3 secrets to Chinese characters

It’s easy to speak Chinese. The tones just make it more fun, and the one-syllable words are hard to forget. But writing Chinese…. well, that’s a whole other beast! In struggling to learn to all the different characters, I’ve figured out the top three ways to really sink them into your memory.

#1: Repetition and Review

The easiest way to forget a character is not to use it. I’ve never forgotten how to write “你好“ because it means hello, and that’s a word that I have to write all the time! But words like 系 (college major) and 工程 (engineering) aren’t really at the top of my frequency list.

To fix that, I always make sure to review the same amount of characters that I learn each day. If I learn 4 new characters, I review four. Simple. That way, even words that I don’t use very much become words I have to use all the time.


#2: Stroke order

Although it’s not the most exciting thing to learn, using the proper stroke order can make it easier to learn characters. When I learn a new character, I first watch it being written on the website Arch Chinese. That way I see exactly how it is supposed to be written, and it feels right when I write it. It’s just like learning to play the guitar; if you don’t learn the right places to put your fingers when you play chords, it’s really hard to switch between them. But if you do it right from the start, the chords sound smoother and better. In Chinese, it can help your characters flow together in the same way, and they are less awkward to write.


#3: Radicals

Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet, true. But there are little character parts called radicals that go together in characters with similar meanings. Look at these four:

学校    学生     数学    学习

They all have that little “学“, the radical for “learn”. Which makes sense, because they mean school, student, math, and study. Cool, right? Learning these radicals will make it easier to learn the characters. It’s like putting the puzzle together—a student is a “learn-goer”.


I hope these tips help you learn Chinese characters! I still haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but I’ll add more to this list when I do.

Sydney Sauer • December 12, 2015

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