Learning the spoken language before the written, focussing primarily on audio input

My point in learning the spoken language before learning the characters is that learning the characters requires memorization, where you have to learn and memorize the pronunciation along with the meaning. This ‘memorization’ of pronunciations without speaking the language reminded me of learning a language from a book or wordlists like in school, and I found myself resisting it when I started to do it at the beginning of my Chinese studies three months ago. Children don’t have to do this, as the word is already in their heads – they just have to associate it with a certain character. Consider this excerpt from page 2 of the introduction of Heisig’s ‘Remembering the Simplified Hanzi’ : 

“The Chinese themselves are not faced with (the) problem (of learning a character’s meaning, pronunciation, and writing at the same time). As children, they are exposed first to the spoken language, learning how to associate sounds with meanings. When the time comes to learn how to read, they already have at their disposal a solid basis of words whose sounds and meaning are familiar to them; all that remains is to associate those words with written forms. Doing so opens them to printed texts, which, in turn, helps them assimilate new words and characters. Those of us who come to the language as adults can gain a similar advantage by tying each character to a particular unit of pronunciation and meaning, a ‘key word’ in English, that we already know.” 

So you see, it IS possible to learn the meanings of the characters without learning their pronunciation, and that is exactly what Heisig’s book empowers you to do – I simply have not started doing this yet because I prefer to spend my time listening to the spoken language intensively in an effort to reach a level where I can understand authentic material as quickly as possible, and I am getting there fast after only three months.

Also confer this post entitled
Improving your Mandarin reading and listening without having to learn lots of characters
http://mandarinfromscratch.com/2009/12/02/improving-your-mandarin-reading-and-listening-without-having-to-learn-lots-of-characters/

This method is quite effective, but a bit time-consuming. I have since been learning primarily using podcasts from ChinesePOD, as they already come with a transliteration and translation below the phrases and include wordlists, as well as an extracted audio version of just the dialogues to listen to (all of which can be imported into LingQ), and there’s thousands of interesting dialogues.

In my next post I will be talking about my learning methods and schedule and how they’ve changed since I began.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Learning the Mandarin Characters (Hanzi) « Mandarin From Scratch

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