Weekly Update - Feb. 22, 2020

February 22, 2020

Learning 3,000 Chinese Characters

You can track my progress here.

I was traveling to California last week, so my study time was limited.

I learned 71 new characters, taking my total to 2,000/3,000.

I spent 5.9 hours learning characters this week.

As I previewed in my post last week, I’ve reached 2,000 character point and am pivoting early to more traditional language learning.

Here is my update for the week. 👇

Heisig Method -> Hello Chinese

I started getting diminishing returns by only learning characters. Each new character I learned was helping me less and less. The longer I went, the easier it was to learn new characters but the harder it was to remember everything. The incremental benefit from learning new words has started to not be worth the time cost it takes me to learn and maintain that knowledge.

I’m now going to spend 20-30 minutes on Anki each day to review the characters I’ve already learned. Though I’m not focusing on characters anymore, I don’t want my previous work to go to waste.

It’s still going to be hugely valuable information. On top of the 20-30 minutes of review, I may add 5-10 new words every day so that I can keep making progress towards 3,000. At this level, I won’t be overwhelmed with new information to the point that it keeps me from my new main course: Hello Chinese (an iPhone app).

My plan while doing Heisig was to do Hello Chinese on the side, but Heisig ended up taking 2 hours to do each day. I was pretty tired of learning characters by the end of the day. And some days, it would take me more than 2 hours to study. I couldn’t give the app the focus it needed to be effective.

I’m planning to do at least 30 minutes of Hello Chinese each day. If it turns out to be too slow/boring/etc., I’ll look at switching to a different program or book, but this is what I’ll start with for now.

Learning Too Much Similar Information

As I mentioned last week, Heisig’s book tends to have a lot of redundancy. Characters can be very similar, to the point of frustration. I learned about six versions of to be afraid of, four or five types of trees (elm, persimmon, etc.), and a few different ways to say mother. That’s fine, and it doesn’t hurt to know this stuff.

What hurts is the opportunity cost.

By spending time learning that information, I had to forgo learning how to actually speak the language.

This week in California I started talking to someone from China. It would have been great to actually say a few words — even if super basic — but instead I had to explain that I was just starting out and couldn’t say much.

Anyway, it will be nice to get back to relevant information. Learning characters has started to feel sort of pointless. Why am I spending time agonizing over the difference in to be afraid of and to be terrified of when I can’t say “Hi, my name’s Daniel, what’s your name?”

The diminishing returns combined with the opportunity cost of my time were just too much.

Could I Have Done 3,000 Characters in 120 Days?

Maybe, we’ll never know.

I think I could have if I had really put my head down and not thought about it. The last 1,000 characters would have probably been pretty grueling. Even at 2,000, I was starting to get pretty burnt out.

While I technically failed the goal I set for myself, the important thing is that I made it to 2,000 characters in a pretty short amount of time. I’m excited to start focusing on speaking, reading, and writing actual Chinese.

When it comes down to it, I think language learning is all about maintaining some level of excitement and consistency. If you are losing motivation to the point of not wanting to do something anymore, you need to switch it up or else you’ll make negative progress. Even if that means failing a goal you’ve set for yourself. To be honest, it’s a relief that I’ll be learning actual useful information again.

Hopefully my updates should get more interesting as well as I start to learn more unique information each week.

Thanks for reading. If you know anyone who likes to learn languages or is learning Chinese, please consider asking them to subscribe to my newsletter.

I send updates on my progress every Saturday.