5 Basic Tips For Memorizing Chinese Characters

Nov 10, 2020 | Guest Blogs & Media

With over a billion native speakers, Chinese Mandarin is one of the world’s most spoken languages. After English. I bet you know that already.

Are you also aware you only need to know about two to three thousand Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), to be able to read a newspaper?

Those are a lot of symbols to remember in Chinese – considering that the English Language has only twenty-six letters of the alphabet that make up for all the dictionary words.

Learning how to memorize Chinese characters looks like a daunting task for second language learners. But it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we will provide five essential tips to have in mind in your quest of learning how to memorize Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì).


How many Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì) are there, and how many do you need to know?

5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters | That's Mandarin Blog

There are over fifty thousand characters in Chinese. Memorizing over 50,000 Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), should not be the aim for a beginner or anyone.

According to experts, an educated Chinese speaker would know only about eight thousand characters.

You will find twenty thousand characters in most dictionaries of the Chinese language. Just like there are so many words in the English dictionary that no one is expected to know every single one, you only need to identify three thousand characters to read a Chinese newspaper.

Memorizing three thousand characters is quite a lot, given the fact that most characters appear very complex. However, like websites that write papers for you, there are also helpful resources online that help with learning how to memorize Chinese characters.

Now, let us look at the basic tips for memorizing Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì).


1. Know What the Building Blocks Are

5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters | That's Mandarin Blog

If you have started researching before stumbling on this article, you would already know that Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), are made up of two parts:

  1. Radicals;
  2. Sound components.



There are over 214 Kangxi Radicals, or 康熙部首 (Kāngxī bùshǒu), numbered through stroke count order. These elements often indicate a broad category.

For example, if you see a word related to a plant or grass, you will find a radical at the top of the character, which has a horizontal stroke and 2 little vertical strokes.

Having good knowledge of the radicals and their semantics will offer you an element of the character as you try to remember it.

Let’s look at another example of a group of characters, the radical 必 (xīn), meaning mind or heart.

Any character that contains this radical, usually found in the central part of a character compound (or sometimes at the bottom of a character), is somehow related to emotions.

Here are some characters with 必 (xīn) for reference purposes:

  • 小心 (xīn) – careful
  • 担心 (dānxīn) – anxious
  • 想 (xiǎng) – think/miss


Sound Components

Sound components provide an idea of the sound of a character. It helps the reader to guess how to pronounce a certain character.

You can expand your knowledge of Chinese sound components as you try to remember characters you’ve learned and decipher new ones.


2. Continue learning and expose yourself to Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì)

5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters | That's Mandarin Blog

You cannot stop learning new characters if you continually expose yourself to Chinese literature. To successfully memorize characters in the Chinese language, you must continue visualizing words over and over.

There are several ways you can expose yourself to Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì):

a) Immerse yourself in Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), by surrounding yourself with logos, labels, and signs depicted with these characters.

b) Buy Chinese books and magazines.

c) Listen to Chinese music and read their lyrics. You should look for a popular song in English that is translated into Chinese.


3. Watch Chinese movies

5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters | That's Mandarin Blog

This is an exciting and engaging way to get those characters in your memory. Chinese movies and TV shows offer learners an opportunity to see the language in use.

Watching movies, you already know most of the lines, and translating to Chinese can help you remember some words. You can always recall a scene in the film when you come across a character, and easily remember the meaning, 意思 (yìsi).

If you want to test how well your grasp of the language is, turn off the English translation or completely mute the audio. This will help you know how well you can read in Chinese.


4. Enroll in a calligraphy class

5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters | That's Mandarin Blog

You must practice writing Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), as you try to memorize them. However, it can be a struggle when you do it all by yourself.

By enrolling in a calligraphy class, you will be adding a ton of fun to a pretty tedious method of studying. During a calligraphy class, you will see the strokes at work. It will help you better appreciate the order of strokes and make sense of the structure of characters.

Calligraphy classes will allow you to stay creative by continually repeating your study techniques. If your tutor allows, you can add other colors to your painting.

The different paint strokes make Chinese characters remarkably beautiful. Once you’ve finished the painting, hanging it somewhere in your home will not only help you memorize the characters but provide aesthetics to your apartment.


5. Stay motivated

5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters | That's Mandarin Blog

You must realize that success comes as a result of finding where motivation is generated. It would help if you challenged yourself to stay motivated as you learn the language.

You can stay motivated by making measured progress. It involves you assigning some characters to memorize every day or week.


The Bottom Line

We believe going through these tips has shown you that memorizing Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), is not such a daunting task. By breaking down radicals and components, exposing yourself to Chinese literature and movies can greatly improve how well you memorize the characters of the Chinese language.


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