Question from Out There: Don’t radicals make the best mnemonics for writing characters?

Well…there’s no reason you have to use actual “factual” mnemonics for your characters. It’s faster, easier and ultimately more memorable (especially if you harness all the resources of a twisted sense of humor) if you simply make up your own stories about the characters to help you remember how to write them, if writing by hand is a need or desire of yours.

For example, 說 is a garbage can (on the left — see the flippy lid on top?) and on the right hand side is a Martian who has just landed and has confused it with a Leader, and is trying to speak to it.

And 暍 is easy because part on the left is the wall of a house, and on the right is the sun above there, and down below is a folding chair, and sitting in the chair is a “ren” (person). When you’re sitting in your chair in the sun, you want to drink because it’s hot.

Or 候 — obviously that’s a hearth on the left, and there’s a stocking hanging down, and up top is Santa’s pack sticking out the top of the chimney, and those are his legs dangling down there. And he’s saying “hou hou hou”. :roflmao: (Okay, they can’t all be gems).

My point is that these (all actual mnemonics I used in college when I was desperately memorizing characters) were quick and dirty. Can I name all 214 radicals? Nope. But no one has ever asked, either. And I managed to get reasonably good grades in college as a result. And grad school. And made a good living as a translator and interpreter using Chinese without them. It’s about what works for the specific goal sometimes, not always about doing the “right” thing (in terms of the real etymology or structure of the character.)

Radicals just aren’t that relevant to the average learner of Chinese. They are simply no longer the primary way to look up characters in a dictionary. If you go on and become a professor of Chinese, you will probably be expected to know them. But that again begs the question: why? To teach them to hundreds of learners who will have no practical use for them? It is very rare that I need to look up a character using a radical index these days (being lazy, admittedly I usually go to whichever resource offers phonetic or handwritten input), and if a resource I needed to use were only indexed that way, I could always find the radical through an initial search elsewhere.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Powered by WordPress