An Easier Way to Learn Chinese?

By Tom Warner

While the language of Mandarin Chinese has become one of the most popular languages being learnt today, that does not mean that it is easy. Written Chinese characters have a tendancy to be difficult. Finding an easier way for non-native learners (L2 learners) to understand would be great wouldn’t it? Well, ShaoLan Hsueh may well have the answer with her book Chineasy.

Her book bases the Chinese characters on the visual representation of the symbols. This should help us to associate them with a meaning, rather than an unidentifiable ‘squiggle on a page’. After working on the book for an initial two years and already having a love of new words, Hsueh was given the opportunity to give a TED talk, which in turn lead to a Kickstarter project being set up online. This gave exposure in the right context and to the right people, so that the project could become a success.

The book may be commisioned in Chinese, for use in China itself, which would be a whole new market for the author. The symbols have been descibed as a combination of the more traditional forms, with simplified forms. An interesting point that Hsueh raises in her TED talk presentation is that the simple characters can be used to form other meanings, through the use of repetition and combination. The website (cited below) will apparently soon display the stroke methods used for the characters, which is another important part of asian character production.

Chineasy_WebV2_MOUTH-18 Chineasy_WebV2_FIRE-18

These are some examples of the characters that can be found in the book.

Chineasy Website: http://chineasy.org/

Picture(s) Location: http://chineasy.org/basics.aspx?set=1502

Metro Article: http://metro.co.uk/2014/03/13/how-chineasy-inventor-shaolan-hsueh-used-beautiful-design-to-decode-mandarin-and-cantonese-4544739/

TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/shaolan_learn_to_read_chinese_with_ease

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3 comments

  1. Interesting article Tom. I have always wanted to learn another language, and since reading ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ I’ve been thinking about possibly trying to learn one of the Chinese languages. I will definitely check out ShaoLan Hsueh’s book.

    1. There is, of course, also the Guardian’s Memrise challenge – learn to read a Chinese menu in a few days… we’ll be looking at this briefly in our SLA class next week (level 2) 🙂

  2. The author mentions something about the book and material not being originally created for conventional learning as such, but Hsueh still recognises its potential for that.

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