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Take Your Chinese to the Next Step: Tips on Writing Chinese Characters

Mar. 2, 2018

Chinese General Characters

In a recent lesson, I shared with you some of my classroom tips for practicing your Mandarin Chinese pronunciation. In today’s lesson, I will do the same, but with another essential aspect of the Chinese language, the enriching act of writing Chinese characters. Usually, learners begin with learning pinyin, then move to reading and recognizing Chinese characters, but often skip over learning to write in Chinese. I think that this is a mistake for intermediate and advanced learners.

There are many benefits to learn to write Chinese characters:
• Writing can strengthen your memorization of characters
• Communicating with Chinese friends
• Studying in China, or doing business in China may require Chinese character writing
• Exercise your brain to visually recognize form and function in Chinese characters instead of an alphabet
• Better understanding of Chinese culture

Many learners may think that if they know pinyin, they can type the characters they need into a computer keyboard. However, even learners who know pinyin may frequently input incorrect sentences into the computer and may express the wrong meaning. Others may not understand what they want to express. The reason is, in Chinese, one pinyin input may match multiple Chinese characters (homonyms). Readers cannot understand what you wish to express if you choose the irrelevant characters.

Here are two steps that you can take to begin learning to write Chinese characters:

Step 1: Know how to start

Just like building a house, we have to build in order as we put the characters together. Characters are written by combining different “strokes”. So, you need to start from learning the various strokes. Learn the stroke order and know the rules to construct the character properly (and beautifully!).

Chinese General Characters2

You also need to learn Chinese character components and structure. Chinese characters have different types: single-component characters (人) and multi-component characters (妈). Complicated types contain more strokes and components, such as “森”, which consists of three “木”.

The basic structure of Chinese characters :

You also need to learn Chinese character components and structure. Chinese characters have different types: single-component characters (人) and multi-component characters (妈). Complicated types contain more strokes and components, such as “森”, which consists of three “木”.

The basic structure of Chinese characters:
• The left-(middle-)right structure: 女 + 未 = 妹; 米 + 古 + 月= 糊
• The top-(middle-)bottom structure: 八+ 刀 = 分; 立 + 日 + 心 = 意
• The enclosure structure: 口 + 口 = 回; 玉 + 口 = 国

Step 2: Make an effective and reasonable plan

Set specific goals. Don’t say to yourself: “I want to learn writing effectively or better than I now know”. Don’t be vague about how much you will learn and in which method. Your goal should be laid out in such a way:

1.Time: goals for every month, every week, and even every day; know how many hours you will spend writing characters.

2.Method: how many characters you will need to practice, how to practice, test, evaluate and revise, etc.

3.Tools: choose the proper tools: flashcards, Twiddla, Skritter, or written on paper.

4.People: find a qualified tutor who can check, test and inspect your progress, find a partner that also makes your study more interesting.

5.Rewards: once you reach your goals, reward yourself and celebrate your achievements!

I hope this information can help inspire and motivate you to learn to write Chinese characters. The process of learning and training your mind and hand to form these beautiful and mysterious pictograms is valuable to not only your Chinese learning, but your overall understanding of communication and art!

Quiz:

1. When writing Chinese characters, all of the following are examples of stroke order rules except:

A. The top-middle-bottom structure
B. The enclosure structure
C. The left-middle-right structure
D. The bottom-middle-left structure
See Answer

― Written by Becky Zhang ―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at eChineseLearning.com. She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

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