The Best Advice on How to Learn Chinese Characters

By OptiLingo

The number one question almost every beginner asks for when trying to learn the Chinese language is, what is the best advice on how to learn Chinese characters? Understandable, but we should consider characters for a moment.

It can be difficult to learn Chinese characters at first because for most people, especially native English speakers, it is vastly different from their native tongue. Chinese is a tonal language and thus needs to be written in a way that allows us to understand as well as differentiate the nuances in sounds and tones that make up the language.

Over time you can expect your understanding of Chinese to increase making it easier to recall certain characters. Learning a language, like any new adventure in life can seem intimidating and discourage can happen from time to time.

That is why it is very important to have realistic goals before getting serious about your learning because it will help to keep you focused in those disheartening moments while also allowing you to acknowledge the progress you make. Frustration is a common feeling to have at the beginning of learning Chinese but it will not last and things will become clearer soon.

The beginning of your learning process will feel more like drawing than writing but stick with it. You might be asking yourself, how can I learn Chinese characters, well keep reading to find out!

Take the Time to Examine Characters Closely

The most important thing you must do before you can learn Chinese characters is to study them thoroughly. You should be looking at the order of the brush strokes to understand the correct way it’s supposed to look and to figure out the order the strokes are supposed to be written in. There are a lot of brush stroke worksheets online for different characters you can use as a guide if you need help.

I’m sure you have heard the saying, practice makes perfect. Investing the time to practice writing Chinese characters over and over will always be the quintessential best tip on how to learn Chinese characters.

You should practice until you can correctly write out the character without overthinking the correct way to create the strokes. This helps you to remember the right way to move your hand to get it right and it can make your handwriting look better.

If you’re above a beginner but not as advanced as an expert constantly writing out the character is not mandatory. The amount of time it will take to master writing out a character depends on how intricate it is.

Stroke for Stroke Memorization is Not Necessary

You should avoid trying to copy Chinese characters the exact way you see them written down. It is better to try and remember what the character looks like as a whole versus trying to memorize every single stroke that goes into a character.

If you forgot how the whole character is supposed to be written, you can try to separate it into component parts and use the brushstroke order worksheet when you need to reference it.

It is better to memorize how the character is supposed to look rather than focusing on copying the exact way each stroke looks.

When you are writing out your characters, it would be useful to write them out on grid paper with squares that can help keep your writing neat. There are a lot of practice sheets online you can find for free so you can get used to writing characters in a certain amount of space.

Writing the Same Characters Too Much is a Bad Idea for Memorization

You should avoid repeatedly writing the same character with the goal that you can burn it into your memory because that won’t work.

Of course, you need to study the information you are learning which includes going over the characters you need help with but you don’t want to excessively worry about writing them exactly as you see them written.

I know you are probably thinking, okay, so how can I learn Chinese characters then?

A better strategy would be having a schedule for when you practice writing your characters so that you’re not repeating the same character too frequently.

This is much more effective in helping you learn characters and there are a lot of online programs that focus on spacing character repetition to help improve your progress.

As You Learn, Incorporate More

Since you are already learning about characters you should try to implement pronunciation and definitions into your lessons.

You can write out the character than on the opposite side of it on a flashcard or sheet of paper, write what it means and the correct way to pronounce it.

Another good tip is to attempt speaking the word out loud if you have an idea of what it sounds like but there are plenty of online resources that can help with pronunciation. In the beginning, you should be cautious of the seemingly simple wording of pinyin!

Make a note of the character components you keep saying in other characters

Not only will it help you but it is also enjoyable to have some background knowledge of the characters you’re learning about. There are a lot of online resources you can use to help you dissect character component parts.

If you’re not sure about whether or not a character component is important if you see it three different times and it is used three different ways, then take time to learn about it.

Embrace variety when learning about characters

There are so many options to optimize your learning experience and make it much more enjoyable. For example, there are countless apps that help you to memorize what your learning by giving you the option to create flashcards and of course there is the good old fashioned, paper note-taking where you can stick tidbits all over your apartment to help you remember what things are in Chinese.

Conventional studying does not have to be the only way you can learn characters. Adding a variety of different resources can increase the time investment you are able to make on advancing your language skills and increases information retention.

You should avoid pursuing perfection. Chinese is a beautiful and intricate language that can take some time as well as effort to become fluent in. If you use some of the tips we shared, the journey of learning Chinese characters will be much easier!