What are some great ways to learn Chinese characters effectively? I recently have learnt Pinyin however; I find it quite difficult to learn the characters because of poor learning techniques.

What are some great ways to learn characters and their meaning off by heart?

  • I suggest you buying the printed version of www.zhongwen.com. It helps a lot to understand why each character means what it means. And another one with a simplified characters index, absent in the first one. It has helped me a lot.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 23:33
  • 向你的公共图书馆借"体验汉字[入门篇]、[提高篇]"这两本书(baike.baidu.com/item/%E4%BD%93%E9%AA%8C%E6%B1%89%E5%AD%97),还没有的话,请公共图书馆购买,或者让他们利用馆际出借制借给你
    – user6065
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 18:03

9 Answers 9


I'll assume that you want to learn vocabulary (written character form, pinyin pronunciation, and translated meaning).

I'll start off with a little about how I learned (just passed HSK 3 after 9 months of study from zero background). First I completed some smartphone apps (ChineseSkill, Hello Chinese, and Chinese InFlow), then I studied the review and flashcards provided with those apps. I then progressed to composing my own sentences usually using Google Translate along with Pleco dictionary. Then I started using Anki flashcards. I also made my own Excel spreadsheets for random quizzes and handwriting templates.

Here are some tips that have helped me:

1) In the initial stages go slow and try to learn a few characters and basic sentences like 我是男人。

2) Try to figure out tricks to help you remember the characters. For me 是 looks like the word "BE", so I instantly memorized it with no problems. I learned 我 by thinking of the saying "woe is me". I learned 写 by thinking it looks like the letter "E" for french "écrire" I always thought in my head "écrivez". I also invent my own little names for the characters/radicals 京 is "beijing man" because it looks like a little guy with a hat and mustache. 听 at first looked to me like a person hitting a hammer on an anvil or someone hitting a tuning fork, so it was natural for "hear/listen". 近 looked like a person trying to avoid a cat with it's tail raised (who like's seeing a cat's but, really?!?!!? ;) "too close for comfort", so it means "near". Of course, some of this is inconsistent and silly, but it was a fun way to remember things.

3) Also learning the decomposed radicals can be helpful. 要 is "western women" who are indoctrinated into materialistic culture and always "want" things. Some of this is meant to be funny, but it has worked for me. 好 is "woman and child is good" as in a woman who gives you a son is a good thing (yes, very sexist, but it is what it is and helps to remember). Sometimes I just remember the radicals like 照 is sun+knife+box+heat which I think of as taking a photo and cutting the film and developing it in a "hot" chemical solvent. I know the "box" is really mouth, but "box" is quicker for me to remember. Invent your own little mnemonics. Of course, ultimately it might be wise to learn the actual true radicals and their meanings, but initially I think anything that helps you remember is good.

4) Learn at least a few characters by handwriting with the correct stroke order. I think this is what really pushed me over the edge in terms of my understanding of the characters, what they mean, and why they are composed the way they are. I can write all 600 HSK 3 words by hand, and probably 100 other words. Make sure to get the stroke order correct!

5) Practice writing your own sentences, I use google translate and the standard android pinyin keyboard. It will help you recall the vocabulary better.

6) I have neglected tones and speaking, so I am bad at that. I can understand listening pretty well. But I am also a musician, so learning and remembering the tones is sort of easy if I try, but I have just neglected it. You would probably be advised well to concentrate on learning the tones as you go along and not do what I have done by neglecting them. I have perfect tone identification by hearing, probably due to my musical training.

7) I have also neglected grammar. However, I can quickly read HSK sentences and know what they mean just by seeing the vocabulary involved.

8) Use Pleco, Anki, or other flashcard systems. - show character and test your recall of the pinyin and meaning - show pinyin and meaning, test your writing the character - play sound and test your recall of pinyin, character, and meaning. Do at least 100 flashcards a day for a year. Don't cheat yourself, make sure you are honestly recalling things.

9) Practice speaking (I use Google Translate, Pleco, and ChineseSkill/HelloChinese). I speak a sentence or word into the app until it understands it. That helps to practices getting the tones correct.

10) Use MDGB for other flashcards/quizzes/dictionary. Look up character stroke/radical decompositions. You don't have to memorize these, but they are helpful with gaining an overall understanding of the language.

Once you build up a few hundred words of vocabulary it continually gets easier learning new words as they use many of the same characters, strokes, and radicals. It becomes easier to guess rough meanings and pronunciations. Grammar is more difficult as there are some many specific grammatical forms, but getting down the basics of grammar in terms of sentence/phrase order will enable you to compose sentences that a native speaker can understand even if not totally correct. Use AlleSetLearning website for awesome grammar lessons.

Sorry for such a long post, but these are some things that helped me starting from scratch. Hope you find it helpful.


I would suggest using Anki to assist your memory, but don’t be impatient.  Change the new items per day to less than five, probably three.

Then I would suggest downloading "DimSum".  The user interface isn’t the greatest, but it’s not bad. On the look-up tab, if you look up a single character, there is a button that lets you see an aniation of the recommended way to write the character.  An interesting feature (disconcerting when it happens if not forewarned) is that if you selected a word, phrase, or character and use your copy-to-clipboard function, either Java or DimSum detects that, and automatically does a lookup.  At least that happens in MacOS, and I suspect it is portable.

Finally, in what order should you learn them?  I would suggest in order by the levels of the HSK.  Go to Wohok and select HSK1.  Look over the links on that page (for future interest) and then select “Vocabulary.”  Add those to your Anki deck.  Note that there are two ways to do this:

  1. Add them all, and tell Anki to give you new items in random order.
  2. Select a few days worth and add those.  Tell Anki to give you new items in the order added.  Add more after making some progress on the first group.

Now there’s two more things you can do if you want an extra boost:  When you have mastered a character or word, click on it in the “Vocabulary” page mentioned.  Wohok will give you a list of sample uses.  You can make a separate Anki deck for learning those.

And even though I offer it as an optional “extra boost,” what will help you more than any of the above is to use them as you learn them.  Find one or more native speakers that you can write to, who will be willing to make suggestions on your usage.


I am a native speaker. When I was very young in primary school, to learn those characters, my teacher always let us write down each Chinese character hundred of times after class. So, first secrete is to repeat.

Next, like this character "远"(yuan 3),means far away in English, the right part 元(yuan 1), represents its' pronunciation,for us,even we don't know what the meaning of a character, but we can still guess the pronunciation. So, the second secrete is to read more to help you remember.

The last, maybe, try to imagine so that to figure out the meaning. like "互相",the structure of left character is symmetric, which indicates some connection between two things. While the right character is more interesting, both "木(mu 4 tree)" and "目”(mu 4 eye),shear the same pronunciation, which indicates the relationship between two things. So the "互相" represents the relative response of two object. hahaha, good luck, keep happy when you start learning.


I think you can find a chinese native speaker in Internet. Try to talk with him,like pen friend.Every language is used to communication.


The basics are just what they have always been: begin by writing characters, a lot. And read as much as you can as soon as you can.

Get character work books and fill them in. A lot.

Get graded readers. They exist even for complete beginners. As soon as you can cope with maybe 200 characters get books from Chinese Breeze. As soon as you are ready to read independently look at software like Wenlin. Read your own choice of short stories, classical philosophy or poems, and news, in Chinese. You will be slow at first. Do it.

Some books want to teach you characters by making up funny stories to remind you of the shape and pronunciation of each of them, some by giving you etymologies of various characters, some by starting you with useful phrases for travelers. I would say do not choose among these. Just get a lot of them. The funny stories are not really efficient in the long run, the etymologies are often not really true. But the books are not expensive. Read some and see what works for you. Consider using Anki. Buy character posters or stick post-its with character names for things around your home on those things, if you like.

Basically, though, no tricks. Write characters. A lot. And read real Chinese works as soon as you can.


No shortcut, hire a Chinese tutor or go to Chinese school.

If you only want to know some Chinese characters rather than learning Chinese.

I would suggest read through English-Chinese Dictionary multiple times until you can tell the meaning of that Chinese characters once you see it. There are 3000 Chinese characters in daily used Chinese, however, each character might have more than 4 different meanings.

Here's a link to a Q&A site, this post is about some experience of learning Chinese from non-Chinese perspective. Good Luck.


I'll provide one advice:

Chinese character is organized in a totally different way than Pinyin or English.

For lots of cases, characters could be divided into parts, some part will provide information about what this character means, while other parts will provide how this character is pronounced.

One example: 珠, the part of 王 means for Jade, which reflects the feature of it; while the part 朱 indicates the pronunciation of the character.

Paying attention to such pattern would help you to improve the learning efficiency.


What you need to learn Chinese characters is patient. Break through the initial stage. Here is my short advice.

Most Chinese characters are not randomly developed. They are constructed by reusable components. They can be categorised by sound components, shape components and indication components. The structures for placing such components are pretty regular. If you know them well, it is very easy to go forward.

First, start with copying characters. This helps you get familiar with various components of characters. It is essential to write them by your hand. These components repeatedly appear in other characters. You might consider they are alphabet within Chinese characters.

Once you get familiar those components, your learning will be easier and easier.

For example, if you known 白, it is not hard to write 伯泊鉑舶.

Complex characters like 變, 樂, 彎 actually are structurally the same and they are pretty symmetric.

糸 言 糸

幺 白 幺

糸 言 糸

Associate your character writing with meaning and sound.

Once you learn the basic, it is very interesting to dig into the evolution of each character. Have fun!

  • I agree with the alphabet statement. One you realize individual radicals, characters, and strokes are like letters of the alphabet and they are put together in a variety of ways spatially, then it makes it much easier to learn. It's effectively an unlimited alphabet instead of only 26 letters like English. In that sense it's an open ended alphabet kind of.
    – jdods
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 13:41

It's good to understand the system behind their formation.

One type of Chinese characters are the so-called phono-semantic compound characters, which make up the majority. Here it is all about the rebus principle.

Knowing how to decompose characters is really helpful and you'll need it to look them up in a dictionary if you don't know the pronunciation.

Check this Wikipedia article out to get started.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.