I have tried a dozen-odd ways of learning Chinese. Few of them have worked very well . . . except one: the book Learning Chinese Characters (2007) by Alison Matthews and Laurence Matthews. The subtitle is “a revolutionary new way to learn and remember the 800 most basic Chinese characters” and I agree, if revolutionary means “a lot better than other methods”. The method is simple:
Break combination characters — almost all Chinese characters are combinations of a few hundred simpler characters — into components.
The simplest components, not divisible into others, are associated with a picture that conveys the meaning. Someone pitching a baseball, for example, when outlined makes the character for nine.
Devise a brief story, a little picture, to help you remember that the components together mean what they mean. For example, the characters for white and ladle put together in one character mean of. The story is something like: “Look at that white ladle. It’s the special ladle of Chef Thomas. The book is full of drawings to help visualize the stories.
I enjoy reading it. Partly for the feeling of accomplishment — I can tell I am actually learning the characters much faster than before — and partly because the combinations are intriguing.
The book I have says “Volume One” so I eagerly await later volumes to read more of what these two writers, who are not identified, have to say. I never saw it in Beijing; I came across it in a Barnes & Noble or Borders.