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Studying Chinese V – Chinese Characters

Most people think that the most difficult part in learning Chinese is the writing. Chinese characters look very complicated at the first glance, especially for those who start learning Chinese on their own, and try to memorize random characters. Of course, that’s the hardest way to do that. But you will realize that once you have figured out the system behind the Chinese characters you’ll find it so much easier to memorize them.

First Chinese Writing Experience


Chinese is a quite logical language. If you’re interested in reading and writing Chinese characters, the easiest way is to start with the numbers 1-10. They are very simple to write, quite useful to know:

One     Two     Three   Four     Five     Six       Seven  Eight    Nine    Ten

一        二        三        四        五        六        七        八        九        十

This is it! Now you know these characters, you actually know how to read and write all the numbers through 100. The reason is that Chinese counting follows a very simple pattern:

10        =          10        +          1          =          十一

20        =          2          +          10        =          二十

There are so called “radicals” in Chinese language, that defines the character. If you know the basic ones then you could also get the meaning from the characters, even though you don’t know how to spell the word. So Chinese radical is like a graphical component of a Chinese character. This component is often semantic, but could sometimes also be phonetic.

For example the Chinese character for mother consists of two parts.

The left part is the radical 女=”female”. Here the radical is also a semantic component.

The right part is a phonetic component: 马 mǎ = „horse“.

To sum it up, by just checking the left part you know that this character has something to do with a woman and by recognizing the right part you know how to pronounce it. Characters like this are quite easy to remember once you have learned more radicals.

Knowing this helped me a lot to learn Chinese characters. Just yesterday I had a task to call the manager from a company.

The problem was that I’ve never seen this character before and also didn’t know if the manager’s gender. So I checked the name, which says: 张 高娜. So I saw somewhere in the name the female radical 女 and I recognized the phonetic compenent from the family name “长”cháng. The rest of the name was a mystery to me. So picked up the phone, made a call and referred to the manager as „Miss/Manager Chang?“ and it worked out

So the hardest part of learning Chinese is to memorize are the tones, which will be handled in one of our next blogs. Being able to recognize the common radicals helps in the learning and recognition of old and new characters.

You see, learning Chinsese is not that hard. Especially not in one of our language classes