When learning Chinese, we all worry about memorizing the characters of the language and wonder how we will be able to remember all the Chinese characters or hanzi that we are taught in class.
Most of us have realized the importance of using Chinese characters from day one, there are no Chinese books, no posters, no subtitles, no publications written in pinyin, the romanization system of the Chinese language, we have only seen hanzi characters. Thousands of characters (up to 65,000 if we count all current and ancestral characters) with no alphabet at all.
3500 basic characters are what we need to be able to enjoy a good conversation, a television program or a good book without any problems. What can we do to memorize these characters quickly and easily?
Learning the Hanzi characters is going to take up a large part of our Chinese language study time; we are lucky that the grammar is quite simple; much more than we could imagine! So the time spent studying Chinese is going to become a long-distance race learning characters.
Today we propose you 7 resources to improve hanzi learning, so that little by little, with constancy, perseverance and a lot of motivation we can improve our vocabulary:
1. Read the complete vocabulary list
The first thing to do before starting to memorize is to read out loud the Chinese pronunciation and definition of each character. A good option is to pay attention to those characters that we do not understand and look up their spelling, pronunciation, meaning and examples of usage.
2. Assign colors to represent tones
It is necessary to eliminate our dependence on Pinyin. To do this, it is very useful to use colors to mark the tones of each character or syllable. Dependence on Pinyin becomes more of a problem than a help in the long run.
Our recommendation, especially for students who are already at intermediate levels, is to write the characters with the color that identifies their tone; for example blue for the first tone, yellow for the second, green for the third and red for the fourth.
Using this color code, we will internalize the tone of each hanzi or syllable. If you are a beginner student, you can continue using the pinyin system, since in the initial stages it is of utmost importance to work on the phonetics of the Chinese language.
3. Find the radical of the character
Now that we have the color code ready, we can move on to the most important part of the memorization process and for this we will focus on the use of radicals. Radicals will be best friends and serve as a guide to help us distinguish the meaning of a word or character.
For example, if we come across the radical animal (犭) in some character, we will know from that moment on that whatever the word is has something to do with an animal.
When we encounter a word for the first time, let’s take a look at its radicals; by analyzing its radicals we will be able to discover an approximation of its meaning.
In this sense, we suggest creating a list of semantic radicals, i.e. those that bring meaning to the character, which will make us learn new characters in a faster way.
4. Write the character and the radicals
Now we can write the character in our vocabulary list. Depending on the tone of the character we will write it in one color or another. And right after the character we write its radicals, both semantic and phonetic (those that give us an approximation to the pronunciation of the character).
As an example we could have:
顺利 shùnlì – (both characters written in red as they are fourth tone).
顺 shùn= 川 river + 页 page/sheet
The meaning of顺 is along; imagining a leaf moving along a river.
利 lì = 禾 grain/seed +刂 knife.
The meaning of利 is benefit, advantage; being able to understand this meaning from the moment that with a knife the grain is mowed.
At this moment you may think that this method will take you a long time, but we promise you that if you do it this way, you will remember many, many characters.
5. On a separate sheet of paper, practice writing each word 10 times and reading it out loud.
In China, Chinese students are required to repeat each character 10-12 times a day in elementary school. Repetition really helps to consolidate learning in our brains. The key here is that we are creating a connection between the character and the word, not between the word and its Pinyin, regardless of the Pinyin.
6. Create your vocabulary list using flashcards
We recommend using online tools such as Cram, Study Blue, Quizzlet or many others to study vocabulary. Remember that the important thing is still to dispense with Pinyin, on one side of the flashcard will be the hanzi character and on the other side its meaning.
7. Review every week
The learning of Chinese characters is a constant and cumulative learning, it is necessary to review the previously learned characters at the same time that you study the new vocabulary.
Reviewing the previous vocabulary flashcards once a week will help us to internalize the hanzi characters.
Learning the characters well and then simply reviewing them is the way to succeed in learning Chinese. It is not difficult, maybe a little more laborious, but you will save time in the long run because we memorize the characters and it will be more difficult to forget them later.
Remember that if you need help at any time, you can always go to Mandarin Centers Institute, who have highly qualified teachers, both Spanish speakers and native speakers, who will guide you in the teaching of this millenary language. Enrollment is open for the adult program starting in September 2022. If you have previous knowledge of the language, don’t worry, you don’t have to start from scratch, Mandarin Centers Institute offers a free virtual placement test.