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Mandarin Chinese - Lesson 2 - Chinese Characters

中文 - 课数二 - 汉字

Zhōngwén - kè shǔ èr - hànzì

你好!Welcome to lesson two of Mandarin Chinese, if you missed the previous lesson, you can read it here. When you're ready, let's begin. In this lesson we will learn about the Chinese characters.

走吧!Let's go!

The Chinese writing system is one of the most beautiful and ancient writing systems in the world. Before we start learning it let's get some background first. There are two forms of writing Chinese, traditional (繁体汉字/fántǐ hànzì) and simplified (简体汉字/jiǎntǐ hànzì). The traditional forms are used in Chinese-speaking countries outside of China (most notably Taiwan) but China predominantly used simplified characters. Sometimes the characters are very similar or even the same. Bothjiǎntǐ hànzì and fántǐ hànzì are written as "简体汉字" and "繁体汉字". But compare the characters for cloud:

Now you may be overwhelmed with by the fact that there are over 40,000 Chinese characters. But don't worry about it! A well educated Chinese person would know 4,000-5,000 and only 2,000 are needed for basic literacy. And if you can understand this, you are reading English, one of the most un-phonetic languages ever! (Sometimes learning to read/write English seems like learning characters!). But once again, don't overwhelm yourself, as the saying goes: 慢慢来!Take it easy! (Màn màn lái!).

Before we move on you should know that there are two main directions for writing Chinese. The traditional way is top to bottom and right to left (the complete opposite to English)

However many modern writings are written as in English.

让我们开始!Let's begin!

There are four types of Chinese characters:


This character is a picture of something. For example the character "木" (mù) meaning "tree".


This character represents an idea. For example the character "一" (yī) means "one"


These are very common and are characters made up of smaller characters. These characters often tend to give an insight into ancient Chinese culture. For example the characters "女" (nǚ) meaning "woman" and the character for "child", "子" (zi) were put together to form the character for "good", "好" (hǎo). This is because in Ancient China, women ran the house and the idea of them with children was good.


These are characters made of two characters; one for a sound and one for meaning. Take for example the character that makes that "yuan" sound "元" when added to the character for enclosure "口" we get "园" (yuán) meaning "garden".

How to write Chinese

Now, it would take me years to explain the complexities on stroke order and how to write Chinese. So I'm just gonna give you two great resources that have more information than I could ever give you.

Some Common Radicals

Radicals are characters commonly used in compounds and to start you off, here are ten common ones.

  • 人 - person (rén)
  • 口 - mouth/to surround (kǒu/wéi)
  • 火 - fire (huǒ)
  • 木 - tree/wood (mù)
  • 羊 - sheep (yáng)
  • 山 - mountain (shān)
  • 女 - woman/female (nǚ)
  • 男 - man/male (nán)
  • 日 - sun/day (rì)
  • 月 - moon/month (yuè)

We will look at more characters as the course continues, especially radicals.

That's all for now!


Mùqián wéizhǐ jiù zhèyàngle!


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February 12, 2017


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