How To Memorize Chinese Characters // 8 Tips For Success

Memorize Chinese Characters 🙇🏻‍♂️ Things You Need To Be Doing

If there is one thing that is preventing more people from studying Chinese it’s probably Chinese characters. So today we are going to reveal some top tips on how to memorize Chinese characters.

The Chinese writing system can be intimidating even for speakers of other logographic languages and is one of the reasons why Chinese is consistently ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn

However, there is no need to fear.

Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages globally, and the literacy rate in China is almost 100%. 

With enough time, dedication, and the right tools, you can learn to read, write and memorize Chinese characters. 

Here is a list of our top tips for memorizing Chinese characters.

Memorize Chinese Characters – Don’t Start Too Early

Memorize Chinese Characters – Understand The Components

Memorize Chinese Characters – Don’t Write From Scratch

Memorize Chinese Characters – Use Post It Notes

Memorize Chinese Characters – Use Spaced Repetition Softwares

Memorize Chinese Characters – Read Extensively

Memorize Chinese Characters – Use Mnemonics

Memorize Chinese Characters – Diversify Your Exposure

BONUS – FREE LTL Anki Decks

Memorize Chinese Characters – FAQ’s

Memorize Chinese Characters – Don’t Start Too Early

Okay, this isn’t exactly a tip on how to learn Chinese characters but it is good advice.

If you have just started learning Mandarin, you might be struggling to make sense of all the characters and keep track of them. 

This is normal! 

Though you will surely see many schools and websites try to sell you on the idea that you can read characters with one simple “revolutionary” trick, this is just not the case. 

You should try to spend some time learning the spoken language first and getting a little more comfortable with Chinese before you focus your attention on the characters.

You will find the characters less overwhelming to learn when you start understanding how the language works. 

Memorize Chinese Characters – Don’t Start Too Early

Again, if you’re a complete beginner, this tip is not for you.

You need to put in the time to memorize your first couple hundred characters, and there is no way around that. We’ve got a video for that by the way…

However, understanding the components of a Chinese character should become a crucial part of your learning strategy once you reach HSK2 or HSK3 levels.

At this point, you should be comfortable with a large enough pool of characters for their components to be useful to you. 

Radicals

Radicals can give you major insights into the meaning of a character. Though they’re not always reliable, they can help you categorize a character or differentiate it from another character that looks similar. 

Check out our ultimate guide on Chinese radicals to unlock their potential, or check out the video below.

Sound Components

Chances are, you’ve stared blankly at a flashcard with no idea of what the word in front of you means or what it sounds like. 

Tones in Mandarin - Memorize Chinese Characters

Or maybe you’ve tried to read a sentence only to get stuck on a pair of characters that you’d never seen before. 

Looking for a sound component within a character can help you identify the pronunciation of a character.

For example, the ma 马 component is present in many characters: 吗,妈,骂,码.

Though the tones of these are not the same, identifying the 马 sound component will win you half the battle.

Memorize Chinese Characters – Forget About Writing From Scratch

Unless you are taking classes and need to memorize how to handwrite to pass your exams, you probably shouldn’t spend your time memorizing how to handwrite characters.

Think about it, when was the last time you needed to write something on a piece of paper outside of school? 

This is especially true in China where the use of smartphones is so ubiquitous.

The chances that you will need to handwrite are extremely slim, so you are better off getting comfortable with typing on your phone and your computer. 

The most important skill when it comes to characters is being able to recognize them instantly so that you can read and write very easily.

Focus your attention on recognizing the characters instead of memorizing how to write them from scratch.

Did You Know About Chinese Sign Language? A Guide to 中国手语 Thumbnail

Did You Know About Chinese Sign Language? A Guide to 中国手语

Did you know there was a Chinese Sign Language? Or did you think, like me, that sign language was universal? A simple guide to help you learn a thing or two

Memorize Chinese Characters – Post It Notes

This age-old, tried-and-trusted method can still be very beneficial to beginners and intermediate learners. 

The point is to put a sticky note on every item in your house so that you’re forced to look at the Chinese word for anything you could use or see.

You can put sticky notes on your windows, your tea kettle, your couch, your bookshelf—you get the gist. 

Check out our complete guide to your house in Chinese to get started with this project.

Memorize Chinese Characters – Use Spaced Repetition Softwares

If you aren’t already, you should be using Spaced Repetition Softwares (SRS) like Hack Chinese, Anki, or Pleco to review your flashcards. 

The beauty of SRS apps is that they space out how often you need to review a particular word based on how well you have learned it. 

This will ensure that you review the hardest words the most often and will still periodically check that you remember words that you’ve already learned.

Memorize Chinese Characters – Read Extensively

Books, in a sense, are the original SRS apps. If a word is important enough to the story to show up once, it will likely show up many times throughout the book.

Every time you read a book you will be reviewing more or less the same words over and over.

However, there’s one thing that makes books different from, and perhaps even better than, SRS apps.

Books are naturally written using the highest frequency words in a language, so the more you read, the more you will encounter the most common Chinese characters. 

Reading extensively can help reinforce those common characters so that you get all the low-hanging fruits while doing a relatively low-intensity activity. 

To get the most benefit from your reading sessions, check out our ultimate guide on the best books for learning Chinese.

Memorize Chinese Characters – Use Mnemonics to Remember Hard Characters

Every now and then, you will encounter words that you simply cannot seem to remember.

You see them in your SRS app every day, and yet you get them wrong every time. 

This is your time to take a very close look at those characters and create mnemonics that will help with your retention. 

The general gist of mnemonics is to create a story based on the characters so that you can use the story to recall the meaning more easily. 

This can be done in a number of ways, but you could use a dictionary like Zhongwen that will break down the characters into components and give you information about each of them. 

You can then use the meanings of these components to create a story that will help you recall the meaning of the word. 

Memorize Chinese Characters - Learn Chinese

Memorize Chinese Characters – Diversify Your Exposure To Characters

Another way to improve your retention is to make sure that you’re seeing the same words in different contexts. 

A key to language mastery is being able to instantly identify the meaning of words without much effort. In order to do this, you need to train your brain to get used to seeing the same word in multiple contexts. 

The best way to achieve this is to employ as many learning strategies as possible

You want to take a “D – all of the above” approach to maximize the chances of seeing words in many contexts to reinforce their meaning in your brain.

This will give you the greatest shot at moving those words into your long-term memory.

Another reason for diversifying your learning strategies is to keep things interesting. Reviewing flashcards for hours and hours every day is not only not the most effective approach, but can become quite boring. 

Mixing different learning strategies can keep your study sessions interesting, which will result in longer and more frequent reviews. 

As always, remember that the best way to learn is to make sure you’re enjoying the process! 

BONUS // FREE LTL Anki Decks

Earlier on we mentioned the importance of using SRS softwares.

We also mentioned a favoured tool of ours called Anki.

Luckily for you, we’ve spent a number of hours putting together some free study decks in a number of languages which are available for you to download via Anki!

We’ll continue to add to this list going forward.

Mandarin

Cantonese

Shanghainese

Taiwanese

Korean

Japanese

Vietnamese

Thai

Mongolian

If you like the Anki Decks we’ve shared we’d really appreciate a thumbs up from inside the Anki app!

Here’s a quick guide on how to download free and shared Anki decks in case it’s your first time.

Memorize Chinese Characters // FAQ’s

What is a good way to memorize difficult Chinese characters?

Every now and then, you will encounter words that you simply cannot seem to remember.

You see them in your SRS app every day, and yet you get them wrong every time. 

This is your time to take a very close look at those characters and create mnemonics that will help with your retention. 

The general gist of mnemonics is to create a story based on the characters so that you can use the story to recall the meaning more easily. 

What are some good spaced repetition apps I can use?

If you aren’t already, you should be using Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) like Hack Chinese, Anki, or Pleco to review your flashcards. 

Should I learn the radicals with Chinese characters?

Yes this is a great method to learn and memorize Chinese characters.

Radicals can give you major insights into the meaning of a character.

Though they’re not always reliable, they can help you categorize a character or differentiate it from another character that looks similar. 

Should I learn to handwrite Chinese characters?

Whilst this is always encouraged and never a bad thing… times are changing.

The chances that you will need to handwrite are extremely slim, so you are better off getting comfortable with typing on your phone and your computer. 

Prioritise your time and focus on what you need to know most.

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    Alexander Krasnov , Student Advisor

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