What’s the best way to learn Chinese characters?
To learn Chinese characters, you need to learn “radicals” first.
Chinese characters can be categorized into 6 types:
- Ideogrammic compounds
- Phono-semantic compounds
- Transformed cognates
Among all Chinese characters, more than 90% of them are Phono-semantic compounds. A Phono-semantic compound consists of a radical related to the meaning of the character and a “phono” element originating with its sound. So, if you learn the most commonly used radicals, it will greatly help you associate and remember the meaning of the characters and learn to write the characters. There are around 50 radicals constantly appearing in the 520 most commonly used Chinese characters which make up for 90% of the frequently used ones in our daily lives.
Most Commonly Used Chinese Radicals
The good news is that most of the above radicals are simple and pictographic, so it is not challenging to learn them and once you master them, learning Chinese characters will come along much more easily.
However, to learn radicals, then you also have to learn Chinese strokes.
How to learn Chinese Strokes
To learn the radicals and any other characters, you must learn the basic strokes to write them in the correct stroke order. A typical way is to learn through the character 永 which contains 8 kinds of basic strokes.
The 8 strokes are as below.
|1||Diǎn, (點/点) “Dot”||Tiny dash, speck.|
|2||Héng, (橫) “Horizontal”||Rightward stroke.|
|3||Shù, (竪 “Erect”;
Tiěchǔ, (鐵杵/铁杵) “Iron staff”
|4||Gōu, (鉤) “Hook”||Appended to other strokes, suddenly going down or going left only.|
|5||Tí, (提) “Raise”;
Tiāo, (挑) “Lifting off”
|Flick up and rightwards.|
|6||Wān, (彎/弯) “Bend, curve”||A tapering thinning curve, usually concave left (convex outward right) and with fast speed as if skimming.|
|7||Piě, (撇) “Throw away, slant”;
Duǎn Piě (短撇) “Short slant”
|Falling leftwards (with the slight curve).|
|8||Nà, (捺) “Pressing forcefully”;
Pō, (波) “Wave”
|Falling rightwards (fattening at the bottom), where the endpoint is “as sharp as a knife” (hence the name “Dismemberment”).|
Tips for Learning to Write Chinese Characters
One last tip is that you do need to write them by hand! Either with a pen (or your mouse!), you have to practice “writing” the characters rather than just look at them trying to memorize them. Trace the lines and get to know them well.
If you don’t write out the characters, you are at most to be able to recognize them by looking at them repeatedly. However, being able to recognize the characters does not mean that one can write them out correctly. By practicing writing the characters, you are both working on your recognition and the ability to write them at the same time!