arm

胳: from 月(肉 ròu) 'flesh' and 各 gè phonetic.
臂: from 辟 bì phonetic and 月(肉 ròu) 'flesh'.
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Postby jonathan » 2005-09-17, 16:14

As they say in English, "Different strokes for different folks."

英语在他们说、”不同摸给不同人。“

(sorry my translation sucks... I'm just a beginner!)
Jonathan / ジョナサン / 조나단 / 乔纳森 / Giònata / Jônatas / Jonatã / Jonathas / Jonátan / โจนาธาน / Jónatan

中文的名字:天礼

CURRENTLY ATTEMPTING: English, 中文 (普通话), 日本語, tiếng Việt.

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Postby Junesun » 2005-09-17, 17:09

Car, I also have "Gemalte Wörter". Then I have "What's in a Chinese Character" and "Etymology of Chinese Characters". I also had a book by Berlitz whose name I forgot, I lend it to a friend... it was generally about languages and dedicated one chapter to Chinese characters. It's what got me interested in learning Chinese in the first place.

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Postby Car » 2005-09-17, 19:06

Junesun wrote:Car, I also have "Gemalte Wörter". Then I have "What's in a Chinese Character" and "Etymology of Chinese Characters". I also had a book by Berlitz whose name I forgot, I lend it to a friend... it was generally about languages and dedicated one chapter to Chinese characters. It's what got me interested in learning Chinese in the first place.


Can you tell me more about those books?
Please correct my mistakes!


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