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Flywheel

Read by Learning

There’s this manga series I like to read, but for whatever reason, the translation group stopped releasing English scans of the series. I can’t read Japanese, but I did find Chinese translations. However, my Chinese ability is a bit rudimentary. To get around this, I use Google Translate to interpret phrases and characters I’m unfamiliar with.

Here’s my strategy: translate the whole phrase and see if it makes sense. Then, I’ll pick out words and translate it as is to see if it can be interpreted in other ways as well. Google Translate has to choose one interpretation for a sentence which might not be accurate, as it might not have the context for certain words.

If you’re unfamiliar with Chinese, there are several methods for keyboard input. I use two. The first is pinyin. Pinyin is a romanized typing system for Chinese. Once you learn the system, you can figure out the pronunciation and the tone of the word. This is great for learners because Chinese characters otherwise have no inherent way to distinguish the pronunciation method or intonation. If you’re following, then this question should come up: If I’m reading a comic with Chinese characters and I don’t understand the meaning, how do I look it up? I can’t type up words I don’t know, after all. That’s where the second input system comes in: handwriting.

When it comes to writing Chinese characters, the order of the strokes matter. There’s also some general guidelines for writing them – the best to remember is to start top down, left to right. There’s also categories of strokes, which leads to familiarity with patterns over time. Therefore, when writing characters on my phone, the general quality of my handwriting doesn’t matter too much as long as I follow the stroke order. This is great because I have shit writing. Now, for new words, you might wonder how I can figure out the stroke order if it really matters that much. As stated earlier, there are some general guidelines you can follow – starting top to bottom, left to right. This guideline isn’t true 100% of the time, but it is true about 80% of the times. You can generally remember the patterns for which this isn’t the case. Second, many characters are often composed of simpler characters, called radicals. Radicals are kinda like the building blocks for many other characters. They are words that have meaning, but when used in other characters, they can occasionally give you a hint on the new character. The included radical can imply either a similar meaning or pronunciation. Also, once you become more familiar with the most common radicals, you can decompose most characters (or large portions of the characters) into their constituent radicals. Learning vocabulary no longer becomes an exercise of remembering whole new characters, but combinations of old characters to form new ones.

Here’s the system as a whole: I don’t understand some words, I write it in Google Translate. Translate gives the meaning and also the pinyin meaning of the characters, which will allow me to incorporate new vocabulary in my speech as well. For phrases that come up often, I’ll learn it over time and get a better feel for colloquial language.

The biggest problem with this method is for comics like the one I’m reading now that uses a lot of domain specific jargon – the language I’m learning might not be that helpful for everyday use. This method might be pretty good for series that involve more mundane topics though. Slice of life, etc.

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