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Learn How to Write Chinese Characters

By Joy, published on 23/11/2017 Blog > Languages > Chinese > Learn How to Write in Chinese

Attracted by the Chinese culture and all that it represents, simply captivated and fascinated by this multimillenary writing or willing to open to more than a billion people at once?

Because before being a real asset on a resume, learning Chinese is a great door of entry to exchange, communicate, talk, converse and more generally to open to more than one sixth of the planet. Because yes, numerically, Mandarin is the most common native language in the world!

Although its writing is the antithesis of those we know in the West, it is very modern and adapted to what is happening today, even with ancient characters. For example, in Mandarin, computer translates by “brain + electric” (电脑). Pretty nifty, right?

This article gives you the keys to learn to master the writing of this difficult language for a Westerner!

The importance of the mastery of characters

To learn Chinese and write it, crucial step will be to master Chinese characters, also called ideograms.

It is very difficult to write correctly one or more characters of unknown pronunciation and phonetics. This is why learning simultaneously characters and the transcripts of these in Pinyin (romanization of writing and traditional Chinese calligraphy) seems to be the only viable path in the mastery of characters for us.

Note that it is possible, but it is especially true for reading, to only learn Pinyin without the characters.

Be aware that in order to master the writing of characters, it is essential to master the 8 basic features that define the drawing of every hanzi. Then come the keys numbered 214. These are the “brushstrokes” which form the building blocks of each character.

Moreover, the order of formation of a character is very important to be understood:

  • From the left to the right,
  • From the top to the bottom,
  • Horizontal, then vertical,
  • You have to fill in the square before closing it,
  • One character at a time.

To help you see things more clearly, here is a little video:

Learn how to write basic vocabulary

Learn Chinese online with Superprof The best way to learn mandarin is to start with the basics you’ll need everyday. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Before starting complicating things, let’s start with the basics directly! This helps motivating you and learning directly from hard facts. For example:

  • Hello: 你好
  • Yes: 
  • No: 
  • Goodbye: 再见
  • Thank you: 谢谢
  • Please: 
  • The morning: 上午
  • The afternoon: 下午
  • The night: 晚上
  • The sun: 太阳
  • The moon: 

Learn basic sentences then

After having acquired some knowledge of vocabulary, having learned to recognize characters and write them, it’s time to move on to a few sentences of simple basics:

  • How are you? 你怎么去?
  • I’m good: 很好
  • Excuse me: 请您原谅
  • I don’t understand: 我不懂
  • What’s your name? 你叫什么名字 ?
  • My name is: 我叫
  • How old are you? 你几岁了?
  • I am … years old: 我+ nombre + 岁了
  • Where are you from? 你是哪国人 ?
  • I’m French: 我是法国人

The website Chine.in offers 500 sentences to learn how to speak Chinese but also to learn to recognize the characters and write them. Through different themes, enrich your knowledge of the language (say hello, identify objects, years, months and days, the time, the age…).

You can use these tips and tricks to learn Chinese characters

What methods to learn how to write Chinese?

Many paying or free formulas offer Chinese characters learning methods. We recommend to all readers that they first learn about cognitive and memory abilities of our brain and to inquire on studies related to the “forgetting curve.”

Speaking Chinese is good, know how to write it is even better! Use the forgetting curve to remember the best characters in time!

Internet websites

Some of the most effective methods offer you to learn the characters according to the teachings of the forgetting curve.

This is particularly the case of the Institute “Mosalingua” which allows you to create reminders of learning and that is very useful for the learning of Chinese vocabulary, one of the key, if it is not the most imporant one, of control or improvement of Chinese writing.

The website Chine-nouvelle has the advantage of offering a method based on 10 minutes of Chinese per day! In perfect harmony with what we recommend! The method is focused on both oral and writing because a language is learned in a living way, and not just on paper.

Learn Chinese online with Superprof The internet is a door to Chinese language courses. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Immerse yourself in Chinese culture with Ramou.net! This modern website helps the learner to learn Chinese interactively to progress more quickly. The student is able to discover lessons, annotated texts, podcasts, Chinese fables, a dictionary, calligraphy…

Discover how to learn Chinese by reading

Youtube channels

Other more classical and conventional methods are available for the most skeptical. This is the case of many Youtube channels as ‘Sigur Camp’ offering an introduction and training to Chinese characters.

You can also find the Youtube Channel “Learn Chinese easy” to learn to write smoothly, at your own pace and without doing too much every day.

The videos are short and detail the steps to write pronouns, words like ‘person’, ‘tall’ and ‘heaven’ or even ‘Merry Christmas ‘. What you need to take the step to hard facts directly not to get bored!

The apps

Digital and interactive version is also a trail to explore, including the app “Pleco” which allows many things, among which a module allowing to explain the order of the strokes of each character or each key and leaving the user the opportunity to practise directly the calligraphy. Other applications to learn writing are also available.

The structure of a sentence in Chinese

Grammar and conjugation will allow you to learn to read in Chinese. They are actually quite simple:

  • There is no distinction between the feminine and the masculine,
  • No more than segmentation between the singular and the plural,
  • No conjugation or declension either,
  • The classic structure of a sentence in Chinese is very simple: subject / verb / add-in.

Here, Ned Stark thinks that he would do better to go on a trip to China!

For example, to express a past gone action or a change in circumstances, the ideogram “了” is most commonly used.

Alone, it gives meaning to all the other previous characters of the sentence. It is for this reason that the most important when constructing a sentence in mandarin Chinese is to respect the word order, order generally changing the habits of the beginner or Western learner, because it is often contrary to ours.

An example to convince you:

In mandarin, 王 means ‘king’ and 国 means ‘country ‘. In English, we tend to translate 王国 by king of the country, or in other words: the sovereign. This is not correct and proves the importance of the order of the words in a sentence or a Chinese clause.

Actually, 王国 indeed means “the kingdom.” In other words, it is the last character of the sentence which is the most important and as reading several characters, the last one you will read will give or alter the meaning of the first read.

Learn more about Chinese characters

Some basic grammar rules

Let’s start the… intensive exercise of grammar! Studying, only that works for progress!

To learn how to write in Chinese, a few rules still remain. Although there are a few exceptions (as in almost all languages, from English to German to Korean or Japanese), these are much rarer than the English grammatical exceptions!

  • The subject of the sentence must be systematically before the verb and as in Western languages, it is often at the beginning of the sentence,
  • Adverbial phrases (of place, time), as well as indirect objects must also be before the verb,
  • The direct object can be found after the verb.

To understand a sentence or a Chinese clause, in the first instance, you must find the verb, which can sometimes be complex because these verbs can also be names most of the time.

One of the peculiarities of the Chinese language is the use of the classifier, a particle which appears between a determiner and the name, to affiliate the name to a general category.

For example, for an end and long item, we’ll use the classifier “zhi” 支 that initially designates a branch but refers to the more general category of an end and long object by visual analogy. Thus, we find this character to designate a cigarette (支香烟) or even a pen (这支笔).

In Chinese, the classifiers are also used:

  • Between a number and a name to quantify,
  • Between ‘this one’, ‘that one’, ‘each’ and a name to point out,
  • Between “which”, “how much/ many” and a name to query,
  • After a verb to indicate the number of times that the action is performed.

You will find a list of these classifiers on the Hanzidico website. Don’t start with this! Mandatory immediate discouragement!

To learn or perfect the mastery of Chinese grammar, many books are available as an Initiation to the Chinese syntax or Practical Chinese grammar which are reference books in this area. They can help you understand better the use of classifiers!

 A few tips to facilitate your learning of Chinese writing

A few good reasons if you are not convinced at this stage!

As we like hard facts at Superprof, we concocted some tips so that each new learner can take pleasure in learning, whether you are taking Mandarin classes London or working with a Superprof tutor:

  • The most important and most useful will be to create a learning routine. Chinese asks to be methodical. Why not take advantage of your morning coffee to work half an hour on characters or a few grammar rules?
  • Immerse yourself totally in Chinese culture is also useful for progression. For the artists, why not learn about calligraphy armed with brush and Indian ink? In addition to progress on the mastery of characters, this activity will teach you patience and calm, two major advantages in the learning of writing,
  • Do not limit yourself to writing! Learn to speak Chinese. For this, you can listen to Chinese radios, watch movies in Chinese or even talk with a Chinese native!
  • Subscribe to blogs like those on Chinese food, Chinese medicine, martial arts or even the philosophy of Confucius or Lao Tzu. Each of you has to find a chosen field to give himself more will to understand all the machinery and resources of Chinese writing,
  • Buy large-squared graph paper or notebooks to become familiar with the size of the characters. Never forget that a character must be written in an imaginary square, and that when several components of a character are too far apart, they may have a different meaning.
  • Don’t hesitate to take private lessons or courses online insofar as possible with a native speaker and in limited groups for having both a positive emulation and easier access to the teacher. For those working within a company, it is possible to find a training or courses using the personal account of training (formerly DIF),
  • Practice daily: better to learn a little often than a lot once a week! You will remember much better and will be less discouraged this way! A 20 minutes practice a day by varying the exercises will much more motivate you, try it!
  • Set yourself goals: learn that many characters per day for example! Not only learning to write them but also to pronounce them and to recognise them,
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: of course, we would all like to speak and write a language we learn without mistakes. Do not see mistakes like an embarrassment but as the learning process. It is necessary to make mistakes to learn better! On condition that you use them not to make them again of course!

A Chinese course via books, it’s not too bad, right?

Learn Chinese online with Superprof Learn Chinese through tall tales. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Each of you would have understood, the ideal situation is to take an interest in side topics that are detached from the pure aspect of writing. This allows you to pique your curiosity compared to writing some terms or concepts. For those wishing to subscribe to blogs about Chinese food, the desire to enrich your vocabulary in terms of food or Chinese meals will probably come more naturally.

Take Chinese classes

If despite all your efforts, you are unable to move quickly enough in Chinese, remember to take collective or individual courses!

A collective Chinese course has the advantage to be motivating by the created dynamics of group. Everyone give each other a boost. We learn from the mistakes of others, we want to be better than others and we can communicate not only by writing but also orally.

On the other hand, the group class as its name suggests, call on the collective. Which means that individuals must be set aside. A private Chinese class will have this advantage. It will be fully customized for the student and his needs. The teacher will be more attentive and can readjust the exercises based on the strengths and weaknesses of the learner.

You choose what suits you best. In both cases, you can easily find your happiness on our Superprof platform! Many Chinese teachers (2000) are available everywhere in the United Kingdom and by webcam for courses of Chinese in London and elsewhere in the UK!

Hourly rates depend a lot on the geographic location, the requested level and experience of the teacher. For example, in Paris the average price is € 24 per hour while in Nantes, it is €20.

15 good reasons to learn how to write Chinese

Learn Chinese online with Superprof Learn Chinese buy strengthening your memory. (Photo via Visualhunt)

  1. To boost the capacity of your brain: according to studies, Chinese calls on the two hemispheres of the brain. Moreover, when learning a language, the brain becomes more ‘multi-tasking ‘. As a result, polyglots tend to be better organized. And with all the characters to learn, this is a good way to maintain your memory!
  2. To increase your capacity for analysis: studies have proved that Chinese learners are more gifted in analysis and creativity exercises,
  3. To protect yourself against Alzheimer’s disease: according to an American study, people practicing one or several languages are indeed less affected by the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s,
  4. Because it is an undeniable advantage on the resume: few people practice Chinese, so it’s a good way to stand out from the competition!
  5. To make more encounters: Mandarin is spoken by more than a billion people in the world, this is a lot of friends!
  6. To better communicate on a trip to China: you plan to go for a few weeks, a few months or years? The least you can do is still learning a few words of Chinese.
  7. To avoid misunderstandings and scams: actually, when you travel, sometimes people try to fool you. Know the basics of Chinese to understand when people try to cheat you!
  8. To facilitate your travels in Asia: Mandarin is actually spoken mainly by Chinese people, but it is also present everywhere in Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines or Mongolia),
  9. To develop your artistic sense with calligraphy: Chinese writing is more like drawing than writing in itself!
  10. To have a different look at what surrounds us: the study of this language allows the learner to understand the vision that Chinese people have on the world, time, space and history,
  11. To start a new challenge: we won’t lie to you, it’s not super easy! Prove to yourself that you can do it!
  12. To avoid tattooing anything on your body: Chinese tattoos are a basic that are always fashionable. Knowing Chinese writing allows you to avoid ending up with a sign meaning ‘mother’ instead of ‘dragon’ for example!
  13. To learn a language that is not as complicated as it looks: you can do well very quickly in mandarin Chinese! Indeed, once you know a few basic signs, it is easy to speak and understand since there is no conjugation and tegrammar is pretty basic,
  14. To show off: it’s still pretty cool to speak Chinese to impress your friends ?
  15. To correct your dyslexia: dyslexic people have indeed more abilities with languages like Chinese or Japanese because each sign represents something unlike French or English that use separate letters to form a word.

In synthesis:

  • In general, learning languages is extremely taking, requires a lot of investment and can be done effectively only over time.
  • If learning Mandarin and its writing is not easy, it remains, with a hint of goodwill, accessible to everyone. The Chinese language requires rigour in its methods of learning.
  • Although a language immersion in the country is the most effective method to learn, other methods are available to learn to write, as the combination of the use of the many tools available (paper, digital or sometimes even scientific).
  • Feel free to push any of your curiosity forward  to deepen and improve quickly by asking you for example how this or that word you pass on the street is written in pinyin or expressed in characters. Because yes, learning the writing of a language is complex, especially when its alphabet, its tones and its grammatical logic are different from those we know.

Also discover this complete guide to learning Chinese

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