Character math

On my second-grade daughter’s worksheet the other day.


Is this common in Chinese classes for foreigners? There’s also something like an oral version of this that I’ve heard her playing (with her mother or grandmother) from time to time. If I ever get a good recording I’ll post it.

It’s kind of amusing, but pedagogically it strikes me as a waste: awfully rote compared to much of the stuff they do and are capable of at this age.

If anyone has different versions of this, you can send them to me (bjshengr <at> gmail <dot> com) and I’ll add them to the post.

9 responses to “Character math”

  1. André says:

    I took a course on Chinese characters at 北大 where the teacher focused on grouping characters, not just by compounds, but also by origin. Kind of a academic version of what your daughter does.

    I found it very useful, as I realized the connection between a lot of characters I already knew, as well as speeded up the learning of characters as I was able to turn chaos in to (something resembling at least) order. I’ll see if I can dig out some old handouts.

  2. Chrix says:

    I don’t think it’s common in Chinese classes for foreigners, some people I’ve met never learnt the Six Principles, so I doubt that character composition is taught all that well. I think it should be introduced after you’ve studied around 200-300 characters, after 500 at the latest…

    Just as another data point: this kind of game seems to be used in Japan as well, just confirmed it. A bit unclear on what to call this game though, maybe something like 漢字クイズ…

  3. Chrix says:

    it’s slightly off-toic, but I found this quite fun, it’s a game for kids to guess which character belongs with a different radical than the rest:

    it’s all in Japanese, but it will be pretty clear if you pressed the right answer from the graphics and the sound effects (and they don’t tell you why they’re classed differently, only that “we have to just remember it”).

  4. GAC says:

    In the US: Nothing about radicals at all, we are just supposed to memorize characters, anything on construction is sort of an asside (this is in my WVU classes, obviously I can’t speak for all US Chinese courses).

    In China: One of my classes at 浙大 had a number of sections on different radicals. Not quite like this, but we did get a very good idea about how radical + phonetic characters work.

  5. BJG says:

    I think this is a wonderful tool for learning how to write characters. I am someone who has studied Mandarin for about 4 years but completely forgot how to write all but +-100 characters. I want to take the HSK but I first need to master this basic skill in order to do it. I’ll try to search around for kids’ workbooks. However, as you said, I don’t know if this is as useful as fostering something besides rote learning.

    Your posts are constantly interesting: 加油!

  6. Micah S says:

    Isn’t gaming in education the next big thing? This is a very forward-thinking activity!

  7. Chris Waugh says:

    Agreed with Micah. To me it doesn’t look like rote at all, more like recognising patterns and relationships and combining and recombining patterns.

  8. Syz says:

    Yeah, everyone’s right: I take back the whole “awfully rote” business. What was I thinking? Memorizing characters *is* rote! And this is one step better by helping kids think about decomposition and so forth. Better than some of the worksheets I did as a kid.

  9. I would love to hear the recording. Really hope you have a chance to post that.

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