Good afternoon, colleagues.

In Chinese, many words consist of two or more characters. The question is how better to memorize words in Chinese words, breaking them down into individual characters or simply memorizing the word. Which way would be categorically correct? Remembering words in hieroglyphs or whole words without parsing them into individual components?

4 Answers 4


Which way would be categorically correct?

I don't think there is a categorically correct way to learn Chinese characters. Much depends on your language background, your experience in the language, and also your own style of learning when you are trying to acquire a new skill.

The question is how better to memorize words in Chinese words, breaking them down into individual characters or simply memorizing the word. Remembering words in hieroglyphs or whole words without parsing them into individual components?

Without knowing your level (beginner or more advanced) and your learning style, I can only speak in very general terms. From my experience, students who are able to find patterns that make sense to them usually do better in remembering words/characters. When you're a beginner, most characters you encounter are probably pictographs (little simplified pictures, like 山 mountain, 田 field, 火 fire, 水 water). As you learn more characters, you will find these familiar pictographs in more complex characters, sometimes in a slightly different form. Being able to pick out these components in more complex characters will definitely help you remember them.

On the "word" level, it's the same. An individual character can combine with another to form a disyllabic word. Noticing them will probably help expand your vocabulary. I remember when I was in elementary school in Hong Kong, we did lots of exercises on "word combining". A character would be given, for example,老 (old) and we would have to find other characters that go with it, for examples, 老師 teacher,老虎 tiger,老鼠 mouse, etc. The fact that teachers, tigers or mice all use the character "old" but are not necessarily old makes this exercise more interesting, and certainly helped to expand our vocabulary.

I hope this answers your question and helps a bit. Pardon me if I sound like I am just stating the obvious. Your question is huge, and worthy of a research project. Learning Chinese characters is a complex endeavour, but can be very rewarding. Happy learning.


The best way to learn to speak and read chinese is to learn vocab. Sometimes vocab is a single character, and sometimes longer vocab is shortened to one character casually when context is super clear.

That last bit is very important, and is literally the reason that multi character vocab not only exists, but is the majority of vocab.

Most chinese characters have many many many uses and definitions, and it can be confusing or hard to read them individually without extremely clear context. Do you want to constantly juggle all 24 something uses of 道? Or would you rather see that 知道 means know at a single glance, and see that 小道 means path at a single glance? Even native speakers will pick the latter. You only have the fore most appear as standard when you start to dig into classical chinese-- nothing wrong with that but very different from modern chinese.

On the flip side sometimes knowing all the individual character meanings doesn't automatically reveal the vocab's meaning. If you know the individual characters of 髒髒包 that will not help you know this tasty food. If you know the individual characters of 表示、可能、許多、環境、etc it will never get you exactly to the real term. Just like knowing butter and fly will not actually make you know a butterfly, knowing ad and mire will not give you any help with admirable, you get the idea.

So always focus on actual vocab, thats what actually gets used in real life. Single characters aren't useless, but they are on the advanced or even linguistic level, as parts of vocab ((besides single character vocab, which you will learn either way)).

Hope this helps (^ν^)


(If the words in the question refer to a class like "吃饭", then I probably didn't digress. ⁽˙³˙⁾ )

In Chinese, a single word can be a single character, or any word with multiple characters, such as "你好", is made up of multiple words ("你好" is composed of "你" and "好"). Therefore, polysyllabic words (i.e., "你好" like "你好" above) can be used to help memorize each character (i.e., "你" or "好" above), but the most basic components are still the most important, as the sentence says, "After a student learns about 4,000 visual symbols, 4,000 years of literature is immediately displayed in front of him(一个学生学了4000来个视觉符号之后,四千年的文献就立刻展现在他面前了)" and those individual words are these visual symbols.

It may also be possible to use other Asian languages as a supplement, such as Japanese, and there are many similarities between Chinese and Japanese in terms of Chinese characters.

;D Machine translation is used for the English part, which may be distorted in the content.My English is really bad.

Have a good day :D

  • Seeing my answer once more.It seem that have no much useful content ( :( )
    – Ro Ruan
    Feb 24 at 15:37

There is no right or wrong answer here, it depends on what works best for you.

Some people are better at remembering single characters, while some others are better remembering terms. It also depends on the context and usage. For example, in science, you cannot guess the meaning of terms by guessing from the indivdual characters. DNA is 去氧核糖核酸, which is something you probably won't be able to guess from those 6 characters.

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