Weekly Update - Jan. 25, 2020

January 25, 2020

Learning 3,000 Chinese Characters

You can track my progress here.

I learned 171 new characters, taking my total to 1,369/3,000.

I spent 12.7 hours learning characters this week.

Here are my takeaways from the week. 👇

Learning Stroke Order Helps

Learning the way to properly write a character helps big time. At first I thought I didn’t need to bother learning how to write in the most perfect manner since I didn’t plan on writing characters by hand other than for practice.

It turns out that when I am able to learn a character’s stroke order right the first time, I have less trouble with it in the future.

When I keep forgetting a specific character, watching the character being written often helps me remember it the next time. I’m not sure why this is, but I think it has to do with pattern recognition. Strokes feel less arbitrary when they have order to them.

Things are Getting Easier

It feels to me like there are fewer and fewer new primitive elements to learn and combine into characters. I also know a lot more primitive elements very well, so it doesn’t take as long to combine them in my memory each time I learn a brand new character.

I’m nearly halfway to my goal of 3,000 characters. If I take a look at’s (CCTV is the public TV of China) homepage, I’m able to recognize a lot of characters:


But I am still unable to string them into a meaningful sentence.

Irrelevant Words in the Heisig Book

If you’re unfamiliar with the Heisig book, here is the post where I outlined my strategy for learning Chinese characters.

James Heisig’s book is fantastic in many ways. It does a great job of making characters approachable and structured so that you can learn them quickly.

But it is frustrating to come up with stories to remember words that you never use in English — words like bequeath, proffer, cudgel, and venerate.

Also, words appear in isolation, outside of their grammatical context, which makes them harder to learn. It’s very tough to remember the difference between words like wish, desire, and want.

Hello Chinese

I’m starting to do more work with Hello Chinese (an iPhone app), which I’ve found to be much better than Duolingo for Chinese.

It’s nice to see some of my hard work in characters paying off when I do other practice. At the same time, I can see that it’s not going to be a walk in the park once I’m done learning 3,000 characters, either.

The biggest new concept I learned this week was measure words in Chinese.

Kind of like how in English, we would say “a bottle of water,” you also need to include measure words in Chinese.

Unfortunately, I think they tend to be more ambiguous in Chinese, and you need to include them with things like people and pets. A lot of the measure words in Chinese are based on the shape or size of the item.

For example, you would use 支 (zhī) to describe thin, twig like objects (like a pencil). You would use 只 (zhī) to describe small to mid sized animals.

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading

I send updates on my progress every Saturday.