1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Chinese
  4. >
  5. Tips on remembering Chinese c…


Tips on remembering Chinese characters?

I‘m not new to Chinese as I was taught a little bit of it when I was younger. I pretty much forgot everything and am starting again. Anyone know how to memorise characters and tones efficiently? Thanks.

December 2, 2017



It won't be quick and it'll be pretty boring, but my tip would be to google and grind the 100 or so most common radicals. It'll change the way you memorize characters - instead of seeing random collections of over a dozen strokes, you'll see them as combinations of two or three smaller components you already know. The website Hanzicraft is also a great help in learning characters. It's not perfect at it, but it attempts to deconstruct a character into its smaller components. This can help you memorize them since there are often clues to meaning or pronunciation. Sometimes you'll also effectively learn two or three characters for the price of one, so there's that. Oh yeah, and mdbg.net and yellowbridge.com have stroke order demonstrations for all characters. That's a great help as well.


Somewhen in life, when I knew some Chinese, I got to a point where I had already encountered a great part of the most common radicals. That did, in fact, change the way I looked at characters, but I accomplished it through pure practice and repertory. I'm skeptical whether the other way round (what you propose) has the same efficiency or learning value in such an early moment of someone's experience.


for tones, try to remember sounds that are similar to it, it will work best if you have got the kind of memory that when you think of something, other important things will pop out.


Thanks for the advice


I use three tricks to help me remember Chinese characters: (1) looking for meaning built-into the character (2) looking for pronunciation hints built into the character (3) looking very closely at similar characters to make sure that I distinguish them.

Most characters have either (1) or (2) and some have both. For example, ”歌“=song, contains the character "哥" because it sounds like this character; in this case they sound exactly the same, "Gē". In other cases it sounds different, for example "认" in "认识" contains the character 人, which sounds the same, but in a different tone.

For (2) some meanings are obvious, like 语 and 话 and 说 all containing the character 口 for "mouth", which makes sense because all pertain to speech or language, but others aren't obvious. You can find other sites that go into lots of depth in these explanations.

For (3) I usually just keep going until I make a mistake misreading a character...and then I make a note of it and look closely at the two characters I confused, often going back to applying hints of type (1) or (2) to the difference between the characters.


Attach pictures to each character. For instance,

Mouth = 口

(Picture by Chinesasy, Shaolan Hsueh)


Well, learning some meaning as well as the sound would help. This is the first Chinese program I have ever seen that treats the characters as only units of sound, entirely divorced from any meaning for the first half of each lesson. I'm afraid I have learned much fewer characters for equivalent time than I did from Chinese Skill, the various flash card programs, or even the old program I had on the Nintendo DS.


I often explain this analogy to my friends who are learning Chinese for the first time.

Think of every new word as meeting a new friend. Yes, literally. Recognize the way they look. Surely, you will have a poor memory of someone you've just met, quite like your first day at work. Eventually, over time, as you are exposed to them and the words connected to them, you will develop an intuition which is not too unlike when you develop an intuition on understanding the relationships amongst your mutual friends.

If you approach it in a methodical manner, it will be far harder.

As for tones, I think this is one area severely lacking right now on Duolingo due to the limitations of its framework which was geared for European languages.

I understand it may be frustrating for some people here who are learning casually and would prefer to learn pinyin, but if you are serious, I highly recommend trying to not include pinyin in your journey towards learning Chinese. Growing up bilingual in English and Chinese, I never had a pinyin class for Chinese.

TL:DR Develop an intuitive understanding of the language rather than a rule-based approach, just as you would when you are socializing and meeting new people. You wouldn't take out your notes and try to categorize a person on a spreadsheet right, but rather understand them by conversing. Such is the case with every new sentence. Trust me, it will get easier over time, like riding a bicycle. All the best!


I agree with every point you made in this comment.


Memorize the characters in Chineasy as a supplement to your duolingo learning. That's how I started. A lot of other characters are based on more simpler characters.

The character for bird 鸟 is found in duck 鸭 (look on the right) and chicken 鸡 (look on the right) and dove 鸽 (look on the right). So if there's a new species of bird that's being talked about in a text that you don't know about, at least you'll know that in this sentence, there is something about a bird.

What's interesting is that the Japanese language has Chinese characters. So you can sometimes understand the topic of what is WRITTEN in Japanese despite not knowing anything about the language. This is all due to the nature of Hanzi (or Kanji in Japanese). You can also understand bits and pieces of cantonese if it's written but not understand it at all when spoken.

Character recognition will be like recognizing the face of a person. You don't necessarily have to know how to draw their face to be able to recognize what they are. You can look at parts of it and discern what it is. Following this analogy, you can get away with not knowing how to write characters and still be able to read them. In fact, that's the way I'm learning Chinese at the moment. I'll go to a writing class in the near future because I feel I should learn writing to fully appreciate this language.

By the way, I already finished the reverse course on Duolingo, I only tested the alpha course in the English version so that's why my level is low. I'd probably be level 25 by now if I dedicated all my study time to duolingo. I'm currently using Anki because I feel the material is more challenging than duolingo. :)

Learn Chinese in just 5 minutes a day. For free.