Chinese Character Challenge: January Update

It has been a couple of weeks since I accepted the Chinese Character Challenge laid down by Olle on Hacking Chinese and I’m overdue on a public update on progress. Before I get in to the details of my progress to date, I should explain the challenge I’ve set myself.

I’m going to try (once again) to learn the first 1,500 characters using Remembering Simplified Hanzi by James W. Heisig. I’m starting at the beginning of the book with a clean Skritter account. By starting from scratch I’ll be covering old ground and so initially I expect progress to be quick but it won’t be long before I start hitting new characters. I’m hoping to crack some of my problem characters along the way. I’ve previously faltered as I’ve found various excuses to stop learning Chinese characters, but see this challenge as an opportunity to crack the first book.

Progress by the numbers:

  • Days Studied: 11/29
  • Hours Studied: 2
  • Minutes per Day: 4
  • Retention: 95.6%

What instantly stands out to me is how little time I’m spending on character study, just 4 minutes a day since I started. Admittedly that jumps to 11 minutes a day in the last week but that’s still not as high as I expected.

The key emphasis of the challenge is not to skip over any character you get wrong. Get it wrong and you need to re-visit your method for remembering the character. In order to help me stick to this rule, I’ve taken to modifying my Skritter mnemonic for every character I’ve got wrong. If I haven’t written a mnemonic, I write one; if I have, I amend it to better jog my memory.

Progress feels slow. I’m used to flicking through characters on The Underground but having to get my book out and review every time I get one wrong means I’m less inclined to do so. However, taking the time to document a mnemonic for every character I get wrong also seems to be having an effect. I appear to have cracked a couple of the problem characters and I’m still tracking above the target retention rate of 95%.

Skritter Progress, 21st Jan 2013

I’ll check back in a couple of weeks (I’m out of town for a bit) and will let you know how I’m getting on.

  • Mother

    Veryy impressive Bill Glover

  • Jericho Aleksandr Jak

    Bill, since we are both participating in Olle’s Chinese Character Challenge, I thought it might be fun to reach out to you. I’m starting from scratch as well.

    It’s curious that you haven’t gotten into reading, tone, or even words yet. Is that a property of the list you are studying from, or did you set up your Skritter to study only character writings and definitions?

    Also, I love the minimalist site design. It’s simple and perfect.

    • Bill

      Many thanks for getting in touch. I’ve ignored the tones for now because I’m focussing on the ability to write and recognise the characters. Surprisingly connecting the sounds with characters I can recognise doesn’t seem to be nearly as hard as recognising them in the first place.

      I am curious about words, how do they work? I don’t think I’ve made a conscious decision not to study them.

      • Jericho Aleksandr Jak

        It might just be that your particular list doesn’t have words in it, or that the words aren’t scheduled for much later. For example, the Skritter 101 list introduces characters first and then words that use those characters.

        • Bill

          It is probably the list that doesn’t have words. It would be great if I could intelligently combine lists do that I was only shown words using characters that I know.

          • Jericho Aleksandr Jak

            Hmm… as far as I understand, Skritter has some of this functionality. When a word is included in the list, the characters in the word are also taught, and separately. For example, gao1xing4 (happy) is a separate card from gao1 (tall) and xing4 (excitement). But once you include gao1xing4 in a list, the gao1 and xing4 cards are also thrown in. But this is words first, and then the characters in those words, which I think is the reverse of what you are asking for, characters first, and then words using those characters.

          • Bill

            Thanks. I’ll do some investigation and, if I find anything, will be sure to provide an update.