Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing and Characters

Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing and Characters

Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing, and Characters

Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing and Characters
Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing and Characters

If you are learning Mandarin to reach the fluid, then you need to start learning to read at some

point. Origin of the characters when historians refer to the age of “Chinese civilization”, they are referring to

the writing system of China, or characters. Characters begin as videographers, like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and

gradually evolve into what you see today. The first characters were engraved on tortoise shells and the shoulder

blades of oxen — these are called oracle bones. Oracle bones were used by the ruling elite class of the ancient dynasty

of China as a mode of divination; a way to talk to their dead ancestors. The shamans transcribe a question to a


Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing, and Characters

and then heat the bone over a fire. If the bone reached a certain temperature, it would crack. The direction of the

crack would answer the shaman’s question. Traditional versus simplified today, there are two forms of characters:

traditional and simplified. Simplified characters are used in most of mainland China, while traditionally used mostly

in Hong Kong and Taiwan. What kind of characters you choose to learn is a personal choice. However, serious

Chinese teachers may want to read both. For example, someone who only knew how to read simplified characters

would not be able to access the richness of literature, history, etc. Even those interested in learning classical Chinese

will find traditional characters well versed. Most Chinese seem to read both scripts. The best way to learn

charactersMnemonics seem to go too far, and learning radicals with their meaning and pronunciation components

will help you understand only a handful of exceptions. The best, and only proven, a method for learning Chinese

Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing, and Characters

characters is through brute force-rote memorization. There are two software programs you can down load to help you

A) memorize a particular character (or word), and B) keep it in your memory. The first is the Zhongwen

Development Tool (ZDT). The other is Anki.ZDT is a flashcard program and dictionary. You can create new records

based on what you learn. Study and review a deck until you can go through it in its entirety without making a

mistake. Check the deck once a day for three to five days. Then import the deck into Anki. Anki is a distant repetition

program.  Anki finds this through a logarithm and then reminds you when it’s time to check. This helps new material

to stay in the head longer. Of course, it is still important that you read often. You can start with textbooks and

gradually go to news websites, blogs, etc.Write charactersJust like when reading, it is no secret to learn to write

Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing and Characters

Chinese characters. The only time tested method is brute force, red memorization, and lots of exercises. Fortunately,

writing captures the memory aspect of your brain that we are talking about now. Recognize and rememberImagine

you are in a movie theater and you are looking for a movie poster for the movie “Terminator”. Who is one of the main

characters? Do you remember his name? Do you know that bodybuilder from Austria who used to be the governor of

California? Can you write his name? Probably not. However, if I showed you his name, you can probably read it

without any problems. The reason why you can recognize Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name but cannot describe it

Learning Mandarin: Reading, Writing, and Characters

(without magic as I just did) is because you probably had adequate opportunities to read his name, in movies,

headlines, movie posters, etc. Opportunity to write his name in the past. Your ability (or inability) to dig into your

brain and produce something out of memory is the ability to remember. When learning Mandarin, you must train your memory to recognize and remember both new vocabulary words and characters. When you learn

to read, you practice the ability to recognize. When writing a character, you practice the ability to both remember

and recognize. You should do the same with the choice of vocabulary. We say “choose” because you may not be


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