Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vocabulary Review Sheets

Pipe Island - 12
Originally uploaded by Qingdao Adventures
If you're thinking about learning to read, check out this new study resource - printable vocabulary review sheets. These fold-over review sheets are based on my book, Very Practical Chinese including all the vocabulary from the dialogues, exercises, and the accompanying Study Guide. The review sheets are free for anybody to download, print and use. Check them out here.

Start off with the chapter-by-chapter sheets, and move up to the randomized sheets. Right now I have files with a random selection of vocabulary words taken from Chapter 1 and 2, and also files with random vocabulary words from Chapters 1 thru 4. I will post more randomized sheets soon, eventually having a random selection from Chapters 1 - 20, and even Chapters 1 - 45 ~ the idea being that if you can look at characters completely out of context and still know the English definition, Pinyin spelling and tone, then when it comes to reading them in context, you'll be laughing.

Come on! Learn to read!! Don't buy the line that it's not necessary. Don't be scared that it's too hard. It is not that hard and it is so rewarding, and, I dare say, necessary, if you want your Chinese to progress beyond a certain level. And the fact of the matter is that learning how to read characters (by memorizing the correct Pinyin spelling and tone for a character, in addition to the Englsih definition) will ensure that you teach yourself to speak properly! As a bonus, you'll be able to type in Chinese (in Pinyin), and thus able to text, to blog, to email.

There are a few sample sheets scanned for you to take a look at, and (at the risk of overkill) a "how to" PDF as well. Fold them over one way to write the Pinyin and English. Fold them over the other way if you are learning to handwrite characters. Remember to fold them back over to correct your mistakes.

You can use them in conjunction with the Line-by-Line Flashcards, the Fill-in Pinyin Sheets, and the VPC Online Flashcards. All of these materials are based on the VPC Textbook and Study Guide. Keep an eye out for more to come!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The object of my love

The object of my love
Originally uploaded by ulysses68
It's not common for a book to inspire such abject love, but I am in total agreement with the photographer and (I assume) fellow student of Mandarin.

The object of my love is Chinese Characters - A Genealogy and Dictionary, by Rick Harbaugh. I discovered this dictionary 10 years ago in Caves Bookstore, and subsequently wore my way through two copies, spending many happy, sun drenched afternoons in coffee shops, too interested in what I was reading to notice that I was, in fact, studying.

This is a Chinese-English dictionary designed by a native English speaker for native English speakers. There are six different indexes to locate a word, which I generally use in this order:

Character Pronunciation
English -Chinese
Word Pronunciation
and, as a last resort
Stroke order (which actually can be quite painless if you know how to count your strokes correctly)

Using the various indexes above, within a few months of discovering this dictionary, I was able to find absolutely ANY unfamiliar character in under a minute.

What makes this etymological dictionary so ingenious is the author's use of character "trees". The easiest way to find a new word is to look up a character (using the character pronunciation, i.e. the BPMF sound) that looks similar to the unfamiliar character.

Here's an example of how spending a few minutes with this book quickly turns into a few engrossing hours:

Faced with the character 鞍, I look for a word/element that I know within it. In this case, I choose 女or 安, either of which end up leading me to the same tree: 女(woman) at tree 54. 安 (peace) is 54/10, and just a little further down the branch, we find 鞍(saddle) at 54/13. 鞍 is pronounced "an1" and takes its phonetic component from 安, not from its radical, which the dictionary helpfully informs me can be found at 74/2.

I don't know much about this character, but have seen it at the side of many characters, and flip to 74/2 to discover that 革 (leather) is the left-side radical for many words, including 勒, a character which has a component I recognize, 力. I am curious to see what the combination of 革(leather) and 力(strength) mean, and turn to 34/13 to find out, and see that 力is actually a pictograph of a tendon (31/1) and 勒 is "leather that works like a tendon" = bridle; to force; and to tighten, and is part of the compound word le4suo3 勒索 (to extort).

From here, my eye jumps back up to 力, and I take a look at the list of compound words that begin with this character, including:
力量 li4liang4 (power; strength)
力氣 li4qi4 (physical strength)
力求 li4qiu2 (strive for)
力爭 li4zheng4 (struggle for)

In the list of compound words above in which 力 is the second character (there are 57) 魅力jumps out at me. I sort of recognize the first character, so I flip to 77/36 to see what it means. As it turns out, 魅 means "demon; elf" and 魅力 means charisma ("demon strength")

I could go on and on...and on... but you get the idea:)

You can check out the online version here, which is a handy resource, but not as much fun as the real book, which is just an invitation (paraphrasing Old Walt) to lean and loafe with a book rightfully deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it.