DePaul University

From the SelectedWorks of Li Jin


Review of the books Remembering simplified
hanzi 1: How not to forget the meaning and
writing of Chinese characters & Remembering
traditional hanzi 1: How not to forget the meaning
and writing of Chinese characters, by J. Heisig &
T. W. Richardson)
Li Jin

Available at:

Each book is comprised of three main sections. each character or primitive element is presented within a consistent frame. and primitive meaning (other real or fabricated meaning of this character to be used in the book to help associate other characters with this element). are introduced. Honolulu. Clear transition and elaborate explanation are provided when lessons delivered with different memorization methods. W. W. story or plot to help remember the character form. TIMOTHY. stroke order. HEISIG. the approach deployed in the books is successful. Each lesson also starts with a helpful explanation of the themes to be covered. 2009. TIMOTHY.000 most frequently used Chinese characters plus 500 less commonly used but easy characters in texts. the index of characters by number of strokes. plots. These methods gradually providing full stories. University of Hawaii Press. which is easy to access and proceed. Each character in both books is presented within a frame containing the character’s frame number (order of appearance in the book). the set of books are aimed to help learners who only plan to learn how to write and understand the meaning of most frequently used characters in Chinese texts. The books are very thoughtfully organized. which equips users with a rational background to understand how to appropriately use the books. key word (key meaning in English). and elements. 2009. ISBN 978-0-8248-3323-7. ISBN 978-0-8248-3324-4. is the first volume of a two-volume textbook aimed to help learners of Chinese to self teach the meaning and writing of 1. detailed explanation as to why the mnemonics approach is employed in the books is provided. It aligns with adult language . The introduction section provides the rationale of the learning methods in the book and the design of the book. In each lesson. the index of characters by the pronunciation. 433. University of Hawaii Press. simple plots and finally basic elements that comprise a character help learners build form-meaning connections among different elements in a character. namely stories. and the index of characters by the order of the English translation. The lesson section contains 55 lessons divided into three sub-sections based on three memorization methods: stories (lesson 1-12). This set of books: one focuses on simplified characters and the other on traditional characters. Remembering Traditional Hanzi 1: How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters. written form. Honolulu. At the beginning of both books.HEISIG. plots (lesson 13-19). The transition from providing full associative stories to skeletal outlines to eventually key words along with primitive meanings is reasonably designed. The learning approach promoted in the books is mnemonics by arranging the appearance of characters from simple to complex. To serve this purpose. the index of primitive elements used to form each character. paper. and elements (lesson 20-55). $. As the authors point out in the introduction section. JAMES & RICHARDSON. Remembering Simplified Hanzi 1: How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters. The index section consists of five indexes: the index of characters by the order of appearance in the book. The characters are thoughtfully chosen and logically sequenced throughout the 55 lessons. JAMES & RICHARDSON. $. paper. 424.

First. Thus. Deliberately creating artificial association between the authentic or fabricated meaning of a phonetic part and a character may demand much more work than just combining the new radical form and a familiar phonetic part. the selection of the key words for some characters is also questionable. and helpful for memorizing the form and meaning of each character. Because of many modern Chinese characters’ formation style. users may end up intentionally or unintentionally understanding any new character based on the meanings of elements comprising the character. reasonable. The well-known relevant western cultural stories are cleverly infused with the primitive meanings of elements in each character. The stories created to facilitate memorization are very engaging. Learning each single character without its phrasal context may result in memorizing Chinese characters for the sake of memorization. called primitive meaning in the books. the meaning “next” is used less . Users of the books should be able to follow the approach easily. In most situations. It means “time” as in “three times” or “four times”. There are three major reasons. The plots method and the elements method also are contingently helpful for users to use their own imagination to memorize the meanings and forms of more characters. an additional meaning. the pure mnemonics approach may mislead users’ long-term memory of characters’ meanings. is also adopted or even created to stimulate vivid imagery association between the elements and new characters. the phonetic part has nothing with the meaning of the character. the readership of the books may be limited by the approach adopted in them. users following the approach in the books closely may encounter great difficulty and confusion when exposed to more characters at a more advanced level.learners’ general cognitive development process. Comparatively. many modern Chinese characters are morphemes rather than individual words. In other words. the majority of modern Chinese characters are formed with a radical part indicating the meaning and a phonetic part containing some pronunciation cue. In addition to the approach’s inherent limitations. many characters can be associated with each other by the similar phonetic parts they share. is most commonly used as a measure word to describe frequency. This doesn’t benefit learners when they try to comprehend or compose modern Chinese texts. Learning each single character individually may risk missing the character’s contextual meanings. It is particularly thoughtful that a completely new character or a primitive element is not introduced until all familiar elements have been learned. As a matter of fact. This approach indicates that all characters are formed with one or more meaningful elements. For example. Following this approach. the mnemonics approach may not be as efficient as a traditional phonetic association approach when users are learning a bigger number of characters formed by multiple elements. Second. Different from English words. The third reason is concerned with practical purposes of learning the writing and meaning of Chinese characters. which helps English-speaking users to build connections. a large number of Chinese characters may convey totally different meanings when corroborating with different characters. the character “次” on page 181 in Remembering simplified Hanzi 1. Despite the careful organization and thoughtful design. In addition to some elements’ original meaning in Chinese.

it is doubted whether it is practical for learners of Chinese to use the methods promoted in the books for advanced-level character learning. The associative stories made to glue all elements in each character are very appealing and helpful for remembering the meaning and form. . the set of books are useful resources for users who just launch their Chinese character learning journey and are only interested in learning the meaning and writing of Chinese characters. It is no doubt that users following this approach closely can develop high proficiency in understanding and writing the characters included in the books as expected by the authors. It would be more helpful should the authors have provided explanation for how each homonym’s key word is selected. However. the reviewer has reservations to recommend the books as primary resources to learners of Chinese who have been learning Chinese characters with pronunciation and those who aim to understand or compose a text for more practical purposes. In addition. this may cause confusion. In all. This choice may be influenced by the authors’ traditional character learning background. due to the approach’s limitations discussed earlier.frequently in simplified Chinese texts. But for simplified character learners.