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This post marks the second milestone in the sensible character learning challenge 2014, which means that we are roughly halfway! Just like last time, the way you read this article depends on if you’re in the challenge or not:
- If you’re in the challenge, it’s time to post your milestone #2 progress update (see below)
- If you’re not in the challenge, this is an excellent opportunity to join (there are still two months left)
I would also like to say that I’m impressed by anyone who is still in the challenge. It’s easy to commit to something for a few weeks, but it’s much harder to stay committed for more than a month. If you’ve fallen seriously behind, don’t hesitate to revise your goals, making them realistic again!
The challenge was launched in this article, which contains all the information you need if you want to join. In short, the goal is to both improve the way we learn characters and learn to write a lot of characters together in the process. There will be prizes for active participants for each milestone (see below).
Prizes for milestone #2
I’m happy to announce that there is an extra prize available from Glossika for this milestone! Here are all the prizes along with information about how to get them:
- Glossika Chinese products – Glossika offers a range of products for Chinese learners and one participant in this challenge will receive one product of his or her choice for free. You can find more information about both Glossika and their products on the official website.
- Hanzi WallChart posters - Two sets worth roughly $50 will be distributed randomly among active participants. These posters aren’t only informative, they look cool too!
- Skritter extension - One week free extension will be awarded to all active participants, If you want your free extension, you need to have been active in the challenge, all you need to do is join this group and you should get your extension (provided that you have been active, of course). If this does not work, please contact me.
So, how are the winners determined? Randomly, but weighted for activity in the challenge (basically anything I have a chance to notice, including posts here, social media and so on), with a particular focus on progress updates. I will announce the winners in this article on Sunday, so you have a few days to post your updates.
Your progress update
There’s no fixed template, just write whatever you want to write in any way you see fit, but here are some examples:
- Have you reached your goal for the second milestone?
- What (if anything) are you going to change?
- What have you learnt by participating in the challenge?
Note that activity in the challenge is completely unrelated to whether or not you have succeeded! Failing to reach your goal, thinking about why you failed and what you should do about it is perfectly normal.
My progress update
I overshot my goal by quite a lot last time, mostly because I misjudged the number of characters I had forgotten, so I upped the ante a bit this time and went for something much more ambitious (this is copied from my update for milestone #1):
Current status (April 8th): 4583
Milestone #2 (April 30th): +300 (4883 total)
Milestone #3 (May 31st): +400 (5283 total)
End of challenge (June 30th): +492 (5775 total)
Let’s look at the numbers first. I was supposed to learn 300 new characters for a total of 4883. According to Skritter, I currently know 4933 characters, so I’m roughly 50 characters ahead of my goal. Also, since I have dealt with all my banned cards, this number actually reflects the number of characters I’m reviewing (banned cards count towards your total even if you don’t review them, for some reason). Since I’m slightly ahead now, rather than relax this months, I will shift some 50 new characters to the last stage of the challenge instead. Just to make things as clear as possible, this is what I have in front of me:
Current status (April 30th): 4933
Milestone #3 (May 31st): +407 (5340 total)
End of challenge (June 30th): +435 (5775 total)
What have I learnt about learning and reviewing Chinese characters?
I’d like to highlight two things: the importance of not going on tilt and the necessity of horizontal vocabulary learning.
Don’t go on tilt
First, for whatever reason, we sometimes encounter characters that are very hard to learn for some reason. There are three things you can do:
- Ignore the character or word (delete it)
- Keep reviewing it even if it doesn’t work
- Take decisive action and actually learn the character or word
Of these, solution one and three are both good. Solution two is really, really bad. If you keep forgetting a word, you need to deal with it. Suspend it, ban it or whatever it’s called in the program you use. Then, next time you’re in front of a computer with access to dictionaries, sentence resources and so on, look up the character or word properly and actually learn it. If you don’t, the number of problematic cards (called leeches) will increase and slowly drain both energy and time. Read more here: Dealing with tricky vocabulary: Killing leeches.
Horizontal vocabulary learning
Second, horizontal vocabulary learning is essential. When you suspect that there are several similar characters causing confusion problems, you have to look them up. It can be very hard to spot these problems, but being sensitive to your own review errors should be enough. If you find yourself making the same mistake several times, you probably make this mistake for a reason, perhaps because you’re confusing two characters. The problem is often painfully obvious once you see it, but might cause a lot of trouble before that.
For instance, for a long time, I found it really hard to remember the order of the two components on the right of 踏. Sometimes I put the 曰 on top of the 水, sometimes I got it right. This kept happening many, many times and I only figured out why once I realised that I were confusing two characters with (almost) identical meaning and exactly the same pronunciation: 踏 and 蹋 (both are read “tà”). No wonder I felt confused about the placement!
Another problem I figured out only recently is with 皺 and 縐. Again, both have the same pronunciation (“zhòu”) and the meanings are at least related. I kept mixing up the placement of the 芻 because of this, but this ceased to be a problem once I looked at both characters side by side.
What I want to say with all this is that when learning or reviewing characters, you have to realise that it’s not only a matter of dealing with one single character or word, it’s about integrating that knowledge in your larger web of knowledge about Chinese.
I will update this article with the character poster winners on Sunday. In the meantime, you can check the article about handwriting Chinese characters if you haven’t already (published on Monday this week). Stay tuned!
…and the winners are
- Hanzi WallChart posters: Oaht and Gerrityong (I have forwarded your info to the company)
- Skritter free extensions: Everyone active is eligible, join this group on Skritter and tell me
- Glossika learning Chinese product: Xiaokaka (I have forwarded your info to the company)
Join now to become eligible for prizes for the next milestone!
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