Some thoughts of using radicals to teach Chinese-from the Asia Soceity
Radicals Reveal the Order of Chinese Characters
By Heather Clydesdale
Mastering Chinese is daunting, in large part because learners must memorize thousands of distinct characters. So it is both a revelation and a relief to learners when they discover radicals.
Radicals organize the chaotic swarm of characters into a logical system. Traditional Chinese groups all characters according to 214 radicals (simplified uses 189), which are organized based on number of strokes into a chart called the bushou. Each radical is itself a freestanding character-word, such as one, woman, child, cliff, field, tree, millet, halberd, leather, and bird.
Once inducted into radicals, students can look up characters in a dictionary without knowing the pronunciation. In addition, they can more deeply appreciate the characters they know, guess the meaning of new ones they encounter, and more efficiently memorize them.
For these reasons, Mingquan Wang, senior lecturer and language coordinator of the Chinese program at Tufts University, insists that radicals should be a part of the curriculum for teaching Chinese as a foreign language. “The question is,” he says, “how that should be done.” In spring of 2013, Wang sent an online questionnaire to 60 institutions, including colleges and K–12 schools. Of the 42 that responded, 100% agreed that teachers of Chinese language should cover radicals, yet few use a separate book or dedicate a course to radicals, and most simply discuss radicals as they encounter them in textbooks.
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