When confronted with the question of how to learn to write Chinese, here are some pointers that will help to steer you in the right direction.
At first studying Chinese will likely seem a mountainous task to somebody just started on the journey: a crazy mess of symbols and intriguing sounds. I would argue, however, that this can be an overwhelming positive. In contrast to studying European languages, Chinese is a complete fresh start. The same common touchpoints that can be helpful when studying European language can also at times lead to confusion and I relished this completely ‘alien’ feel when I began my Chinese learning journey.
Simplified, Traditional, or Both?
Simplified Chinese characters are used in Mainland China and in Singapore, whereas Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional. That means that simplified characters are used much more widely in the region and (surprise, surprise) they’re easier to learn to read and write. However, a much deeper understanding of Chinese language can be developed through the study of traditional characters – here’s why – so we would always advocate an approach that develops both.
Start with Numbers
As with many other aspects of Chinese language, numbers are logically structured and can be a wonderful place to start when learning. For an introduction to the structure of numbers, click through to a great blog by AllSet Learning here.
Rote-learning in Chinese Language Study
The most common method of learning how to write Chinese is through rote-learning. This involves repeatedly writing characters until they ‘stick’ and was the method that my teachers in school encouraged us to take up. Dreaded bi-weekly character dictations made for cramming in break-times before lessons. These days, I much prefer to read Chinese articles daily and then to follow up by using flashcards and vocabulary trees to cement the words in my mind.
Chinese Just Makes Sense!
Chinese is a very logical language, meaning that once the basics have been mastered it’s easy to build up from the foundations. Grammar is very simple and there are no tenses. Another benefit over many European languages is that there’s no masculine or feminine words to contend with (and you don’t even have to change words to make them plural!). Need I say more?
Stroke order is the correct order in which to write Chinese characters, and is something that many beginners neglect when deciding their approach for how to learn to write Chinese. It’s something that wasn’t drilled into me enough when I started learning, so when it came to further study I had to work back right from the beginning and learn the rules to adjust my writing style. I can since write much neater and quicker, but it’s better to get this system in place right from start. Don’t neglect stroke order!
I like to use a mixture of vocabulary trees and flashcards to memorise vocabulary. Why not read our blog on the 5 top tips to improve your Chinese vocabulary to get you started?
Speak, Speak, Speak
Take every opportunity you can to speak Chinese. Teachers, language partners, staff at your local Chinese restaurant. Once you get over the initial hurdle of speaking a language it becomes much easier to improve at pace – even a daily repetitive conversation will go a long way to removing the barriers to speaking and improve your fluency, meaning that learning to write will become an easier task. Give it a try!
Use It or Lose It
Cliché, maybe, but never truer than when learning Chinese. If you don’t use it, it won’t stick around for long. Don’t waste the time and effort you have dedicated to learning to write Chinese by having long breaks in study. Daily, manageable exercises will improve your level of study and it’s good to develop this habit early.
Why not read the 10 things I wish I knew when I started learning Chinese?