One of the big stumbling blocks preventing expats, tourists, and visitors to China from communicating effectively with the local population is of course the language. The Chinese language has long been considered the most difficult major language to learn, largely because of the huge number of complex characters and those difficult tones. I’ve been learning Chinese since I moved here, but will admit my progress has been painfully slow. My kids are doing way better than me, which was of course to be expected. Faced with a very long summer break, I wanted to find a fun and educational way for them to continue their learning of the language. On a recent visit to the UCCA at 798 Art District, I purchased a book called Chineasy by ShaoLan, plus a pack of 60 accompanying flash cards.
Born in Taipei and now living in London, ShaoLan is an entrepreneur, writer, traveler, and a strong believer in lifelong learning. When ShaoLan began to teach her British born children Chinese, she realized just how difficult Chinese characters are for a native English speaker to learn. She spent many years looking for a fun and easy way to teach her kids how to read Chinese. After years of searching, she came to the conclusion that none of the methods already out there were engaging enough. So she created her own method for learning how to read Chinese characters: Chineasy.
Chineasy’s goal is to allow people of any age to learn to read Chinese easily, by recognizing characters through simple illustrations. By learning one small set of building blocks, students can build many new words, characters, and phrases. Even though there are tens of thousands of Chinese characters, only a few hundred are actually necessary to comprehend basic Chinese literature and begin to understand Chinese culture. For each character, the Chineasy method gives you the main English translation. The pinyin teaches you how to pronounce the character, using a number system to represent the character’s tone mark. You get a handy definition telling you how the character is composed, plus hints to help you remember it.
As an example, in ancient Chinese writing, 人 character resembled the profile of a walking person. With a little Chineasy magic, you can easily see how the curved strokes represent a person’s legs. 人 simply means “person”, so you’ll come across it in phrases related to individuals and groups of people. Originally, the 大 character represented a person with its arms spread wide. You can imagine a person saying “this big…” and demonstrating with a gesture. In ancient times, 大人 was the term used by citizens to describe those who were in power “big person”. The modern meaning of “big-size person” is of course adult, therefore big (大) + person (人) = adult (大人). The flashcards and book are proving to be a 大 hit in our household, and not just with the kids!
The Chineasy book is available in six different languages and you can buy at Amazon, UCCA, and The Bookworm. You can also purchase the e-book on iTunes and Amazon, and an app is scheduled for release soon. Alternatively, there are online lessons at www.chineasy.org
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: courtesy of Chineasy