in order for Heisig to be successful in selling his books, he must market to the beginners in the language. As you can well imagine, if Heisig's advice was like mine, which is to learn reading and writing after you've become fluent in listening and speaking, he would lose 95% of his customers! Now, I'm not implying that this is the reason for Heisig's advice, but this is also the reality of language learning. Many people start, but few make it to fluency.
Greg noted in his blog that because he knows the meaning of 拼 and 音, he can put two and two together and suddenly he can read this word without having to learn the pinyin of the word. I have two comments about this. My first comment is that not all words are like that. Perhaps most aren't? I won't bore you with examples. It would be beneficial if some linguist would conduct some research and see how many compound Chinese words can be understood the first time from the meanings of their component characters. And then give us a percentage. The fact is, however, there is not one unique Chinese character for every idea.
My second comment about the above phenomenon is that it was greatly facilitated by the fact that he already knew the actual word in Chinese. If it had been a word he had never heard of before, then he would have the extra step of learning the new word. Because it is so much easier to learn to read Chinese after you know most of the words, it makes more sense to wait.
If you come across a word like SHENZHONG and you already know what it means, you will have the Chinese characters in front of your eyes to spark your memory of a word that you know. But if you need to learn the meaning as well, then you are trying to do too many things at once. You cannot figure out the meaning of every character-compound as you come across it. Usually, after you know what that word is supposed to mean, THEN the characters will make sense and you can easily remember it. But only if it is not a new word. Before that, I think you will be looking at each one and saying, This means this and that one means that, and it is pronounced like this, but I still don't know what it means!
Do you want to be able to read more than you can understand? Or do you want to start with understanding and then learn to read? The more complex your path is, the slower you will be going. Language learning is all about gaining momentum. If you deliberately pick a slow path, it will take much much longer to gain any momentum. I can't think of anything slower than trying to read Chinese before you understand Chinese. If you want to spend your time on the slow stuff, that's your choice.
Sometimes it is much better to go slowly, though, than to go through so much new material that you can't keep up. I say this here, because some of you would point out that the TV method goes so slowly. But who is doing the going? With the TV method, it is not the learner doing the going. The language is going by itself and the learner learns to go with the flow. Eventually, the learner will be flowing at the same speed as the natural language.
What's the least used skill in a foreign language? Handwriting. What's the hardest part of learning Chinese? Handwriting. The answers are the same. Handwriting ranks as number one for the least useful and the most difficult, hands down!
What does Heisig encourage you to do at the onset of your Japanese or Chinese language studies? His advice is to learn how to hand write the characters! Brilliant! Let's master as the first thing that which is least beneficial and easiest to forget. Slow... slow... slow...
Does this not remind you of another brilliant method of traditional classroom language learning? Let's master as the first thing in the first class, pronunciation and speaking! But teacher, we don't know how the language sounds yet. It doesn't matter! You can borrow sounds from your own language and spend the rest of your life with an accent. Ha... ha... ha...
They say, It does not matter what the children do. It does not matter how you learned your first language. We're adults! We'll do it differently!
And off they charged into battle.
Yes, there are many casualties of language learning. And for the rest of their lives, they carry the scars and walk with a limp to prove it. Their accents are the scars. Their slow speech is the limp. And their final ability in the language is the amputated legs!
Yes you've seen them. You've worked with them. Sure, they can communicate quite well. But do you want to be one of them? Do you want to be obviously foreign? If so, then this blog isn't for you.
This blog, my friends, is for people who have the desire to acquire a second native language and also believe they can do so! If you believe it is possible, then this blog is for you!