Douwe Osinga's Blog: Read-only Chinese

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Read-only Chinese

With the Chinese economy showing no signs of slowing down, it seems everybody is trying to master their language, whether from a general interest perspective or a just in case they do take over the world. I am afraid I have to admit I have joined everybody. However, after having looked around a bit on what's available to learn Chinese and finding current methods lacking, I have decided to design a method to learn Chinese first and then use that method. That might sound odd, but bear with me.

See, the thing is, I don't want to learn to speak Chinese, or understand it. I don't want to learn how to write Chinese either. I just want to learn how to read Chinese. The unique thing about Chinese is that it actually consist of 13 different languages/dialects (about as different as the Latin languages I hear), that are all written using the same characters. Each language pronounces the characters differently, but the meaning is the same in each language. I want to add a fourteenth language to the set, namely English, or something close to it.

Learning the meaning of each character should be simpler than learning the Chinese word for each character and the meaning, not just because it is less work (which it obviously is), but also since the characters in Chinese aren't completely random. Learning to read Chinese should make it possible to browse Chinese websites, so that is an immediate pay-off; learning to speak Chinese needs a Chinese person near by to be useful. Learning to write Chinese is probably not so useful; typing is definitely the way to go and learning to write English is probably also something on the way out.

So here's my method. First, I want to learn all radicals in Chinese. All Chinese characters are grouped under one radicals and radicals are combined to make Chinese characters. There are only 215 radicals or so, so that shouldn't be so hard. Once I have mastered the radicals, I will learn the 1000 or so most common characters and the words that can be made with that. After that I hope to be able to read simple text and will extend my knowledge from there.

In order to learn those radicals, I have written a simple program that projects the radicals and asks the user to enter the name of the radical. You can find the program under the Chinese Radicals project on this site. Should I learn all radicals and switch to learning the top-1000 words, I'll post again and add a new program for that too. Meanwhile, if you want to learn the radicals too, try this.