TAKEAWAY: Chinese words are constructed extremely logically from the underlying characters. This means that once a handful of characters have been
learned vocabulary acquisition speeds up exponentially.
How to Learn Written Chinese Fast
Before diving into learning characters, make sure you have a decent grounding in Chinese pronunciation via the pinyin system.
The reason for this is that taking on pronunciation, tones and characters from day one is really tough.
Don’t get me wrong, you can do it. Especially if you’re highly motivated. But for most people there’s a better way.
Learn a bit of spoken Chinese first.
With some spoken Chinese under your belt, and an understanding of pronunciation and tones, starting to learn how to write in Chinese will seem a whole lot easier.
When you’re ready, here’s how to use all the information from this article and deal with written Chinese in a sensible way.
I’ve got a systematic approach to written Chinese which you can find in detail on Sensible Chinese.
Right now, I’m going to get you started with the basics.
The Sensible Character System
The four stages for learning Chinese characters are:
Sounds technical huh? Don’t worry, it’s not really.
This part of the process is about choosing what you put into your character learning system.
If you are working on the wrong material then it’s wasted effort. Instead choose to learn Chinese characters that you are like to want to use in the future.
My list in order of priority contains:
- characters/words I’ve encountered through daily life.
- characters/words I’ve learnt from textbooks
- characters/words I’ve found in frequency lists of the most common characters and words
This is the “learning” part of the system.
You take a new word or character and break it down into its component parts. These components can then be used to create memory aids.
Hanzicraft.com or Pleco’s built-in character decomposition tool are fantastic for breaking down new characters. These will be helpful until you learn to recognize the character components by sight. These tools will also show you if there are sound-meaning component clues in the character.
Use the individual components of a character to build a “story” around the character. Personal, sexy and violent stories tend to stick in the mind best! 🙂 I also like to add colours into my stories to represent the tones (1st tone Green, 2nd tone Blue etc.)
After the “input” and the “process”… it’s time to review it all!
The simplest review system is paper-based flashcards which you periodically use to refresh your memory.
An important point: Review is not learning.
It’s tempting to rely on software like Anki to drill in the vocabulary through brute-force repetition. But don’t skip the first two parts – processing the character and creating a mnemonic are key parts of the process.
It isn’t enough to just learn and review your words… you also need to put them into use!
Thankfully, technology has made this easier than ever. Finding a language exchange partner or a cost-effective teacher is super simple nowadays, so there’s no excuse for not putting your new vocabulary into action!
The resources I personally use are:
Importantly, whilst you are using your current vocabulary in these forms of communication, you’ll be picking up new content all the time, which you can add back into your system.
The four steps above are a cycle that you will continue to rotate through– all the corrections and new words you receive during usage should become material to add to the system.
To recap, the four steps of systematically learning Chinese characters are:
By building these steps into your regular study schedule you can steadily work through the thousands of Chinese characters and words you’ll need to achieve literacy.
This is a long-haul process! So having a basic system in place is very important for consistency.
You can find out a lot more about The Sensible Chinese Character Learning System and how to write in Chinese here: http://sensiblechinese.com/sensible-character-learning-system-welcome/
Some more links and resources:
- 10 Things I Wish I Knew When Starting to Learn Chinese – a set of 10 beginner’s articles to help you get up to speed with Chinese learning fast.
- Chinese Language Learning Resource List – a curated list of tools and content available online and in print to help your Chinese learning, all categorised by usage type.
- Sensible Character Learning System – the full system outlined in a series of blog articles for those who want more detail and tips on how to refine their character learning.
- 111 Mandarin Chinese resources you wish you knew – Olly’s huge list of the best resources on the web for learning Chinese
I hope you enjoyed this epic guide to learning how to write in Chinese!
Please share this post with any friends who are learning Chinese, then leave us a comment below!
- A – 诶 (ēi)
- B – 比 (bǐ)
- C – 西 (xī)
- D – 迪 (dí)
- E – 伊( yī)
- F – 艾弗 (ài fú)
- G – 吉 (jí)
- H – 艾尺 (ài chǐ)
- I – 艾 (ài)
- J – 杰 (jié)
- K – 开 (kāi)
- L – 艾勒 (ài lè)
- M – 艾马 (ài mǎ)
- N – 艾娜 (ài nà)
- O – 哦 (ó)
- P – 屁 (pì)
- Q – 吉吾 (jí wú)
- R – 艾儿 (ài ér)
- S – 艾丝 (ài sī)
- T – 提 (tí)
- U – 伊吾 (yī wú)
- V – 维 (wéi)
- W – 豆贝尔维 (dòu bèi ěr wéi)
- X – 艾克斯 (yī kè sī)
- Y – 吾艾 (wú ài)
- Z – 贼德 (zéi dé)