How to memorize Chinese characters?

Posted by Grace Feng on January 11, 2012

Each Chinese word is composed of one or more Chinese characters. However, in alphabetic language system, such as English, each word is composed of a couple letters. There are only 26 letters in English, yet there are about 3500 to 4000 frequently used characters in Chinese! You can go directly to JLC Chinese Character Pro Lessons to give it a try after reading this post.


For example, let’s say we need to pull out the word “wave” from our English brain cells. Given that we do remember the pronunciation of the word “wave”, it’s not a difficult thing to write it out because the word just look like how it sound. We’ve got this connection between pronunciation and letters memorized through similar words with same syllables, such as “pave”, “shave” etc..


So you complain that Chinese is too difficult, even if you know the pronunciation of the word you wanna write, you still don’t have a clue on how to write it out since there’s no connection between the sound of a character and its look. Well, I don’t agree.


Yes, there are some Chinese characters that are unique in itself that you have to memorize its look and sound and connect them together in your brain. These characters are usually simple in the look and are easy to be remembered. However, there are much more characters that have a part of them reveals how they sound easily even if you don’t know them. That part I want to call it “sound radical”.

Let’s have a look at the character “wave” in Chinese: [hanzi][/hanzi] (piāo)

Please open your Chinese input system and type “piao”. If you don’t have a Chinese input system installed on your computer you can open another browser to http://www.chinese-tools.com/tools/ime.html. Check Lesson 1 Things to know before you start to learn Chinese on how to type Chinese in the lower part of the post if you don’t know how.

Now, once you input that pinyin how many characters you’ll see in the list? Maybe a lot. However the frequent ones, the ones most Chinese do know are only about 6. They always show up in the top lines or pages. I’ve listed them all here:

piào   piāo   piāo   piáo   piáo   piǎo

 [hanzi][/hanzi]    [hanzi][/hanzi]    [hanzi][/hanzi]    [hanzi][/hanzi]     [hanzi][/hanzi]    [hanzi][/hanzi]

[mp3j track=”T1-piao.mp3″]

Maybe you’ve noticed that each of them contain a common character “票 (piào), and they all sound the same, only with different tones.

The other part of each of the characters are different. They give you the hint on what the character is about:

We have:

[hanzi][/hanzi] (wind)  [mp3j track=”T1-feng.mp3″]
氵(water related radical)
[hanzi][/hanzi] (melon)  [mp3j track=”T1-gua.mp3″]

[hanzi][/hanzi] (women)  [mp3j track=”T1-nu.mp3″]

[hanzi][/hanzi] (eye)  [mp3j track=”T1-mu.mp3″]

as the radical part that give hint on the meaning of the character. Each one of them stands side by side with “票” to form a new character that has distinct meaning .

票(piào) itself is a character that means “ticket”.

Now, let’s do a little game. I would toss out one meaning to you and you guess which character in the list has this meaning. Don’t be nervous, I’ll help you to make it fun and memorable.


Number 1. wave

Such as a flag is waving in the wind.

Now tell me which character it should be? … … …

… guess you’ve said it out loud … It is (piāo) because flag can not wave without WIND (风)!! Isn’t it?

Good job! Now let me toss out another one:

Number 2. float on the surface of the water

Such as a boat floats in the lake.

This one gonna be no brainer. This only one that is water related is 漂 (piāo). Bingo!

Are you doing well so far, let’s move on. Another one, ready?

Number 3. visit prostitutes

Well, this one is a bit … , anyway, it should not be difficult to figure out which “piao” it is, right?

The answer is, the one with a women radical: 嫖 (piáo). You got it right?

Let’s keep it going:

Number 4. cast a glance

I’ll give you a hint. What do you use to “cast a glance”? Use your eyes or what? Of course I do …. then the only reasonable choice is 瞟 (piǎo). Agree?

The last one left is (piáo). Obviously, you’ll guess it’s meaning has something to do with melon ( guā).

How about I show you the picture of 瓢 (piáo), then you’ll know what it is? It’s a ………

ladle made from dried gourd“!

瓜 (guā) is the general name to call big round shaped plant fruit in Chinese, including “gourd”.

Did you have a bit of fun today while learning the 票 (piào) family characters? The important point you should take away from this lesson is how to memorize Chinese characters by their “sound radical” and “meaning radical“.

Please take some time to memorize these characters. Use the following estroke tool to learn the strokes if you will. Once you’re done, search these characters in google to learn words that they create.

I’ll talk to you again soon!

  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.


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