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Since learning Mandarin through Rosetta Stone, Youtube videos, and friends, I've begun to keep a journal of mandarin characters and phrases.

I first draw the character, along with the pinyin and english definition. However, I've noticed that compared with the characters on the computer, mine seem much more sloppy and pieced together.

Is this normal? I don't think I've ever seen anyone write in Mandarin or at least looked at it carefully, so I'm not sure if it's just me or if it's normal. I've never been taught any formal way to do it, so I've just been winging it thus far.

Note - it's not like I rush through it, even if I spend a painstakingly long time it just seems to come out badly.

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Practice makes perfect. Or at least it makes for handwriting that is bad in the same way as native speakers. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jan 7 '13 at 20:54
Native speakers spend many years of day-by-day practicing before their handwriting look good. There is no shortcut, not even for talented few. Just like drawing. – NS.X. Jan 7 '13 at 22:59
I doubt my Chinese handwriting is much better than yours. – deutschZuid Jan 8 '13 at 4:18
As a native speaker, I think my handwriting still sucks... – Derek 朕會功夫 Jan 8 '13 at 5:14
at there you can download grids for training with chinese characters. I also like Graph/Millimeter paper that you can download from several places also, just google it. – Stephane Rolland Apr 13 '13 at 21:52

7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

How long have you been practicing? At first it's normal. If you could see my first drawn characters... they didn't look good.

But there are some simple rules to keep in mind to improve them.

  1. Stroke Order: It's unavoidable. You can actually use any stroke order you want, no-one is really going to check (unless that's the exam) but it's certain that writing using the correct stroke order not only helps you to retain the character but it also helps you to write much faster, with more beautiful proportions and in an easier way.

    See also Why is stroke order important when writing Chinese characters?

  2. Characters are "square": This is actually a rule I learned while studying Japanese, but the same applies to Chinese, they're almost the same characters after all.

    Characters occupy the space of a square. Note: They're not square, but using a square as a reference will help you to correctly balance their proportions. Check the image below:

    Hanzi guides Source

    Each character must fit inside of the continuous-lined squares. The dotted lines in the middle help you position the elements correctly (so you don't squeeze the character or strech it unnaturally).

    Honestly I've seen them being used for Japanese only but that might be just me, they're almost the same characters after all.

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I'd like to point out that one of the benefits of learning/using the right stroke order is that when you (or others) write quickly, some strokes will get elided or written sloppily, but in a way that reflects the stroke order. So, if you know the stroke order, you can reconstruct what the character should be, but if you don't (or, in the case of writing, if you didn't use the right stroke order), it will be more difficult. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jan 7 '13 at 23:38
@StumpyJoePete True! :) – Alenanno Jan 7 '13 at 23:49
reminds me my primary school ages, I did like several thousand hand writing pages like this, everyday's homework. – tomriddle_1234 Jan 7 '13 at 23:55
In elementary school my teacher asked us to make sure each stroke is in the exact block as printed on the book. I followed it strictly and kept practicing on characters that I couldn't do what she asked. The most difficult one for me was 葵 and I had done more than 1000 times of this single character in that week. – NS.X. Jan 8 '13 at 1:47
@NS.X. Are you talking about writing with brush or just pen/pencil? 1000 times, that is real determination!! – John Siu Jan 8 '13 at 4:38

It is normal. Note that handwritten characters should not look the same as characters on the computer screen in square typefaces, even for (and especially for) Chinese calligraphers.

Learning some calligraphy will be tremendously helpful IMO, if you have the time. In China, students usually start with 红模子(a sheet of paper with red characters printed on it ,to be traced over with a brush by students learning calligraphy)

a sheet of paper with red characters printed on it ,to be traced over with a brush by students learning calligraphy

before going on to practicing after 颜真卿、柳公权 and other well-known calligraphers.

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You can practice handwriting on a copybook. Though some thinks that the writings in a copybook is not true Chinese calligraphy, copybooks are enough for handwriting practice. Beginners usually start from writing Zhengkai (正楷). After mastering Zhengkai, you can practice semi-cursive script (行书).

Remember to choose a right pen for you and turn on enough light in your room. When you use a copybook, slowly sketch every character on the translucent paper. You may spend on average 10 seconds on each character. Pay attention to the speed and press when you draw each stroke. The speed and press of each stroke vary. Sometimes your pen can puncture the paper because of the press.

When you finish writing on the translucent paper, find a blank sheet of paper and copy each word onto it. Try to follow the shape of each character.

Here is a sample Zhengkai script written by Tian Yingzhang: (正楷)! X

Here is a calligraphy work by an AcFun member: X
Sometimes he wrote on his tablet:

Here is a sample semi-cursive script writing by Pang Zhonghua: (行书) X

Here is a calligraphy work by Qian Peiyun: (行书) X

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I am a native speaker. It's normal that your Chinese characters writing is sloppy at the beginning of learning. As a native learner, it's also difficult to smoothly write Chinese characters which is same with the characters on the computer.

My suggestion for you is to practice again and again and then learn writing characters by heart. You need to write it according to its stroke order. If you have much time, you can write characters following a copybook. However, you should know the correct stroke order at first. Hope my answer will help you.

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First of all, you need to bear in mind that you are "writing", not "drawing". As another user mentioned, the stroke order / process is important. The stroke order helps you to have "balance" in your words.

By the way, don't compare with computer printout. Those are printed fonts, not handwriting.

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Consider how many years you spent in elementary school from learning the alphabet until you were finally able to fake your parents' signature. If you feel like you're spending way too much time on paintakingly drawing the characters, why not go the extra mile and familiarize yourself with the intricacies of 书法 – Chinese calligraphy:

After spending an hour getting brush-written characters to even stay within the boundary square, handwriting with a pen will likely seem a piece of cake.

Good luck, and welcome to your journey!

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It's normal. Just continue to practice and also, like someone mentioned above, learn the stroke order for the character in question, it will help you write better. Also going with the grid information, you can buy graphing paper and practice writing in there. That's what i used to do when I was learning Japanese. Another way to help your writing is to write overly big. For me that helps me remember not only the stroke order but the look of the character and all its parts. Good luck ^_^

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