Learning measure words

October 19, 2009, 08:28 AM posted in General Discussion

We all love to hate 'em. Here's my new strategy for learning measure words:

1: Whenever I add a new noun to my vocabulary list, I look it up on nciku. Usually, there are measure word colloquations there. Hopefully, there's just one.

2: If it's a measure word I haven't already studied, I add it to the vocab.

3: Since the pinyin field in the vocab list is editable (thank you, ChinesePod!), I add the measure word there. This is because in StudyArcade, which is the iPhone app I use to study vocabulary, both directions (C->E and E->C) have the pinyin on the answer side.

This is based on the classic approach of learning gender in gender based languages. You don't learn "'voiture' means 'car'", you learn "'la voiture' means 'the car'", since this gives you the gender for free. The same way, when learning Chinese, don't learn "'zhǐ' means 'paper'", learn "'yī zhāng zhǐ' means 'a piece of paper'".

Problems with this approach:

1: The Chinese field of the vocab is not editable, which makes it impossible to do it the way I want to do it (adding the character of the measure word in the Chinese field and the pinyin in the pinyin field). Also, no "Convert to tone marks" button is availible in the pinyin editing field, but that's easily worked around.

2: Sometimes there are multiple measure word colloquations.

So what I'm looking for in this discussion is both your own ways of learning the measure words, and if you have a solution to any of my problems (like, what should I do when there are several measure words for a noun?). I'll be interested in reading your thoughts.

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October 19, 2009, 09:07 AM

Oh, also, do you know of better resources than nciku for getting the measure words? Free online ones, preferrably. Nciku doesn't always give an answer.

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October 19, 2009, 01:34 PM

Okay, so apparently nobody cares about this. No matter, I shall converse with myself.

I realized that I can add my own words to the vocabulary. This solves the problem of not being able to edit the Chinese part of vocab entries. So now when I get a noun, I shall first learn it together with the other words via Skritter. Then I'll check the measure word. Then I'll add it anew, like this:

Chinese: 一张收据
Pinyin: yī zhāng shōujù
English: A receipt

And then remove the original one.

This will certainly require a lot of extra effort, but I don't think it's time wasted. I think the added time spent with the word will help retention.

(The reason I have to do the whole process only after having used Skritter is because Skritter doesn't recognize user-input words and phrases.)

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October 19, 2009, 01:52 PM


I challenge your premise that we 'love to hate' them - I love them.  But I have no strategy for learning them, sorry, other than noting their use in daily communication.  When I don't understand something I'm reading I often ask myself 'is there a measure word here?'  I would really like to learn how to use those that come last in the sentence - I marvel at the structure but I have never really mastered it.  And I use 个 gè a lot.  I've bought a few roast ducks lately - 最近我买了几只烤鸭. Love that measure word. It sort of looks like a fat roast duck hooked up side down on a pole right next to the road I live on, dripping fat down onto the footpath.       

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October 19, 2009, 05:46 PM

Well, I for one love to hate them. They're like a really good movie villain.

Anyway, if you do want to master measure words, I really think that thinking about vocabulary in terms of "an umbrella" instead of "umbrella" is the way to go. I've been doing this for something like a day, so I can hardly point to any results, but it's a tried and true method in learning French.

In other news, I have realized how few words on nciku actually have associated measure words, so I've ordered a measure word dictionary. That'll learn 'em (the measure words, that is).