How to learn chinese characters effectively

Learning Chinese must start with learning Chinese characters.  Without an appreciation of how Chinese characters work, it will be a struggle in the later years to master the use of the language. Currently, Hanyu Pinyin is being use to make learning Chinese easier. However, it is just a means to help overcome the initial barrier but we think it is a poor choice. There are better ways to start learning Chinese and this article will show you a learning activity that can help your child to learn Chinese characters in an enjoyable and easy way.

Problems with learning Chinese using hanyu pinyin

I briefly mention about the problem of using Hanyu Pinyin to learn Chinese in earlier write up on how to teach Chinese to kid.  I shall explain this in more details here. Specifically, there are 4 specific problem in using Hanyu Pinyin to teach Chinese.

#1: Confusing words with identical pinyin

There are too many similar sounding words in Chinese relative to English. This makes it hard for a child to make the connection between the right word with its corresponding Hanyu Pinyin.  That in turn might confuse a child and turn him or her off.


#2: Confusing between English letters and Chinese pinyin

It is easy for kids to be confused with the pronunciation of the individual letters between English and Chinese. Both letters look essentially the same but pronounce very differently. Again, this might confuse some early learners who do not have a good language foundation yet.


#3: Exams still focus on Chinese characters

Although Hanyu Pinyin is used heavily during the first phase of Primary one, their usage will reduce over time as more Chinese characters are introduced. Eventually, they will form only a small part of the exams and your child will still need to face the Chinese characters. Hence, it is better to start your child off in the eventual direction he or she will be facing down the road.


#4:  Poor foundation in Chinese characters

The worst possible scenario is when your child develops a reliance on Hanyu Pinyin and totally ignores the Chinese characters.  Hanyu Pinyin by themselves carry no meaning as it is only a phonetic system that assists in learning the pronunciation of a character. It is a poor substitute for the actual Chinese language.  Too much emphasis on learning Hanyu Pinyin might mislead the child into thinking that learning Hanyu Pinyin is sufficient.


Due to the above problems, we strongly advocate the learning of Chinese through Chinese characters. Specifically, children should first learn the different basic strokes of the Chinese characters. Learning these basic strokes is similar to learning all the 26 letters in the English language. This will build a solid foundation for the child to learn more Chinese words further down the road.

How to teach Chinese characters effectively

We have come up with a activity that is fun to do but is extremely effective for learning Chinese characters. This activity was developed together with teachers in one of the top primary schools in Singapore.   We hope you will find this relevant and useful.

how to learn chinese characters effectively

Step 1: Know what are the basic characters to learn first

If you are a parent preparing your kid for primary one, know what is the list of words they are required to know at this stage. This list will form the basis of your teaching or their learning. You can easily get this list via the textbook of any primary one student. If you don’t have a child and is trying to learn Chinese on your own, you can buy the textbook from any popular bookstores.


Step 2: Break down the characters into its basic strokes

This activity can be lots of fun for your kid who is trying to learn Chinese.  You can print the Chinese characters on a piece of paper and cut them out into the different basic strokes. Rearrange them and tell your child to piece them back like a jigsaw puzzle game. Once your child has successfully piece the different strokes into place, teach them how it is pronounced and what is its meaning.  You can make this activity into a game by using a timer and requiring your kid to piece together the Chinese character under one minute.


Step 3: Add in more strokes

Once your child has mastered one character, add in more random strokes to the jigsaw puzzle game. This additional step ensures that your child can tell the difference between the different stroke and is able to recognize a Chinese character completely.

This activity to be fun and yet creates a solid foundation for the child to learn new Chinese characters in the future. If you don’t have the time to prepare for this activity, you might want to consider our ready made app. This is a Chinese character learning app that has been designed with the above steps.


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