Chinese 101: What Are Those Things They Write With?

posted in: Chinese | 2

IMG_0321Have you ever looked at Chinese writing and thought those just look like chicken scratch?  Chinese characters are a beautiful way to write, but they work totally differently than the English alphabet.  Tones and characters are the biggest differences with English.  Here’s some things to know about characters.

Chinese does not have an alphabet.  Each character represents an idea and has an assigned sound (see examples here).  Chinese kids don’t learn to sound out words because the characters stand for an idea, not for a sound.

Two or more characters are combined to create more words.  For example the character for big (大) + the character for person (人) = adult (大人), electric (电) + brain (脑)= computer (电脑), river(河)+ horse(马)= hippopotamus(河马)

Most characters are made up of several smaller parts that give clues to meaning and sound.  For example in the character for river 河,the three little lines on the left mean water.  Can you find them in these characters:  湖, 海, 汤?  They mean lake (hu), ocean (hai), and soup (tang).

Chinese was traditionally written in vertical columns (top to bottom) read from right to left.  Some things are still written that way, but some things are written in horizontal rows, which are read from right to left.

There are approximately 20,000 characters in a modern dictionary.  People with a university education know about 8,000 of them.  You need to know about 2,000-3,000 to read a newspaper.  I know somewhere between 300-500 right now, so I have lots to learn!

I also share this video for a look at some of the pictures and ideas that a few basic characters represent.  I think this presenter claims that Chinese is easier to learn than it actually is, but the video is still worth watching.  Questions?  Leave me a comment!




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