Dom's Mandarin Learning Journey

Dom's Mandarin Learning Journey

Aug 1, 2021 05:26 PM
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Nov 4, 2021 01:12 PM
Dominic Zijlstra
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How learning Mandarin made me a Superlearner
5 min. read
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Dom's Mandarin Learning Journey

For a long time I was afraid of studying Mandarin. I'd been together with my Chinese girlfriend for a year, and I wanted to take the opportunity to learn the biggest language in the world. But every time I set out to learn Mandarin I got discouraged. The words didn't sound like anything I knew (Gōnggòngqìchē = 🚌 ... 🤨), tones were impossible to distinguish, and worst of all the characters just looked like squiggly lines.
So I kept putting it off. I'd learned German, Portuguese and some French before. But Chinese.. it just seemed so.. unrelatable. The sounds and characters didn't mean anything to me.
Until one day I found a blog post about how I could make it meaningful. The key was realizing that the whole language is made up of a limited number of parts: a limited number of sounds, and a limited number of patterns that make up all the characters (just like our 26 letters).
For example: the character 百. It's pronounced "Bǎi" and means "a hundred".
The sound is made up of the starting letter B and the ending letters ǎi. The character drawing is made up of three patterns: 一,‘ and 日.
The next step requires some upfront investment: we have to "map" all the parts to things that are meaningful to us.
To stay with the example 百:
  • The starting letter B → Brad Pitt
  • Ending letters ǎi → My kindergarten
  • Drawing 一 → a ceiling
  • Drawing ‘ → a tear drop
  • Drawing 日 → the sun
  • Meaning "a hundred" → use as is
Now we can create a story with these elements:
"Brad Pitt releases a hundred birds inside my kindergarten, to send them to the sun. However, they all fly into the ceiling. A tear drops from his eye as they come crashing down."
The story is funny and visual, so it's easy to remember. I can use it to remember this character, as long as I remember the "mapping". Remembering the mapping comes naturally over time since the same parts are repeated across characters.
The awesome thing is, this works for any abstract information you have to remember. All information is made up of a limited, repeated number of parts. Those can be the numbers 1-9, the letters of the alphabet, or something subject specific like in my Mandarin example.
I have over 2000 visual stories in my brain to remember Chinese characters. I'll share some some ideas with you soon on how you can create stories to remember what you're studying.
Next time I'll show you some more ways you can create stories for what you're studying, and how we can remind ourselves periodically in order to never forget again.

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