Chinese Language Learning – Memorization Effort…?

I’m a native English speaker and have been self-studying with a small amount of tutoring for ~4 years… Just curious how other people deal with the challenge of memorizing vocabulary. TLDR: I feel like there are different approaches and intensity with knowledge acquisition & memorization and I’m curious how others deal with this challenge.

I try to study a mix of reading, listening, speaking, and dabble with writing. I believe that vocab acquisition is more or less the easiest way to unlock parts of the language, as opposed to focusing specifically only on grammar patterns, accents, culture, etc., though those language components are obviously vital in their own way. So I basically focus on learning new words as much as I can (~70% of my study time), with ~30% to grammar, character composition (radicals), colloquialisms, etc.

So how crazy do you all get with memorizing new words? I’m a fan of pictograph/character visuals when they present themselves, and am a huge fan of radicals, but to be honest I find it exhausting to rote memorize new words. I study with time-spaced repetition and at this point probably must see a word 30+ times over the course of several weeks before I have it internalized to any extent (this seems really slow!). I would wager that I probably learn 3-4 new words each week when I’m studying 1 hr/night.

I would contrast my own approach with a technique where you could use memory palace type approaches for new words… as in, create a visual in your mind for each sound initial “zh, ch, shi,” etc., and visuals for the different tones, etc… but that can be really exhausting in the long term!

I saw somewhere once that there’s a hierarchy of knowledge acquisition… kind of the idea that the better you learn something, the longer it sticks, and that rote memorization alone is basically useless. Something like this, #1 being the best achievement with any new knowledge item:

1. Using the new concept to create original ideas
2. Connecting the new concept to other previously acquired knowledge and ideas
3. Identifying patterns
4. Rote memorization

In some ways, I’m feeling that learning Chinese is something of a full-contact sport and really requires my brain to clutch into 5th gear when I’m studying. However, I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve had to rote memorize lots of info in the short term, and truly so little of that knowledge actually persisted. And it’s hard to consistently bring such heightened focus on a consistent basis.

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多謝了! 🙂



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  1. Conscious_Project870 January 10, 2022
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