ancient chinese characters come to life in a new book

A new book and website, called Chineasy, helps non-native speakers learn Chinese through simple graphics and easy to follow logic. The book and ebook were designed by ShaoLan Hsueh (薛曉嵐, often simply ShaoLan), an entrepreneur, author, and calligrapher’s daughter originally born in Taiwan and now based in London.

Whether you’re a complete newbie and are just starting to think about how to speak the language on your travels, or you’ve lived in China for years and know a fair amount of characters, Chineasy is a delightful way to learn this beautiful and ancient language. The book uses two strategies to help the reader start learning Chinese characters right away. First, each character, developed by the ancients as a pictograph to represent a word or root, is illustrated as a colorful mnemonic device. One building block, 木 (mù), which means tree, can get confused with other characters when you’re first learning Chinese, but seeing the character illustrated each time with its green canopy over the tree trunk helps you remember its meaning. ShaoLan’s second strategy is to teach groups of characters, which build from simpler characters and roots, playfully diagrammed on her website as Lego-like building blocks. Two 木 together in one character form 林 (lín), which naturally means woods. More complex characters and compound words with more than one character are grouped together with the main building block. Even if you’ve already studied some Chinese, the insightful text accompanying each character can always teach you something about the history of the written language. ShaoLan includes both traditional and simplified characters to show the characters’  building blocks in their original structure.

Reading Chineasy, the characters vividly come to life and really make expanding your vocabulary fun. Visit the website for info about where to download or buy the book, learn more about the building blocks and try a sample lesson (requires YouTube). You can learn more about ShaoLan on her website, where her infectious spirit and dreams jump off the screen. A second Chineasy book will be published later this year.

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