Six Steps? Does it Really Take That Much to Learn a Word?
The purpose of this article is to show you the many possible steps to learning Chinese words. However, you do NOT have to utilize every step every time you approach a new word. Instead, think of these steps as tools. In the same way that you don’t have to use all the tools in your toolbox every time you build something, any one of these steps may not be necessary or applicable when learning a new word. All of them, however, you will use at some point for sure. Let’s do it!
Step 1 – Pronunciation
The Hanzi Movie Method solves the problem of knowing what the pronunciation is. However, bear in mind that if the syllable of a new word is similar to the pronunciation of another word, (or if it reminds you of your Hanzi Movie Method Actor & Set) then you may be able to start making connections to a new word from the pronunciation alone, but don’t stop there…
Step 2 – Characters
Without the HMM, you’d have to backtrack quite a lot here, which is precisely why we recommend giving priority to 汉字 learning. Just among the approx 600 characters from the first 36 levels of the MB Character Building sequence makeup over 5,000 words (970 of which are high-frequency), all of which are super easy to learn if you already know their component characters.
Step 3 – Word Structure
Is the structure obvious? Is it a “Verb-What” like 吃饭 chīfàn? Perhaps a biased word like 马人 mǎrén (centaur!)? If the word structure is apparent, this strengthens yet another frame of reference for understanding the word. It is, in its construction, similar to other words you’ve already learned. The less you learn from scratch, the faster the connections will come.
Step 4 – Connections
Does the translation of the word remind you of anything? Do you have a memory associated with the definition of the word? How about a person you know that (in your mind) is defined by this word’s characteristic? Does the word bring any images to mind of places that you know? Events that happened? If its a noun, for example, 车 chē “car,” what specific car does it bring to mind? One that you once owned? One that you wish you owned like a Ferrari? If its an adjective, for example, 快乐 kuàilè- “happy,” who, what, or where would you describe as “happy”? Perhaps if its a verb like 跑步 pǎobù- “to jog,” you could think of an old jogging partner. After you come up with something, do a Google image search for that visual representation, or perhaps look through your photo library.
Step 5 – Flashcards
Found a good photo in Step 4? Put it in the flashcard. Thought of a good personal connection to the word? Write it in the flashcard. Did you recognize its relation to other pronunciations that you know that are similar? Write it in. Did you take note of the word structure? Did knowing the two characters make you automatically think of mnemonic? Put it in.
There is no particular limit to how much you can place into the flashcard to reinforce & strengthen these connections. SRS allows you to see a new fact the least amount of times possible, but learning correctly in the first place makes SRS all the more powerful.
Step 6 – Consolidation
Does this word fit well into one of the Grammar Flowcharts? How does it look in the grammar building? Have you noticed other sentences with similar words before? More than anything, trust your instincts. Everything that you have ever experienced in your life exists somewhere in your unconscious, and its just sitting there waiting to show you what your associations are. Accept yourself, accept what comes to mind, and your language learning path need not be filled with random dead facts, but instead filled with an autobiography of you.