“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” – Chinese proverb.
Who else wants to read Chinese?
“Read Chinese? Are you kidding me? This is so hard, with all these symbols and what not! And why would I want that?”
Let’s begin with the last question. Why would I want to learn Chinese?
Many experts believe that the future is Chinese
In our days and age, the Chinese language is rapidly gaining in importance. With over 1 billion speakers, it is the most widely spoken language in the world. Add to that the economic importance of China in the world economy and you end up with a situation where knowing Chinese is a big advantage.
I am afraid this is becoming inevitable, especially if you need to interact with one fifth of the world population. The future will likely be Chinese. Why do you think President Obama announced a new initiative in 2015 to have 1 million American learn Mandarin Chinese by 2020?
“Perhaps, but it won’t happen. It is way too difficult to read Chinese letters or symbols.”
The challenge of reading Chinese
These letters or symbols are usually called Chinese characters. And yes, learning Chinese presents a particular challenge, but you may be surprised to know that Chinese grammar is relatively simple compared to other languages. There are no tense modifications, no case inflections, no gender affixes, no plurals. The hardest part is learning its alphabet, the Chinese characters, and I am here to show you how it can be done. I can even promise you that you will be able to read Chinese and remember all there is to know about a complex Chinese character within the next few minutes or so, in its simplified and its traditional form.
“OK… I am intrigued, and yes, I want to be able to read the meaning of the tattoos many of my friends and some movie stars have on their body!”
The benefits of reading Chinese
This would be useful, I agree, but think about all the additional benefits knowing Chinese can bring:
- It opens a world of opportunities. Remember that it is the most widely spoken language in the world and that one out of five people in the world is Chinese.
- It gives you access to one of the most fascinating cultures and to its vast literature, and it helps you understand it better by being able to read Chinese in the source language, without the inevitable loss of meaning brought about by translators.
- Traveling to China will be so much more enjoyable if you can interact with its citizens.
- If you are looking for job opportunities, Chinese is important for your career!
a) International businesses prefer to hire people who speak more than one language. Because of the importance of China in the world economy, there is a huge demand for people who understand and can read Chinese. It can make you an attractive hire.
b) You could do business not only with China and Taiwan, but also with influential Chinese communities of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Mongolia.
c) Many foreign companies do business in China and have long-term investments there. Likewise, investors in China are seeking to invest in overseas businesses.
- Learning a second language makes you smarter, improves your creativity and your memory, builds your self-confidence, and protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s. Because of its peculiarities, Chinese is probably the best language to learn in that department!
“You mentioned simplified and traditional forms earlier. What are those forms?”
Two forms of written Chinese
Suffice it to say that there exist two standard versions of written Chinese since the 60s. Mainland China has mostly adopted the simplified version while Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and the Chinese immigrant communities established overseas keep using the traditional characters, for the most part. To be able to read everything in Chinese, like Classical Chinese, texts written before the simplification process or published outside of China, street signs in China towns or recent novels as well as newspapers published in mainland China, you need to learn both forms. It is like learning block letters and cursive writing in English. Both should be learned to be fluent in the language.
Shortcomings of other methods on the market
Now, bear in mind that most methods on the market do not come even close to the Chinese Blockbuster series in terms of usability, for one or many of the following reasons:
- They cover only the simplified characters or the traditional characters, not both.
- They do not cover enough characters to allow you to read Chinese. It is equivalent to teaching you how to read letters A, B and C only. Would you then be able to read English texts with only these three letters?
- They do not cover the character pronunciation, or if they do, they do not cover the multiple pronunciations a character may have.
- They provide only one meaning for a character, while a character may have multiple definitions.
- They do not provide sound mnemonics to help you remember how to pronounce the characters.
- They do not provide you with various mnemonics and stories to help you remember all there is to know about a particular character.
The main objective of the Chinese Blockbuster series is to take you all the way to reading fluency, and in the shortest time!
“And you want me to believe that your method, which covers all aspects of a character, will allow me to read Chinese and remember all there is to know about each Chinese character in just a few minutes?”
对! That’s right!
As a matter of fact, let us pick the Chinese character for the expression ‘That’s right,’ written 对 in its simplified form and 對 in its traditional form, as an example.
In the Chinese Blockbuster series, the character is presented like this: 对[對], with the traditional form written between square brackets. The character is pronounced duì, like the ‘dua’ syllable in the word postgraduate. Chinese Blockbuster calls a word used to remember the pronunciation of a Chinese character, like postgraduate, a ‘sound word.’ It is always written with a bold font in the series.
Now, there is something else I need to tell you. The character 对[對] has additional meanings that you need to learn as well. All its meanings are written in italics below:
- That’s right!
- Measure word for a couple, a pair.
- To be opposite, oppose, face.
- To answer, reply.”
“You see? Too much stuff to remember, and look at those drawings… How can I record all that?”
Building blocks and mnemonics
I bet you liked to play with Lego blocks or make puzzles when you were young. Most people did and many still do, and they do it just for fun. Why do you think IKEA has so much success having people assemble their furniture? This is inherently human to like to assemble stuff. Learning Chinese is no different, because Chinese characters are not arbitrary symbols; they are composed of familiar building blocks, and there is an underlying logical structure guiding their construction. It is as if you had a box of Lego blocks containing yellow, blue, green and red bricks with a limited number of shapes, allowing you to create an almost unlimited number of structures with them.
For example, let us decompose the character 对[對]. The simplified form is composed of two blocks: 又 on the left, which represents a RIGHT HAND and 寸 on the right, which stands for a STAPLE GUN. Building blocks are always written with uppercase, block letters in the series.
“I thought that Chinese characters were very old. I am sure they did not have STAPLE GUNS in those days!”
You are right and the real meaning of the character 寸 is a ‘Chinese inch.’ But I am sure you can better visualize a staple gun than a length measurement of a Chinese inch! The Chinese Blockbuster series sometimes provide easy-to-remember fictitious meanings to improve retention, but the real meaning is also always provided.
As for the traditional character [對], we have three building blocks: 丵, with a fictitious meaning of WINERY on the left, sitting on the character 一 representing number ONE and the same character as above, 寸, on the right. In that case, we give it the meaning of STAPLE. Yes, character 寸 carries both fictional meanings of STAPLE and STAPLE GUN in the book series.
By the way, all these building blocks are described in more details in the series and all have a story that goes with each of them to help you remember them well. I am just skimming the surface here to show you the method in action. The method is described in more details here.
Now that you have all the ingredients, read the following story and picture it in your mind:
Two friends are having a discussion:
“You did what? You nailed the guy’s RIGHT HAND with your STAPLE GUN?”
“That’s right! Here’s why…
[“This presumed postgraduate in oenology owns the WINERY opposite my house. I had asked him many times not to park his delivery truck in front of my driveway, because it blocks my exit. He was always opposed to that idea and never replied. So, when I saw him park his truck at the same place once again, I ran out and nailed him to the dashboard, using only ONE STAPLE. Or maybe a couple…”]
You see, all the info about a Chinese character is wrapped into one memorable story. To make the story work better, I recommend you use as many senses as you can. Close your eyes and see the building blocks with vivid colors (visual sense), odors (sense of smell) or as humongous objects when they are concrete things or as a struggling action when it is a verb, all the while hearing the sound word resonate or reverberate in your mind (audio). See the definitions as repeated, incessant actions when they concern verbs and adverbs, or as a swarm of objects when they represent concrete things.
For example, for the building blocks, you could visualize a huge, flashy yellow STAPLE GUN and a bloodied RIGHT HAND. The WINERY could be completely pink (they make rosés…) and you could smell the pungent fermentation odors coming out of the place. The ONE STAPLE that you hold between your fingers could be shiny gray.
For the meaning That’s right, the friend could answer “That’s right! That’s right! That’s right!” when asked about what he did (repeated action).
For opposite and opposed, you could imagine a surveyor knocking at your door to inform you that after precise measurements, he can attest that the WINERY is exactly opposite your house, while you see the WINERY owner rushing towards you, shouting, ‘Objection! I am opposed to that affirmation!’
For the meaning to reply, after asking your neighbor not to park his delivery truck in front of your driveway, you could visualize him looking straight at you while he puts a duct tape over his mouth with the words ‘No reply’ written on it.
As for a couple, you can imagine a married couple walking by in the street and watching in horror as you STAPLE the guy to the dashboard.
While all this action is going on, you hear the word postgraduate resonate in your mind: postgraduate… graduate… duate… duì …duì …duì…
It takes much longer to explain the method than to process all these elements in your mind. But I assure you that if you spend the extra effort to make the story as vivid as you can, the character will be yours.
“OK, but what about the tone? I heard that Chinese use tones when speaking.”
They do, and this detail is included in the sound word postgraduate. In short, the position of the sound part ‘dua‘ indicates that this is a fourth tone. The Chinese Blockbuster’s Sound System allows you to remember both the pronunciation and the tone of a character.
By the way, what is the pronunciation of the Chinese character 对[對]?
“Hum… postgrad… duì!”
And it is composed of what parts again?
“There is a STAPLE GUN, and a bloody RIGHT HAND! Yes. Because the guy at the WINERY kept parking his truck is the other guy’s driveway.”
How many STAPLES did he plant in the WINERY owner’s hand?
“ONE, or maybe a couple!”
And why did he do that?
“Because the owner was opposed the other guy’s suggestion and never replied.”
That’s right! You see how easy this is? And think about all the advantages that reading Chinese can bring, for your career, your travels or your brain health!
Yes, you can read Chinese!
Learning to read Chinese, i.e. to recognize and pronounce Chinese characters, is arguably the hardest part in learning Chinese for a foreign person, but also the most important if you want to become fluent in the language. Thankfully, the Chinese Blockbuster series takes good care of that part and makes it fun. The first time you realize that you can read Chinese and understand Chinese texts, you will be amazed!
A Chinese proverb often cited says that ‘A trip of one thousand miles starts with the first step.’ Likewise, a trip of a few thousand characters starts with the first one. Each year, more and more students are studying mandarin. If they can learn it, so can you!
Stop missing the Chinese boat! Remember: the future is most likely Chinese. So, come aboard! As an aerospace engineer, I am here to prove to you that learning Chinese is not rocket science, although my method is arguably the only one that will take you all the way to the moon!
Here is the link that will take you to my Amazon page. Learning to read Chinese is not a decision you will regret.
Try it for free
What? Still not convinced? How about a risk-free offer? Just enter your email address below and I will send you the first 130 pages of Chinese Blockbuster 1, free of charge. You will then be able to decide for yourself.
“A year from now you will wish you had started today.”