Break­ing the lan­guage bar­rier is child’s play

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO -

Chineasy founder ShaoLan Hsueh is on a mis­sion to break down the lan­guage bar­rier sur­round­ing Chi­nese any way she can.

She started with the book Chineasy: The New Way to Read Chi­nese, re­leased in the US in 2014, which ba­si­cally teaches the mean­ing of about 400 es­sen­tial char­ac­ters by en­cas­ing them in clever and of­ten amus­ing il­lus­tra­tions (cre­ated by a team of artists at her head­quar­ters in Lon­don).

From there, she dis­sects each one and re­assem­bles it, de­mon­strat­ing how the Chi­nese lan­guage is put to­gether. Hao, the word for good, for in­stance, is a com­bi­na­tion of the char­ac­ter for woman and boy, sug­gest­ing moth­er­hood is a good thing. The term for eat­ing is an open space rep­re­sent­ing a mouth and next to it the squig­gle for beg­ging.

She is con­vinced that Chi­nese is a lot easier than most peo­ple think and her goal is to get begin­ners a ba­sic knowl­edge of 1,000 or so char­ac­ters quickly. She points out that the gov­ern­ment in China re­quires that peo­ple should be able to read news­pa­pers with just 1,500 char­ac­ters, while univer­sity stu­dents need a few thou­sand.

She’s shoot­ing for some­thing in be­tween and hop­ing the “net­work ef­fect” will guide stu­dents from there. “Know­ing one or two (char­ac­ters) you can cre­ate three or four; know­ing tens you can make hun­dreds; know­ing 50 or 70 you can cre­ate thou­sands,” she said.

She has been shar­ing her ap­proach with ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents the world over for years (to the tune of 400,000 fol­low­ers on­line), gar­ner­ing feed­back and sug­ges­tions and her lat­est tool is a board game called Chineasy Tiles: Play to Learn Chi­nese.

Con­ceived af­ter ex­ten­sive test­ing of hun­dreds of groups of non-Chi­nese speak­ers by teams in Lon­don, at MIT and other class­rooms around the world, the game uses 48 “es­sen­tial char­ac­ter” tiles: rain, woods, good, not/no, dog, white, and so on, with their give­away il­lus­tra­tion and an English word on one side and the plain char­ac­ter with pinyin term on the back.

In an on­line demon­stra­tion, she demon­strates how eas­ily rudi­men­tary sen­tences can come to­gether us­ing the tiles as build­ing blocks. “Eat” plus “big” means “eat like a pig”. “Small” plus “eat” means snack, or street food. “Cow” plus “wa­ter” means buf­falo.

“No” plus “eat” plus “cow” plus “meat” … you get the idea. But the bril­liance of the Chineasy ap­proach is that it em­pha­sizes the pluses of the lan­guage for an out­sider: there is no gram­mar, no tense, no “he or she” gen­der and no hard-and-fast or­der­ing of words in a sen­tence.

The game set comes with a set of large tiles and a game board and a sack of smaller tiles with five-by-five racks for play­ing a ver­sion of Chineasy Bingo. Hsueh said that 1,500 teach­ers world­wide are com­ing up with new games and ways to use the pieces. She said she is flat­tered that some peo­ple have been call­ing Chi­ne­seasy “the al­pha­bet of Chi­nese”.

“But we’re not there yet,” she said. “We don’t cover all 200,000 char­ac­ters, just aim for a very ba­sic lit­er­acy by know­ing a few thou­sand quickly.”

Con­tact the writer at chris­davis@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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SUN ZHENGYI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Un­der the watch­ful gaze of the Mon­key King, spicy tra­di­tional hot­pot, laced with fiery in­gre­di­ents hon­or­ing its ori­gins in Sichuan prov­ince, is served at a restau­rant in Bei­jing.

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