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