While spoken Chinese can be learned by basic practice with native speakers, the characters are quite complicated and hard to remember in contrast to ordinary words from other languages. Remembering them requires much more perseverance. So, it’s easy to give up at some point if you don’t feel progress. With that in mind, let’s have a look at how to remember Chinese characters.
Sometimes, the absence of progress in a particular area of study results either from ineffective methods or sticking to only one method that bored you to death. So, if you’re looking for diverse and effective ways of learning Chinese and its written version specifically, look up the tips below.
Get to Know the Chinese Culture
Chinese characters have a long history. They went through an evolution and significant changes and have been simplified in the long run. So, what you can see today is actually an easy version. However, having background knowledge may help you remember Chinese characters far more easily. Some of the traditional ones are very illustrative and may bring up some useful associations.
If you’re too busy for extensive research, you can always order a kind of literature review. The best experts will compile the most significant details that will help you dive deep into the history of China and its language.
Learn the Alphabet
Well, this is not the kind of alphabet people are used to. Letters from alphabets rarely mean anything on their own. The Chinese alphabet, on the other hand, consists of the basic characters that are also called radicals and stand for specific words.
Radicals help to learn the meaning behind most elements the characters are composed of. So, that will be a good background as well. Be careful to check out the concise versions of some radicals presented in the alphabet. They are often used in written Chinese instead of their full versions.
The Chinese characters are highly associative symbols. Those are actually pictograms that visually remind some objects. As it was already mentioned, radicals have their own meaning. However, as long as it helps you to remember what a particular symbol means, feel free to rely on your own associations.
Mnemonics is a great technique that can help you make learning less boring. If your mind suggests that this or that Chinese character reminds you of a turtle, let it be a turtle. It doesn’t matter if, in fact, it means ‘ship engine’.
All you need to do to strengthen this association is to build a so-called bridge between ‘turtle’ and ‘ship engine’. For instance, “there are sea turtles that suffer from ship engine emissions”. However ridiculous – or tragic as in this case – the examples suggested by your fantasy are, you’re completely fine as long as you don’t share them in a formal setting.
Use Apps to Remember Chinese Characters
There are numerous mobile applications for learning Chinese, one being Pleco. Another great app to use is a Drops version for Mandarin Chinese. It offers 5 minutes of learning for free every day. The range of topics is so diverse that one might never finish the list. In addition, the interface is quite minimalistic and user-friendly.
Studying with Drops, you’ll be able to learn how to draw the characters as a beginner, first. The exercise will give you hints of what the character looks like. After that, another exercise will follow asking you to write the same from scratch.
The app provides all kinds of associations and links:
- The actual character
- Word version in pinyin
- A pictogram reminding the lines of the Chinese character for you to have stronger associations
- The actual picture of an object/action/phenomenon the word and the character stand for
- Audio support for you to get used to the sound and tone of the word.
Elements of any character have to be written in a special way, e.g. from the left to the right, and not otherwise. You can find the guides online and order special notebooks to write in. The latter has a specific layout for you to practice writing one character like 10 times or more if you want to.
It’s not quite entertaining to write one and the same symbol in a row. Yet, motor memory is a great way for learning in general and remembering Chinese characters in particular. In case you have to interrupt your study at some point, be sure, even after several years, your hand will remember the way some characters should be written if you practiced enough.
Writing the same Chinese character over and over again is not much fun, but it’s a helpful process that requires persistence. Yet, you don’t have to stick to this option only.
Make this exercise more entertaining or relaxing by buying a special paper you can draw characters on by using a simple brush and water. As soon as the water evaporates, the paper sheet will look just like a new one.
Whatever creative solution you will come up with, as long as you are comfortable with it, your memory will be able to store this information for a long time.
You can draw some doodles that contain Chinese characters or make whole pictures using paint. Consider writing down several concise quotes or verses and hanging them on your fridge. Sooner or later, you’ll remember those symbols. As you can recollect what is written on your fridge and what it means, you can hang a new quote there.
It’s proven by research that trying to share some knowledge with other people by explaining it to them in simple words is effective. Of course, you shouldn’t load anybody with long explanations of something they are not interested in. But throwing in a short “you know what I learned yesterday” and explaining your excitement can help at least a bit.
Even if you feel like sharing some ideas when no one is available, it’s okay to just explain them to yourself or write them down.
The number of ways on how to remember Chinese characters (or those from other similar languages) is not as few as it may seem at first. Some of them may be boring, but you’re always free to combine or switch the exercises for your mind to have some rest. If you are eager to try out your new skills straight away, test them out on the new HSK vocabulary list!
by Julie Gunn
Julie Gunn is an educator and a professional freelance writer. She enjoys writing useful pieces and teaching college students. She is the author of numerous posts and articles published both online for EssayHub and in print media.