Learn to read Chinese … with ease! | ShaoLan

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast Growing up in Taiwan as the daughter of a calligrapher, one of my most treasured memories was my mother showing me the beauty, the shape and the form of Chinese characters. Ever since then, I was fascinated by this incredible language. But to an outsider, it seems to be as impenetrable as the Great Wall of China. Over the past few years, I’ve been wondering if I can break down this wall, so anyone who wants to understand and appreciate the beauty of this sophisticated language could do so. I started thinking about how a new, fast method of learning Chinese might be useful. Since the age of five, I started to learn how to draw every single stroke for each character in the correct sequence. I learned new characters every day during the course of the next 15 years. Since we only have five minutes, it’s better that we have a fast and simpler way. A Chinese scholar would understand 20,000 characters. You only need 1,000 to understand the basic literacy. The top 200 will allow you to comprehend 40 percent of basic literature — enough to read road signs, restaurant menus, to understand the basic idea of the web pages or the newspapers. Today I’m going to start with eight to show you how the method works. You are ready? Open your mouth as wide as possible until it’s square. You get a mouth. This is a person going for a walk. Person. If the shape of the fire is a person with two arms on both sides, as if she was yelling frantically, “Help! I’m on fire!” — This symbol actually is originally from the shape of the flame, but I like to think that way. Whichever works for you. This is a tree. Tree. This is a mountain. The sun. The moon. The symbol of the door looks like a pair of saloon doors in the wild west. I call these eight characters radicals. They are the building blocks for you to create lots more characters. A person. If someone walks behind, that is “to follow.” As the old saying goes, two is company, three is a crowd. If a person stretched their arms wide, this person is saying, “It was this big.” The person inside the mouth, the person is trapped. He’s a prisoner, just like Jonah inside the whale. One tree is a tree. Two trees together, we have the woods. Three trees together, we create the forest. Put a plank underneath the tree, we have the foundation. Put a mouth on the top of the tree, that’s “idiot.” (Laughter) Easy to remember, since a talking tree is pretty idiotic. Remember fire? Two fires together, I get really hot. Three fires together, that’s a lot of flames. Set the fire underneath the two trees, it’s burning. For us, the sun is the source of prosperity. Two suns together, prosperous. Three together, that’s sparkles. Put the sun and the moon shining together, it’s brightness. It also means tomorrow, after a day and a night. The sun is coming up above the horizon. Sunrise. A door. Put a plank inside the door, it’s a door bolt. Put a mouth inside the door, asking questions. Knock knock. Is anyone home? This person is sneaking out of a door, escaping, evading. On the left, we have a woman. Two women together, they have an argument. (Laughter) Three women together, be careful, it’s adultery. So we have gone through almost 30 characters. By using this method, the first eight radicals will allow you to build 32. The next group of eight characters will build an extra 32. So with very little effort, you will be able to learn a couple hundred characters, which is the same as a Chinese eight-year-old. So after we know the characters, we start building phrases. For example, the mountain and the fire together, we have fire mountain. It’s a volcano. We know Japan is the land of the rising sun. This is a sun placed with the origin, because Japan lies to the east of China. So a sun, origin together, we build Japan. A person behind Japan, what do we get? A Japanese person. The character on the left is two mountains stacked on top of each other. In ancient China, that means in exile, because Chinese emperors, they put their political enemies in exile beyond mountains. Nowadays, exile has turned into getting out. A mouth which tells you where to get out is an exit. This is a slide to remind me that I should stop talking and get off of the stage. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Learn to read Chinese … with ease! | ShaoLan

  1. Now im more confused then before i watched this video… so basically the Chinese letters are really pictures, wonder what "penis" and "vagina" look like in Chinese characters

  2. This is impressive! But you still don't know how to pronounce the words :/

  3. the sign for Woman plus Shoe = Happiness

  4. This is so simple. Who hid this from me K12? Why? How? 🌏 – Theodore Alexander Vegh, B.S.

  5. So what is the difference between person and big? What about a fat person?

  6. Be careful, Chinese people are so proud of their “super hard” language. They will get really pissed if you tell th their language is easy to learn.

  7. so chinese language is pictography. Its not even proper language.

  8. thanks .after watch your video. now i be able to read the chinees man wise word on the memes

  9. I studied Chinese in college and have been working in China for 5 years.

    She makes it seem like if you learn a handful of characters you'll be able to understand at least some Chinese. In reality, these pictogram characters will not comprise an entire setence. I wonder why she did not use these 8 to make a sentence? Because you can't really. Those characters would be spread out sparsely throughout the language.

    Another problem is that some of the examples she uses of "combinations" might only looking at written literature where things are probably used in some fancy way. I was confused by some of the examples she used because I never hear people use the words as she described the translations.

    从 (she says it means follow) – I most often see these in words like 从哪里 (from where) 从不 (never) 从事 (to be engaged in)
    . Usually 跟着 or 随着 is used for the word follow, as we use it in English. If I say, 你跟着我走 it means follow me (when walking down a street for instance).

    炎 (she says it means hot)- I most often see this word meaning inflammation for medical reasons. 炎症 is a general word for inflammation. Hot is typically 热 for weather (今天很热 – It's really hot today) and 烫 (这碗汤很烫 – This bowl of soup is really hot) is typically used to describe something that's hot to the touch.

    Two women together is an argument. Hilarious, but usually 吵架 is used.

    Although her examples of 火山 (volcano) 日本人 (Japanese person) and 出口 (exit) is entirely accurate.
    What she is saying is true, but it's a vast oversimplification and there are a lot of caveats. There are plenty of Chinese characters that are built from previous, more simpler ones that you know. Once you know enough characters, sometimes you can guess the meaning of an unfamiliar one through context and the other simpler characters contained within it. Sometimes I like to think of Chinese like a "lego" language, both in terms of individual characters and grammar. It all builds off smaller parts into something complex.

    If you want to learn Chinese (including reading/writing), you'll require a pretty big amount of rote memorization. There's a reason why rote memorization is favored in Chinese eduation. But again, the legos will eventually come together into another language you can use!

  10. This is how I learned the Korean, Japanese, and Arabic writing systems. While everyone else took months, it only took me days to learn them. Just search in "___ character mnemonic device." For example, "Chinese characters mnemonic device," "Japanese characters mnemonic device," "Arabic mnemonic device," etc.

  11. Japanese decided to learn Chinese in the 7th century when Kyusyu had been occupied by ancient China.
    I now appreciate my ancestor's wise decision as a Japanese because I can easily not only read it but understand Korean too anyhow as basic pronunciation comes from Chinese.

  12. seriously i dont get how something like that wasnt already replaced by 26 alphabet that can say any of that …

  13. Good luck with reading and writing..!
    understand things doesn’t means everything.

  14. I am on the onset of learning Chinese and she just pumped up my excitement. This is phenomenal.

  15. Ideographic orthographies are challenging, but they helped solve the problem of having a single writing system to represent words/ideas for phonetically diverse languages. Some regions/dialects of Chinese are so phonetically different that folks from one part of China may not be able to understand the spoken words from another, but they can understand each other via writing.

  16. I learn through association; so thank you for sharing this method of learning!! Now the task of learning Chinese doesn’t seem so far fetched. 😊

  17. 教什么繁体字,不知道这就是台湾文盲多的原因吗,简体一遍台湾要写三遍,虫vs蟲,也要复杂的太多,忏vs懺

  18. The only real language to learn is English.
    English rules the air, seas and space..
    Learn English- learn the World and the real truth !
    Not some dicatorship communist state run religious country s lies, copy cat ideals and inventions.

  19. English= 26 letters with 5 vowels.
    8 octaves
    4 notes
    4 bars..
    Even nature is simpler than chinese…
    Why make it complex !

  20. if only the other thousands of characters and compositions were as easy.

  21. I get the everyday usage of Chinese characters, but delving into the abstract just seems fairly incredible,. But then again, how indo-european languages managed to make abstract phrases by effectively just making up words is just as far fetched

  22. When i was a child i thought every character represents a letter and not word.

  23. Please send me the link of 200 characters if you had made any video on it. I need it so badly

  24. 门里面一个耳朵,闻。门里面一横,闩。门里面一匹马,闯。门里面一个于谦,抓阄的阄。

  25. ¿Porque será que todos quienes aparecen en TED se mueven igual sobre el escenario?

  26. I respect everyone who learns Chinese but I still think its just ridiculously difficult. Chinese children learn the latin alphabet first. the chinese writing system is not intuitive at all

  27. another total nonsense video by TED. Simplified Chinese is not Chinese. It's closer to Soviet script created under the communists. She is trying to sell you "english" by teaching you 'foot' then 'ball', so now you know 'football'. this video is total non-sense.

  28. There are no differences between learning Chinese and English. Reading, speaking and listening, the more you practice the more you get.

  29. the way she combines visualization and imagination only works for a small set of Chinese characters, which are mostly those nouns and some verbs combined by simple nouns. But most of Chinese characters are just much more complicated, that even a native Chinese kid would feel frustrated while learning them.

  30. Spain's Castilian Spanish. It may take centuries but the best will always win.

  31. This was amazing. I salute you for your honest, humorous and especially your humble approach. 🙏

  32. Nice job!! That really made it accessible to foriegn learners!!! Thank you!

  33. Me listening while I'm already Chinese, I just hope I can learn this while i was samll

  34. You have really nailed it, thank you very much, u made it quite logical

  35. Sadly that’s not how most other chinese characters behave

  36. At 0:00 I didn't know how to read Chinese. At 6:11 I was fluent.

  37. This was such a nice video, I really like the visual styls of Chinese it isn't as difficult as I thought! I appreciate her showing it this way👍

  38. Well, her explanations are fun though not accurate. Pity that she omitted why the so-called "8 building blocks" were in their shapes, which would help many Westerners to understand Chinese characters better.

  39. 0:20 "The beauty, the shape" yeah, she does have good shape of beauty :] COMPLIMENT!

  40. This is only about reading, pronouncing them is a whole other novel. There's 4 ways to say each pronunciation like mā má mǎ mà and extra if you put some words next to each other

  41. Here's lesson… If you're going to marry multiple girls, you better have more than 2 or you get them arguing all the time… but 3? DAMN.

  42. If you REALLY wanna use Chinese characters well enough, this method is not good for you. Though it’s a good way for the ppl who’s interested in Chinese character for the first time.

  43. My high school physics teacher was beautiful, so I was great in physics. This girl is beautiful and I now wonder if I could learn Chinese.

  44. An amazing teaching process with a fabulous instructor !!! I love this process of learning… Chinese in it's most simplified form…

  45. 普段から漢字を使ってる日本人だけど改めて面白かった

  46. Really Really Interesting!
    Im so shook of the Japan one cause I always wondered what that Kanji always meant.
    Now I know!

  47. I’m trylingual I try to learn a language but can’t stick to it

  48. As I finished a call with a friend in which we discussed that learning #Chinese #Mandarin was perhaps the best investment we could make, got this in my feed.
    Don't be fooled guys, as long as you are doing legal things, just take advantage of what Google can do for you, don't block them!

  49. the hardest thing is how to speak chinese pronounciatian with the right accent

  50. 人 armless man 大 is a women 太 is a boy 木 is possibly a black dude

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