Monday, July 14, 2014


“Chinese is considered one of the most difficult languages to master. However, using the Chineasy system, anyone can begin to understand and read Chinese. It works by transforming Chinese characters into illustrations to make them easy to remember. This book teaches the key characters on which the language is built and how these characters can be combined to form more complex words and phrases. Learning Chinese has never been this simple or more fun!”

“火 is the Chinese character for “fire.” It is not very easy to remember. But turn the character into an illustration of fire and it becomes much easier to recall. Two fires together means “burning hot.” Fire and mountain means volcano. Welcome to Chineasy, a groundbreaking approach to learning how to read and write Chinese.”

Fire / 2x fire = Burning hot                 fire + mountain = volcano

[From the back cover and the publisher's web site]

I've been trying to learn Japanese for decades and what I've found the most difficult is to remember the kanji characters set, which are the same than the Chinese characters. They are made of complex “drawings” called logograms (pictograms, ideograms), created with several pen strokes and can be combined to make more complex characters. Contrary to a phonogram, which represents a sound and can be combined to make words, a logogram is a graphic symbol that represent an idea or concept. They say that you need a “vocabulary” of at least 2000 characters in order to be able to read simple everyday's item like a newspaper. [Opposite: character for “person”]

The complexity of the characters make them difficult to remember and you really need a good mnemonic trick to help doing that. You need to associate a more familiar image with the character to help remember not only its shape but also its meaning. Years ago I found (and reviewed) a nice book providing just that (Kanji Pict-o-graphix, by Michael Rowley, published at Stone Bridge Press in 1992, ISBN 978-0—9628137-0-2), but the pages were a little crowded, only in b&w and it was not graphically pleasing. Chineasy, however, offer the same kind of mnemonics but is quite visually pleasing: it is full color, contains big illustrations and just a few on each page so it doesn't feel crowded. Chinese is of course pronounced differently than Japanese, but the characters and their meaning is exactly the same. So whether you are learning Chinese or Japanese, it doesn't matter, this book can be quite useful. [Opposite: character for “mountain”]

In the introduction the author first talks a little about herself (the daughter of a Taiwanese calligrapher and ceramist now living in the UK), explaining why she developed the method and wrote the book. It also explains how to use the book (a quick overview, the methodology, the difference between traditional [in Taiwan and Hong Kong] and simplified [mainland] Chinese, how it evolved) and the essential elements of chinese characters (the writing, spacing and pronunciation — the book use the pinyin for Mandarin). The core of the book is dedicated to the Chinese characters' basics: building blocks, compounds, phrases and advanced sentences. [Opposite: character for “water”]

Chineasy covers sixty-four characters (for person, sky, mouth, fish, dog, fire, tree, bamboo, sheep, mountain, woman, bird, feather, sun, moon, work, white, tiger, door, water, cow, horse, jade, river, boat, one, bug, tall, heart, knife, pig, roof, rain, son, eye, hand, to fly, household, net, dusk, to talk, dish, self, walking, soil, soldier, scholar, field, bow, wine vessel, weapon, deer, grass, shell, small, ghost, to wrap up, how many, private, to reveal, shield, ice, to owe and dagger) and their derivatives (in total over four-hundred characters). It concludes with an illustrated story of “Peter and the wolf” and a few reference pages (the building block plates [opposite illustration], index of characters and phrases, acknowledgements).

Example of derivative words: pg 32-33, 44-45 & 54-55

Chineasy is certainly not original (Kanji Pict-o-graphix offered a similar method more than twenty years ago) but it is an effective, well-executed and beautiful book. It is fun and easy to learn with this method (although I don't think this book by itself can make you become fluent in such a complex foreign language). You should try it if you are interested in learning either Chinese or Japanese, or simply if you are curious to acquired some vocabulary in order to show off how erudite you are.

You can also find on Youtube a 10 mins introduction video to the Chineasy method:

Chineasy: The New Way To Read Chinese, by Shaolan Hsueh (with illustrations by Noma Bar). New York: HarperCollins Publishers (Harper Design), 2014. 192 pp., paperback, $24.99 US / $31.00 CDN, ISBN 978-0-06-233209-7. Recommanded for teenagers (12+).
For more information:

Chineasy © 2014 Chineasy Ltd.

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