Colloquial Terms for Chinese Character Components

Shun

状元
Dear all,

as promised in another thread, I am uploading my collection of colloquial terms for character components. I think any serious learner at the intermediate and advanced levels should know them. They are best studied by printing out the PDF and covering them with another sheet of paper. Here is a preview:

Colloquial Terms for Chinese Character Components 1.jpg Colloquial Terms for Chinese Character Components 2.jpg

I'd be interested in reading which ones are new to you, or ones you have heard a better term for. I'm open to corrections and components I've missed.

Enjoy,

Shun
 

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Sean2

Member
Hi, Shun
I'm new to Pleco. What a pity websites aren't designed by users! But I suppose I'll get used to this one over time, like all the other user-hostile sites out there! I've already sent one empty reply. But I think I've now found the field in which I'm meant compose my reply. So now to substance!
Thanks for your list. I detected the wisdom of experience in your comment that "any serious learner should know them." I wonder though if you could elaborate on just why you make this particular recommendation, given the plethora of other learning tasks which confront the Chinese learner?
I was disappointed not to be able to find, in your list, 5 of the 10 most frequently-occurring radicals identified by DeFrancis (ABC Chinese-English Dictionary: 1996, 1997: Appendix IX: page 869). I haven't yet checkd to see if you've omitted any others in his list of the 25 most frequently-occurring radicals. But the point of principle remains: none of us can afford to overlook guidelines for efficient mastery of Chinese. I wonder what priority rating you would give to DeFrancis' effort to signpost the radicals "most worth memorising?"
Best wishes: Sean2
 

Shun

状元
Hi, Sean2,

thank you very much for your interested reply.

The thing with radicals is, there is a clearly defined list of 217 or so radicals (depending on the standard being used). These often aren't all that useful for describing the way a character is written to another person, because they are too small elements of characters, so they do not have a nickname. In colloquial language, sometimes different parts/components from the Kangxi radicals (which I believe is the most common standard) are being used to that end.

So "character components" is a better term for my collection than "radicals". I was too lazy to correct that mistake in the PDF file, but I have now done so. For clarity's sake, the purpose of the terms in my list can be described as follows.

Whenever you do not know how to get a particular character's appearance across to someone you're speaking to, you have around two options:
  1. You can say, for example, "zhi1dao5 de5 zhi1" to give the 知 that occurs in the common word 知道. (a word that you're sure your counterpart is familiar with)
  2. You can describe the character's look by some of its components. Here my list can come in handy, as a means of communication with other learners, teachers, or with native speakers.
Number 2 can also be used to help someone along who has forgotten how to write a character, while number 1 can't.

I should have worded the phrase you mentioned from my original post a little differently: "Any serious learner at the intermediate or advanced levels should know them." Beginners can study the radicals to get acquainted with Chinese character forms. My list of colloquial terms would be a bit of overkill at that stage, though, because one does not yet know which characters the components can occur in.

So I'd say, take your time and always follow your own good sense. Take your time to develop it with determination. That's the best advice I can give to beginners.

Hope this helps, best,

Shun
 
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Sean2

Member
Hi again, Shun
Thanks for your helpful reply. As a newcomer to Pleco, I wouldn't want to "outstay my welcome" by prolonging our discussion beyond the limits appropriate to my modest linguistic credentials. But I should perhaps clarify where I'm coming from.
Contributors to Pleco forums fall along a spectrum, ranging from eager beginning learners to grizzled veteran teachers. I suspect that along this spectrum there are others who've "been at it," probably on-and-off like me, for a long time, and who are motivated not only by the intrinsic interest of the language, but also by interest in what the experience of studying the language might be able to contribute to improved understanding of language teaching-and-learning psychology and methodology in general.
This has obvious practical application - hence my interest in your views on prioritisation in light of "the plethora of learning tasks" involved in Chinese-language acquisition, including in relation to "radicals." But it also has broader implications, and perhaps in particular for the future of language education in a world characterised, on the one hand, by accelerating linguistic and cultural homogenisation, and on the other -paradoxically - by competition in these very same areas. Even more broadly, beyond practical implications, what might be the intellectual justification for language education?
Best wishes: Sean2
 

Shun

状元
Hi, Sean2,

you're welcome, and thank you for your inspiring questions.

Since our psyche is the basis of our intellectual activity, including learning a new language, I agree it certainly is worthwhile to place one's focus on the psychological aspects of learning. Since none of our brains are the same, I also believe that even though there are many paths to Rome, only some will work for some people. There are some basic tenets such as not overwhelming one's brain with too much new information, and practicing repetition of newly acquired materials at the right time intervals. But when it comes to choosing a good ordering of activities for learning Chinese, I believe that very little can be said that suits all learners in all generality. For someone who has a good visual memory, it would probably be a good idea to practice writing characters first. That will allow them to build a sound initial structure, or scaffolding, in their mind, that they can tack other content on to. Extroverted, communicative people will likely prefer to start with dialogues with teachers/native speakers, and start remembering things that way. Many more distinctions can be discovered, of course, which will set even introverted, visual types apart from each other.

Proper prioritization, in my view, can take place only through trial and error, because a book or even someone you know who recommends a particular strategy to you, do not know your psyche and its development up to this point. A strategy of choosing a recommended "best" approach ought to be seen within the context of trial and error. By picking up different learning strategies, or better still, inventing one's own, and staying with them until you're sure you have discovered their upsides and downsides yourself, you should become an explorer of your own mind and abilities. The more independent you become early on, the better, and the more likely it is, I think, that you will never be at a loss for too long, allowing you to progress farther. I think that especially at later learning stages (after a few years), only you will know what you need to do to improve.

It may well be that in the preceding paragraph, I fell prey to the precise mistake I wanted to avoid: The above strategy doesn't work for everyone, so it cannot be considered a general strategy, either. It certainly helps always to try and become consciously aware of what one has learned—that may be the cornerstone of the above strategy. Other people may prefer to use "brute force learning", which is staying with one learning approach for as long as they can.

I see you are also interested in language teaching-and-learning psychology and methodology. What I outlined above is of course geared more towards individual learning. Back in 2017, I tried a new strategy, learning individual characters instead of words, and I also expressed some thoughts on language teaching:


It wasn't too complete, but you can see I was trying different approaches. Now, I am working more with sentence-by-sentence translation and translating the Chinese books I read into a Western language.

I'm sure you can tell from my post that I do not place that much value on prioritization, precisely because people think in different ways. You can of course perform individual learning tasks in a wrong way or a right way. But which one you choose first, I think, does not matter.

On linguistic and cultural homogenization, I have the gut feeling that there will be fewer languages, but still a large number of them, and they may become more varied within—but I'd have to read up on this subject before adding more.

Best, Shun
 
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