James Heisig’s Remembering the Hanzi is a popular series of books for remembering traditional and simplified Chinese characters by using mnemonics.
Let’s go into the similarities and differences between the two approaches and why HanziHero is a great alternative to Remembering the Hanzi for those looking to learn Chinese characters.
Both HanziHero and Remembering the Hanzi are focused on doing one thing well: helping you remember each Chinese character so you can start reading Chinese. Chinese has thousands of characters that one must know the meaning and pronunciation of in order to read Chinese.
To help you learn thousand of Chinese characters, both HanziHero and Remembering the Hanzi break down characters into their Chinese character components.
Chinese character components are groups of strokes that make up Chinese characters. For example, the character 好 hǎo is composed of two components. On the left is 女 woman and on the right is 子 child.
Simply being able to recognize the components that make up a character help greatly with being able to parse and understand it. Often, the components that are within a character leave clues as to the meaning or pronunciation of a character. Learning the components within a character turn arbitrary groups of strokes into pieces of information that you can use to familiarize yourself to the character.
Beyond just breaking down a character into components, both HanziHero and Remembering the Hanzi uses those components within a character to create a mnemonic story that helps you remember the meaning of the character.
To illustrate, here’s an example of a simple meaning mnemonic for the character 好 hǎo , which means good, that one may see in either approach.
A woman (component) can teach a child (component) to be good (character meaning).
If you can remember the above meaning mnemonic, each time you see the character 好 you can more easily recall the meaning of it!
While both HanziHero and Remembering the Hanzi leverage character components and mnemonics to help students learn and remember Chinese characters, there are still a large variety of differences in the approaches.
At HanziHero, we’ve taken the basic component and mnemonic formula and have greatly expanded it to make it more approachable, useful, and effective.
Remembering the Hanzi only teaches the meaning of a Chinese character. If you go through the entirety of the 3,000 characters contained within the books, you will come out the other end still not knowing how to pronounce a single Chinese character. The Remembering the Hanzi philosophy is that you should learn all of the basic meanings of the characters first, and afterwards start learning the pronunciation.
HanziHero, by contrast, teaches the pronunciation and pinyin of the character alongside its meaning. By doing so, HanziHero allows you to actually read aloud basic Chinese sentences within a couple months of daily lessons.
The majority of the “mnemonics” within Remembering the Hanzi are in fact incomplete. Below is the entry for 禿 tū that is representative of what you may find:
As you can see, the entry simply tells you the components within the character. It is in fact up to you to make the actual mnemonic. Some entries in fact give a full mnemonic, but it is certainly less than half of all entries.
HanziHero by contrast includes a complete hand-crafted mnemonic for each of our thousands of characters. That mnemonic also includes additional mnemonic elements for the pronunciation aspect as well. These pronunciation mnemonic elements are a persona, a setting, and a location within that setting. Here’s our entry for 禿 tū :
We feel confident in the quality of our mnemonics as they are the ones that helped ourselves learn all of these thousands of characters. You can read more about how our mnemonics work in our page detailing them.
Remembering the Hanzi, which is split across two volumes, aims to teach the 1,500 most common characters in the first volume and the second 1,500 most common characters in the second volume. However, it does not do any other prioritization within each volume. In practice this means that one of the top-10 most common characters in the Chinese language, 不 bù , is the 924th character that you learn if you use Remembering the Hanzi!
HanziHero has our own optimal character order that we teach characters in. In our course 不 bù is the 6th character you learn, as is appropriate for such a common and important character. We teach characters according to how essential or common they are to help you be able to read excerpts of real Chinese text as soon as possible.
Remembering the Hanzi is not an app, but just a book. As such, it has no built-in review system for you to review what you learn. Instead, you must make your own flashcards, or use a popular flashcard app like Anki.
HanziHero has a built in spaced repetition review system to ensure that sure you don’t forget what you have learned. Spaced repetition is a technique for spacing out reviews according to their difficulty, and is also what applications like Anki use under the hood. In short, it keeps track on what you get right and wrong to ensure that the items you review more often are the ones you don’t know as well, and that you spend less time reviewing items you already clearly know!
Remembering the Hanzi teaches just over 3,000 Chinese characters. However, the number of characters the average educated Chinese knows is somewhere around four to five thousand. In fact, the seven Harry Potter books together contain over 4,000 unique Chinese characters!
The core curriculum of HanziHero teaches the 3,000 essential characters outlined by HSK Chinese Proficiency Test which is provided by China’s Ministry of Education. In addition to that, we have over an additional thousand Chinese characters that one can choose to learn as well, if desired.
Our additional characters provides a clear path to achieving true literacy and a more complete knowledge of the Chinese language for those students who set that as their goal. For those who just want to know the essentials, our core curriculum also has you covered.
Remembering the Hanzi does not teach any vocabulary words. This is in line with the fact that it does not teach pronunciation of characters as well. This is because Remembering the Hanzi aim is to help you become familiar with all of the characters, not to teach you how they are necessarily used in the real world.
HanziHero by contrast teaches a couple thousand of vocabulary words in addition to components and characters. Similar to our characters and components, we also provide a hand-crafted mnemonic for each of our vocabulary words.
Below you can find an example mnemonic from our entry for 小吃 xiǎochī :
These vocabulary words help you better understand how each of the characters you learn are used in practice. That deeper knowledge also allows you to more easily remember the meaning and pronunciation of the characters you learn.
However, HanziHero goes beyond the limited scope of Remembering the Hanzi. We additionally teach the pronunciation of each Chinese character and thousands of vocabulary words. More than that, we also have a dedicated spaced repetition system to help you review and remember what you learn. These all combine to provide a more complete and streamlined Chinese character learning experience.
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