The Mnemonic Keyword Method – My Wildcard for Foreign Language Learning

Keyword-Method-RememberEverythingThe keyword method, also known as the keyword mnemonic, is among the most widely researched mnemonic strategies. It is one of the most powerful methods for learning the meaning of foreign language vocabulary; you can also use it to remember how to pronounce a foreign language word when given a word in your native language. Other uses include learning of new terminology and facts.

The keyword method is an important tool in my personal language learning toolbox, so I want to share it with you.

How does the keyword method work?

Let’s go step-by-step through an example where a native English speaker wants to learn a German word. The German word for parachute is Fallschirm. Continue reading

Learning to Read and Write Chinese Characters the Heisig-Richardson Way

Remembering-traditional-hanzi Remembering-simplified-hanzi

In their books, Remembering Traditional Hanzi and Remembering Simplified Hanzi, James W. Heisig and Timothy W. Richardson introduce the Chinese characters using mnemonic stories and a unique approach of ordering them.

Their objective is to offer a very fast method to learning how to read and write Chinese characters. The work is based on Heisig’s earlier work, Remembering the Kanji. Following the method described in this book, he learned nearly 2000 characters (Kanji, i.e. the Chinese characters as they are used in Japan) in about one month of full-time study. For each character, he learned its key meaning, how to recognize it and how to write it from memory. That is impressive.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I committed to learning the 2000 most common traditional Chinese characters (at a leisurely pace).

So where am I now? So far, I have used Heisig’s book for about 30 minutes a day for a bit more than two months. During that time, I learned the first 350 characters in the book. I can report that I could significantly reduce the time I needed to memorize each character compared to the approach I used to learn 1500 simplified Chinese characters a few years ago. What’s more, it is a lot more fun, and the characters stick better. I also have (almost completely) avoided confusing different characters (interference), or wondering how many strokes I needed to write.

To help you decide whether this method is for you, let me briefly outline how the “Heisig-Richardson” way of learning Chinese characters works:

Let’s take a look at the top-20 Chinese characters by frequency of appearance: 的不一我是人有了大國來生在子們中上他時小

They all look quite different, don’t they? How can you possibly memorize 2000 of them in a reasonable amount of time? How did Heisig do it? Continue reading

Six Tips for More Effective Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning

Foreign-Language-Vocabulary-Learning-RememberEverythingOrgLearning a foreign language is one the most rewarding and beneficial learning tasks I can think of. Even if you only have the time to learn the basics, you get such a boost in cultural understanding and ability to move around in a foreign land. As of today, I am fluent in three languages, and have learned two more to a level where I can express myself and get everything I need in daily life. Ideally, you want to learn a foreign language in a country where it is spoken, however most people initially encounter their first foreign language in school.

No matter where you are, one of the most important tasks is to build a reasonably large vocabulary fast, so that you express yourself, and use more natural learning resources to further improve your learning.

To this end, here are six tips to help you speed up your vocabulary learning, no matter whether you want to learn English, Chinese, French, German, Thai, or any other foreign language: Continue reading

My Five Favorite Tools to Learn Chinese Characters

Learn-Chinese-Characters-zhongwenI have been learning Chinese on and off since 2001. To this day, I am still intrigued by Chinese writing, and I highly recommend learning Chinese characters to anyone who wants to stay in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan for any prolonged period of time. Even if you don’t intend to live in China, learning Chinese can be incredibly beneficial:

  1. You get to understand what Chinese people talk and write about.
  2. You are learning a writing system which gives you access to a huge “hidden” world of literature and web information. For most Westerners, this is the real hidden web.
  3. Chinese writing is the only pictographic writing system still in widespread use. By starting to learn how to write in Chinese, you embark on a fascinating learning journey.

On my journey, I have so far probably learned around 1500 characters, most of them in the simplified form which is used in mainland China (since the mid 1950s) and Singapore. A recent visit to Taiwan once again showed me the beauty and usefulness of traditional Chinese writing. Traditional characters are used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, most overseas Chinese communities, and of course, classical Chinese literature. I have since made the resolution to learn at least the 2000 most frequently used traditional Chinese characters as well.

Here are my 5 favorite tools accompanying me on this journey. Most of these resources can be used whether you want to learn the simplified or the traditional form: Continue reading