Refer to other memories
Knowledge doesn’t exist in isolation, and this is especially true for language
learning. To get good at Chinese, it’s important to build 语感: a natural sense
for the language.
The thirteenth rule in 20 Rules for Formulating
Knowledge reflects this: “refer
to other memories”.
As you progress with learning Chinese, you get the benefit of this rule
naturally. It’s easier to add more to existing knowledge than to start from
scratch. You can also take advantage of this by actively seeking out new
material that can be related to what you already know, and looking for
opportunities to build useful associations in what you’re acquiring.
As an example, if you’re learning the word 建造, it’s good to link it with 建立 and
建设 in your mind if you know those words already. They’re a group of related
words, so making the association is beneficial. Further, learning example
sentences for each will do a lot to strenghten your knowledge of the whole set
as well as their component parts.
Quick tip: this book is brilliant
for helping you find or think of these associations.
You can also incorporate seemingly unrelated knowledge to help you learn the
language. Your personal associations with the material you’re learning will
lodge in your mind immediately. Incorporating these into your mnemonics and
thoughts around the language can accelerate your learning.
For example, you may have some strong personal associations with the city of 台北.
Using those memories to remember words involving 台 or 北 is a great technique.
The fact that it’s not “official” or “correct” doesn’t mean you can’t use it to
help you remember things.
Why memorising lists doesn’t work
A language is a living system built on a web of interconnected knowledge, so
rote-memorising lists of things won’t let you speak Chinese. There is a
temptation to believe that if you just know enough words or enough characters,
then your work will be done.
Sometimes people make observations along the lines of “when you learn one thing,
you’ve actually learnt a hundred, because you can combine it with everything you
already know”. This may be technically true, but there’s far more to
understanding or producing real Chinese sentences than simply slotting words in.
There is a much deeper level of information in any utterance, and grasping that
needs work from the learner as well.
This is not to say that learning vocabulary lists is a waste of time. On the
contrary, it can be a pragmatic way to quickly stack up more building blocks in
your Chinese learning. The point is that you need a great deal of other
knowledge to go along with it.
“Complementary memory” is another term for the idea of referring to other
memories. Again, it works by using your mind’s natural ability to build webs of
related knowledge, rather than trying to force dead information into your
The post on complementary memory
covers this in more detail.
This content was originally published here.