#1 Best Guide: Chinese Writing

Chinese characters and brush - Chinese writing Ling app

The Chinese writing system is based on the Chinese characters called hàn zì (汉字). It’s a big part of why the Chinese language could be considered one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, and for good reason.

You see, unlike English, which has a Latin alphabet with letters that represent sounds, Chinese characters are morpho-syllabic. This means that each character represents both a morpheme, also known as a meaningful unit, and a syllable.  

Now, I know this all sounds pretty intimidating, but don’t worry, or should I say, bié dān xīn (别担心)! In this article, I’ll be giving you beginner-friendly tips for how to learn Chinese writing, one step at a time. So, why wait any further? Let’s begin!

Tips To Learn Chinese Writing

Whether you’re looking at a single character like ‘home’ (家 – jiā) or one that’s part of a longer word like ‘family member,’ which is written as 家人 and pronounced as jiā rén, each character carries lots of meaning and contributes to the pronunciation. This makes Chinese characters fascinating, but also really complex compared to alphabetic writing systems, since it means you’ll have to memorize Chinese characters from scratch!

This entire shenanigan could come across as highly difficult but we have some really cool and practical tips written below to support you in your Chinese learning journey as much as we can!

Hand holding pencil practicing Chinese characters on exercise sheet

Tip #1: Start With Radicals

Chinese radicals or bù shǒu (部首) are essential building blocks of Chinese characters. It’s part of a Chinese character that gives you clues about its meaning or pronunciation. Think of it as a Lego piece you add to the beginning, middle or end to make various Chinese characters!

For example, the radical ‘person’ (人 – rén) often indicates characters related to people and appears on the left, such as in the Chinese words for ‘you’ (你 – ) and ‘him’ (他 – ). Another example would be ‘female’ (女 – ), which appears in Chinese characters related to women, such as ‘her’ (她 – ) and ‘mother’ (妈 – ).

Learning radicals is a great way for beginners to get started with Chinese writing, as you’ll find yourself recognizing and remembering Chinese characters more easily. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common Chinese radicals to get you started: 

  • 木 (mù) – Wood: This radical appears in characters related to trees, plants, or wood, such as ‘forest’ 林 (lín) and ‘woods’ 森 (sēn).
  • 水 (shuǐ) – Water: This radical is often found in characters related to water, such as ‘river’ 河 (hé) and ‘lake’ 湖 (hú).
  • 手 (shǒu) – Hand: This radical is commonly found in characters related to actions done with the hand or manipulation, such as ‘to hold’ 拿 (ná) and ‘to receive’ 接 (jiē).
  • 衣 (yī) – Clothes: This radical is commonly found in characters associated with clothing or garments, like ‘shirt’ 衫 (shān) and ‘skirt’ 裙 (qún).
  • 草 (cǎo) – Grass: This radical is commonly found in characters related to plants or vegetation, such as ‘grass’ 草 (cǎo) and ‘tea’ 茶 (chá).
  • 石 (shí) – Stone: This radical is seen in characters associated with stone, like ‘to grind’ 研 (yán).
  • 食 (shí) – Food: This radical appears in characters related to food or eating, such as ‘meal’ 餐 (cān).
  • 火 (huǒ) – Fire: This radical appears in characters associated with fire or heat, like ‘flame’ 炎 (yán).
Chinese writing on a red piece of paper with brush and ink next to it

Tip #2: Practice Stroke Order

Chinese character strokes or bǐ huà (笔画) come together to form meaningful Chinese characters. These delicate strokes are far from arbitrary. Instead, they follow specific orders that make up not just the legibility of Chinese characters, but also to their aesthetic appeal. 

Mastering the correct stroke order is extremely important when you write Chinese characters. Whether you choose to start with simplified characters or traditional characters, it’ll definitely improve your familiarity with the Chinese script and enable you to recognize complex characters more accurately. 

Moreover, learning Chinese stroke order sets the structure for each written character that you learn, ensuring that your written Chinese is consistent and clear. Understanding stroke order can also help you with memorizing Chinese characters since it’s a systematic approach to learning written Chinese!

If you’re not quite sure how to get started with learning how to write Chinese characters, don’t fret! There are many resources available to assist you, including language learning apps like the Ling app, which offers stroke order animations for each Chinese character. You can easily follow along the step-by-step sequences and learn how to write Chinese characters correctly!

Close up of hands writing Chinese characters

Tip #3: Use Mnemonic Devices

Chinese characters may appear daunting, but trust me, they aren’t as scary as they seem! One way to make memorizing more fun would be to use mnemonic devices. They’re basically secret tricks that help your brain remember things better!

Take the character ‘female’ (女 – ) for example. It kind of looks like a person with long hair, doesn’t it? Whenever you see this character, just picture a beautiful lady with luscious locks, and voila! You’ve memorized the character. 

But that’s not all, of course! The character ‘wood’ (木 – ) kind of resembles a tree with branches and leaves, doesn’t it? Now, picture a sturdy oak tree, standing tall and mighty. And there you have it! You’ve memorized this character as well. 

Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild! Turn each Chinese character that you encounter into a funny image or little story that sticks in your mind. Trust me, it really makes the whole process of learning Chinese writing a lot more enjoyable!

Easy Chinese Phrases For Chinese Writing 

Now that you’ve learned some really good tips, it’s time for you to learn some simple Chinese phrases related to Chinese writing, so you can tell people what you’re currently learning.

Chinese PhrasePronunciationEnglish Translation
这是什么字?zhè shì shén me zì?What is this character?
我喜欢写字!wǒ xǐ huān xiě zì!I like writing characters!
我在学习汉语拼音!wǒ zài xué xí hàn yǔ pīn yīn!I am learning Hanyu Pinyin!
我会读中文!wǒ huì dú zhōng wén!I can read Chinese!
请给我这个字的拼音!qǐng gěi wǒ zhè ge zì de pīn yīn!Please give me the Pinyin for this character!

Ready To Learn Chinese Writing? 

All right, you’re all set to learn Chinese writing! Don’t forget to use these helpful tips and tricks while you’re at it! And also, do check out the Ling app if you want to learn Chinese writing the fun way! With its bite-sized lessons that are interactive and engaging, you’ll find learning Chinese writing a piece of cake. So download the Ling app from the App Store or Play Store today! 

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