The video above and article below both walk you through how to write in Chinese the Sensible Chinese way. Watch or read (or both!) depending on your preference.
How to Write in Chinese
My name is Kyle and I run learnchinesecharacters.academy, a blog for helping you learn Chinese more efficiently. In the above video I talk to you about how to write in Chinese. The article and the video are the same to better suit those who prefer to read and those who prefer to listen.
Are you struggling with Chinese characters? I want to talk to you about why this is and what you can do about it.
Chances are the methods you are using to learn are old fashioned and holding you back.
The first weeks or even months of Chinese are BRUTAL – there’s a lot to deal with all at the same time.
First up you have pronunciation. Sh-, s-, c- for example. Then we overlay tones mā má mǎ mà. At first all sounds so strange, so unfamiliar.
Even your first nǐhǎo is a pain. Two third tones with a tone change just to say “hello”! Learning characters on top of this is a nightmare.
But this is the normal procedure: to drop you straight in the deep end with pronunciation, tones and characters. Sink or swim!
Normally you have two options here:
1. Bull your way through to the other side through sheer willpower. If you have a good enough reason or maybe you are stuck in a 4 year programme, you’ll get through.
2. Or you can give up – follow the majority of learners who get overwhelmed and quit. These people join the ranks of those who say that Chinese is “too hard”.
I see this so much and it annoys me. It’s not the learner’s fault but instead because of the old fashioned methods used to teach Chinese in general and the characters in particular.
If you’ve ever had to write out a Chinese character 100 times from a vocab list you know what I mean. It’s old fashioned, inefficient – no wonder people quit!
So these two routes seem pretty hopeless. Stubbornly fight through using every ounce of your willpower or give up.
Here’s a third way. A more sensible way.
First of all forgot about the characters for now. Focus on spoken communicative Chinese and get a grip on pronunciation and tones before overlaying the additional layer of characters. There’s plenty of time to learn characters so don’t worry about delaying a few weeks.
When you do get to the characters though take your time to understand them; how they are constructed, the different types, the logic of characters and how characters are grouped together to make up words.
Then take this knowledge and apply it systematically. Most importantly there are three levels of written Chinese we need to know about: the components, characters and words.
Once you grasp these levels and how they interact the internal logic of Chinese begins to reveal itself.
Did you know for example that around 90-95% of Chinese characters have hints buried in them about not only what the character means but about how to pronounce it.
It’s called a “sound-meaning character” and the vast majority of Chinese characters have these clues. Here you can find ~30 mins of free video lessons with me talking about these sound-meaning characters
It’s not enough just to know about the characters though. We can take this knowledge and systematically apply it to speed up how fast we learn the characters.
There are a huge number of techniques out there that are much more efficient than rote memorization and paper flashcards.
Personally when I encounter a new character I do the following:
- break it down into its components.
- use the components to create a memory device. This memory device helps me recall the meaning, the pronunciation and the tone.
- I feed my new characters into a spaced repetition system (SRS). A SRS is like flashcards on steroids – you are shown the flashcard at just the right time before you forget it, this memory bump at just the right time is the most efficient way to shift information from your short term to your long term memory.
- I use SRS to review characters, trying to recall their meaning, pronunciation and tones using my mnemonics. If I can’t remember I relearn – this means creating a new mnemonic not just hoping to remember it next time!
- every week I remove a certain number of words and characters from my SRS system – content that I am comfortable with – write example sentences, get them checked on Lang-8 and then use them in communication with real Chinese speakers on iTalki and/or HelloTalk, a great new app for language exchange.
- any new content from this usage stage loops back to the top of my system. I break down new content, create mnemonics, use SRS and the use new content in speaking practice.
This learning loop is what I now call the Sensible Chinese Character System. It’s taken me years of trial and error to nail the system down and even longer to work out how best to help other people implement the system .
When I was learning the characters I used this method to learn 75-100 new characters per day with 90% retention 7 days later.
You can find out more in this blog article: Brief Introduction to the Sensible Chinese Character System or check out my ~7 hour step by step video course teaching all the knowledge you need and how to set up your own character learning system.