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Deconstructing words / characters

Hi all,

first, thanks to the team who put this course together - I have been looking forward to it and I spent a lot of time on it yesterday! Others have already made some constructive comments so I won't rehash those, but I have a specific question to help me with my learning style.

I am a beginner with an analytical mind - rote memorization does not work very well for me. For beginners, Chinese characters are relatively abstract, and we are immediately asked to memorize a fairly large number of them. I can see the value in that, but it would help me, and maybe others, to understand how to deconstruct them so I can memorize them better. I read enough on wikipedia to understand the concept of radicals, but I am having difficulty figuring out what the radical is.

For example: 她 - tā (she) 姐 - jiě (older sister) 妹 - mèi (older sister) 妈 - mā (mother) In this case, I put two and two together and figured out that 女 (nǚ - woman) is the radical, and in fact that character is fairly simple to memorize since you can imagine it as a stick figure. Now I know that any character with that radical is likely to refer to a woman.

It's not always that easy to figure out obviously... I'm not asking that every character be explained by its radical (it's up to the learners to make an effort after all!), but could some point to an external resource that tells you what the radical is when you give it a character? For example, you feed it 妈 and it pops out 女.

Thanks in advance!

Cheers Axel

November 17, 2017

1 Comment


Well, it's a kind of thing you just have to learn and memorize. However, I would like to give a few tips for finding them and other things to improve your Mandarin learning experience.

First of all, you should listen to the words. The sound will help you identifying the sounds, and the radicals are usually found as they seem to be attached to the words with the sounds. Also, many words that sound different but have similar parts can be used to find out what the radical is (the similar part, usually).

Second, the radicals usually look a little smaller and to-the-side. They're usually on the left, but in some words such as he-(4) have their radicals on the right. Sometimes they are still pretty big and on the top, but rarely on the bottom.

Third, there are a lot of more complex characters that have smaller parts on the bottom, top, or occasionally on the side. These use all three or more parts to form an idea, a word, a character. Make sure to look out for where the pronunciation comes from and find out what the radical is.

Good luck with your studies!

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