Best Ways to Learn Chinese Characters
Remember the Stroke Order
What else could you choose to do though if writing out endless characters isn’t really your thing? A quicker method would be to learn the stroke order of a said character. I have fond memories of my first ever-Chinese teacher abjectly stating that unless a Chinese character was drawn in the correct order, it was wrong, even if the outcome was the same. She even went so far as to say anyone who didn’t use the correct stroke order may as well go and join an ‘art class’ instead as you were essentially drawing picture instead of writing out a word.
Learning the stroke order method is essentially just a lighter and less time consuming method of 汉字 repetition, the difference is that you are remembering the method behind writing a specific character rather than the finished outcome itself. This will help you a lot when it comes to your writing skills, it just wont help so much with your reading skills. Below you can see me demonstrating the stroke order for writing my Chinese name.
Learn the Radicals
New students often make the mistake in assuming that every Chinese character is different. Now, they are right in saying 99.9% of Chinese characters are different in terms of appearance, but not in the way that they are constructed. The truth is, Chinese Characters are kind of like a jigsaw puzzle in many respects. You have basic characters known as radicals, most of these have their own meaning, but you can also combine these simple characters (or radicals) to form for complicated ones.
Many of my Japanese or Korean 同学们 (tóng xué men – class mates) often have little issue with learning news characters, even if they don’t appear in their native languages. The reason for this is that they can break down a character’s separate radicals and deduce a ‘ball park guess’ at the meaning of said character. Once they know this, being able to remember what the character looks like comes very easily to them as you can simply categorise whole swathes of characters by meaning.
You might be questioning, “why can’t I do this?” The reason is because it takes time. Many students in East Asian countries
are forced have the option of learning characters when they are in school (particularly Korean and Japanese students). It is therefore as second fiddle to them as the Latin alphabet is to us in the West. Now, before you despair, it is possible for Westerners to pick up this method of learning characters, it just takes months (if not years) of practice. Besides, this learning method isn’t full proof either. Just because you can remember the radicals that form a character doesn’t always mean you would know which order to put them in, putting you back to square one.