I have been learning Mandarin for three months now and the most frequent statement I get from western friends goes a little like this: “I couldn’t deal with having to learn all those symbols”. Then they go on at some length about how impossible they are. I wondered how would they know, they’ve never sat down and actually tried to learn characters, the need to do so has never arose. Westerners have been subconsciously indoctrinated with these myths from an early age. For example in the child’s game ‘Chinese Whispers’ a child whispers a message to the ear of another child and this continues until the last child reveals the distorted message. It was called ‘Chinese Whispers’ because in the 17th century when European and Chinese people met, Europeans found the Chinese language incomprehensible. So… like Chinese whispers the myth that Mandarin is impossible to learn has been passed down the line.
Even though I understand that learning the characters just requires effort, it’s taken me this long to sit down and tackle it. Luckily, I found a book called Chineasy. I first became aware of Chineasy when the founder ShaoLan Hsueh passionately presented her book and the inspiration behind it at Ted Talks:
After watching the Ted Talk I thought “Finally!”. I then went on the website to learn more, it says “Chineasy works on a simple building block principle. When you know a few key base characters (or building blocks) you can start combining them to create more complex words (compounds)…”. Straight after I saw some blogger’s reviews snubbing the book, the methodology and the claims that this book will help you “learn to read Chinese”. I thought great another language learning scam.
A week later, waiting for a train, I popped into the bookshop. I was drawn to this beautiful book with incredible illustration by graphic designer, Noma Bar. Bought it… loved it. The issue I have with the sceptical reviews are: offer me an alternative.
I had a hard-enough time with English words never mind Chinese characters. So I have been avoiding characters ever since I started my Mandarin studies ( I focused purely on speaking). Being dyslexic, I love how this book uses exciting visuals to almost trick me into learning a few characters. Yes, I’m not going to completely learn how to read Mandarin from this book, but it has successfully broke down my irrational fear of learning characters. Chineasy isn’t one of those terrifyingly chunky, size 8 text, grammar books. It’s fun and digestible with interesting nuggets about Chinese culture and history.
Here are some holiday snaps of me playing I spy with Chineasy!
Find Chineasy Here:
Disclosure: Please note that this blog has affiliate links. Which mean that – at zero cost to you – I might earn a commission if you buy something through this affiliate link. That said, I would never recommend anything I don’t personally use and find to be a valuable asset to language learning.