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Learn the Chinese Alphabet from A to Z!

Learning to speak a new language is exciting; learning to write a new language is even more exciting! It will open new worlds for you. So, dig into these tips and advice for learning how to master the Chinese alphabet easily - at ChineseClass101 we make it easy, fun and relevant for you!

Starting anything from scratch can be challenging, especially if you learn how to write in a language completely different from your own. It is really like navigating through a territory that is completely unknown to you.

However, this need not be a big hurdle or a problem! At ChineseClass101, we introduce you to Chinese writing in simple, easy-to-follow steps, and you can ask for advice or help anywhere along the way. It is important to master the Chinese alphabet completely from the start.

Download Your FREE Guide to Beginner Chinese!

If you want to master the Chinese language and become fluent, you must learn the Chinese alphabet letters first. And you need physical worksheets to practice on.

This eBook is a MUST-HAVE for all Chinese learning beginners!

FREE Chinese eBook

Download your FREE Chinese practice sheets PDF today and learn the Chinese language in no time!
This is a must-have guide for absolute beginners

Introduction


Chinese Uses Written Characters That are Known as 漢字 [汉>字] (hànzi)

While Chinese characters are often thought of as extremely complex, in fact they are all derived from a couple hundred simple pictographs and ideographs that are assembled in different combinations. Once you get the hang of them, they aren’t as difficult to remember as you may think.

All characters are made up of smaller picture elements within the character. Some of these smaller pictures within the character give a hint as to meaning and pronunciation (though not always). The first Chinese characters were simple objects like “human”, “hand”, “foot”, “mountain”, “sun”, “moon”, and “tree”. Then, logical combinations of the simple characters followed. Some of these simple characters and logical combinations within the character still remain clear enough to see what they depict. These simple characters also sometimes serve as the root of a more complex character, and are called “radicals.”

Most linguists believe that writing was invented in China during the latter half of the second millennium B.C. The earliest recognizable examples of written Chinese date from 1500-950 B.C. (Shang dynasty). Characters were inscribed on bones and shells that were used for divination.

The traditional form of Chinese characters was widely used up until the mid-twentieth century. Most of the simplified Chinese characters in use today were the result of simplifications made by the government of China in the 1950s and 60s. The simplified characters have a lot fewer strokes and certain parts of some characters were completely eliminated. The simplified characters are also used in Singapore, but in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Malaysia the traditional characters are still used.

Chinese is famed for its huge number of characters, and some dictionaries contain more than 50,000 words as entries. But the good news is that a large number of those are rarely-used variants, accumulated throughout history. This means that workable literacy in the Chinese language only requires knowledge of between three to four thousand characters.

Elements That Make Up a Chinese Word

Chinese verbs and adjectives generally consist of one character (syllable) but nouns often consist of two, three, or more characters (syllables).

When written on the page, each character is given exactly the same amount of space, no matter how complex it is or how many strokes it contains. There are no spaces between characters and the characters that make up compound words are not grouped together, so when reading Chinese, you have to figure out what the characters mean and how to pronounce them, and also which characters belong together.

Pronunciation

Pinyin is a phonetic system used to teach standard pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, to spell Chinese names in foreign publications, and to enter Chinese characters on computers.

Unlike in European languages, initials and finals—not consonants and vowels—are the elements that make up a word in pinyin. Nearly every Chinese syllable is spelled with one initial sound followed by one final sound.

Though pinyin uses the Roman alphabet, and some of the sounds are similar to their English counterparts, some of the letters and combinations of letters have pronunciations quite different from English. Pinyin cannot be read like English, even though it uses the Roman alphabet.

There are only about four hundred different combinations of initials and finals in Chinese; therefore there are many homophones. Of course, each Chinese character can also have four possible tones, so that adds to the amount of individual sounds. For all the possible combinations of sounds, you can visit the pinyin chart at ChineseClass101.

Chinese Alphabet Chart

Alphabet

Most of Chinese characters are pictophonetic. They consist of a radical and a phonetic element. These are the technical terms for the components we just talked about. The radical often suggests the meaning of a character. The phonetic part indicates the original pronunciation, which may or may not be the modern pronunciation.

For example, let’s look at the character 饭 fàn, meaning “rice” or “meal.”

Its radical is 饣, which indicates that this word is related to food or eating. The second part 反 is a phonetic element. It suggests its pronunciation is close to the pronunciation of the character 反 fǎn (meaning “opposite”).

To be able to recognize and write Chinese characters, you should know the basic radicals. Let’s see here the most commonly used radicals

Radical

Variation

Meaning

Example

人 (rén)

"man” or “person”

It's present in words like 你 (nǐ) meaning "you," 他 (tā) meaning "he" and 众 (zhòng) meaning "the masses.”

女 (nǚ)

"woman"

It's in words like 妈 (mā) meaning "mom," 姐 (jiě) meaning “older sister" and 姑娘 (gūniang) meaning "girl."

心 (xīn)

"heart"

It's in words like 想 (xiǎng) meaning "to think" and 忆 (yì) meaning "to recall."

手 (shǒu)

"hand"

It usually appears when the word describes an action using hands, such as 打 (dǎ) meaning "to hit," 拉 (lā) meaning "to pull," 推 (tuī) meaning "to push" and 拿 (ná) meaning "to grab."

口 (kǒu)

"mouth"

Characters with this radical often involve using your mouth. Such as 吃 (chī) meaning "to eat," 唱 (chàng) meaning "to sing" and 吞 (tūn) meaning "to swallow."

目 (mù)

"eye"

看 (kàn) means "to look or see." 睡 (shuì) means "to sleep."

言 (yán)

"speech"

It's in words like 说 (shuō) meaning "to speak/say," 请 (qǐng) meaning "please, or to invite" and 谢 (xiè) meaning "to thank."

水 (shuǐ)

 "water"

It's in words like 海 (hǎi) meaning "ocean," 河 (hé) meaning "river" and 洗 (xǐ) meaning "to wash.”

火 (huǒ)

"fire"

For example, 烧 (shāo) means "to burn," 灯 (dēng) means "light" and 热 (rè) means "hot."

衣 (yī)

"clothing"

 It's in words like 衬衫 (chènshān) meaning "shirt" and 袋子 (dàizi) meaning "bag."

Most radicals are at the left or bottom of a character. By identifying radicals, it should be much easier to decode the meaning of new characters. For the phonetic elements, it takes time and effort to memorize their pronunciations. The more you study them, the easier it will be. heck out our Complete Chinese Radical Table with all 214 radicals for the Chinese characters

Why is Learning the Chinese Alphabet Important?

AlphabetA language’s alphabet is its building blocks. Trying to learn how to write in Chinese without first learning its alphabet is a bit like trying to build a brick house without touching the individual bricks! It is impossible to do a good job that way. So don’t believe language schools and methods that try to teach you otherwise. You will regret it later.

Also, once you start recognizing symbols and words, you will be encouraged by your own progress and motivated to learn even faster. Even just learning the basics of the alphabet will allow you to start recognizing simple Chinese words, and it will feel great!

Furthermore, knowing the alphabet even helps with pronunciation, as learning the individual letters of any language will start uncovering nuances and intricacies that are not always apparent when you’re simply listening to the words.

Completely mastering the Chinese alphabet, no matter how long it takes, will give you an excellent head start in learning how to write and read the language. It will offer you a solid foundation on which to build the other language skills, so set a goal to learn the alphabet so well that you’re able to recite it in your sleep!

Read on for helpful tips and secrets to learning the Chinese alphabet quickly and effectively.

How to Download Your Free Guide to Beginner Chinese

Download Your FREE Guide to Beginner Chinese!

If you want to master the Chinese language and become fluent, you must learn the Chinese alphabet letters first. And you need physical worksheets to practice on.

This eBook is a MUST-HAVE for all Chinese learning beginners!

FREE Chinese eBook

Download your FREE Chinese practice sheets PDF today and learn the Chinese language in no time!
This is a must-have guide for absolute beginners

Log in with Your Free Lifetime Account and we’ll give you a bundle of PDF cheat sheet including Survival Phrases, Romantic Lines, Learning Tips… — absolutely FREE!

3 Reasons to Learn Chinese Through PDF Lessons

Let’s now take a closer look at how studying Chinese lessons in PDF format can help you reach your dream in up to half the time of normal video or audio lessons!

① Saves Minutes on Your Data Plan

Learning Chinese through PDF lessons can dramatically reduce your data use. Once a lesson or tool is downloaded, you can then access it offline via your computer or smartphone any time or place regardless of Internet access. And once you’ve download the Chinese lessons in PDF format, you can actually access them faster than logging in and trying to do so via a live site. So not only will learning Chinese using PDF lessons save minutes on your data plan—it will save you some significant time as well as the lessons add up!

② Print and Take All Chinese Lessons and PDF Tools With You Anywhere

Sometimes, a tiny smartphone screen just isn’t adequate, especially when you are trying to learn something new. The great thing about PDF lessons, tools or files is that they can be quickly printed and taken anywhere after you download them. In fact, printing out Chinese lessons in PDF format can actually save you time when compared to going through the material on a smartphone with a small screen—even with the extra printing time!

③ Great Study Tool to Boost Retention and Mastery

Studying video or audio lessons online is a great way to learn a language because students can play and rewind sections as many times as needed until the lesson is mastered. But when you review the same Chinese lessons again in PDF format, an incredible thing happens: your retention dramatically improves! Thanks to Time Spaced Repetition, seeing the information again in written format helps reinforce the information in your mind and improves both retention and recall. The benefits of learning Chinese using PDF lessons quickly add up to significant time savings for you, your data plan, and your dream of learning a new language!

Why are we giving it away?

Learning to read and write is a must for all beginners. Although you get video lessons on how to write in Chinese at ChineseClass101, you’ll still need physical worksheets to practice on. That’s why you’re getting this printable tutorial PDFs as a gift.

Secrets to Learning the Chinese Alphabet Fast

SecretWith a language, like with anything you have to learn from scratch, having a few mnemonic devices handy are key to learning it fast. A mnemonic device is basically any method or technique that helps you to retain or commit something to memory more easily.

Here are a few mnemonic devices to memorize the Chinese alphabet so you can speed up learning how to write in Chinese.

① Find and Learn an Alphabet Song or Poem in Chinese

Can you still remember your childhood alphabet song in your own language? The best way to commit it to memory so you can recite it is still your mom or first teacher’s way - with music, a song and/or a poem! Find a recording and learn to sing the song, or recite the poem along as best as you can. Ask your ChineseClass101 teacher to help you understand exactly what you are singing or saying, and soon you’ll have reciting the alphabet under your belt! Repeat it out loud as often as possible.

However, you still need to learn how to write it.

② Study a Few Letters At a Time

Remember when you were young and learning to write for the first time? You didn’t start with words or sentences; you started with letters, one at a time!

Decide on tackling only a few letters each week, and then don’t move on from these till you are completely familiar with them. Don’t take on too many at once, or you may become discouraged. Also, remember to ask your teacher at ChineseClass101 if you have questions!

Learn to incidentally spot the letters in books, road signs (If you’re living in the country), magazines, on TV, anywhere you encounter written Chinese. Remember to write them out!

③ Write Out the Letters of the Alphabet By Hand

Make it a goal to write out your week’s letters at least once a day, and commit to this goal. You can also do it every time you have a free moment. Get yourself a special notebook for this purpose that you can carry with you anywhere you go. Sitting on the train or bus? Waiting for someone somewhere? Whip out your notebook and write the Chinese alphabet, or the letters you are learning. Aim for about 20 repetitions, while silently saying the letter in your head as you write it out. This way, you will soon be able to form and write words all by yourself! Exciting, isn’t it?

Writing something down with a pen also seems to engrave it in the brain in a way that nothing else does. As an added benefit, it gives you the satisfaction of seeing a new language in your own writing!

Once you’ve mastered the whole alphabet, commit to writing it out in its entirety at least once a day, for at least one month. More repetitions are obviously better.

④ Involve Your Whole Body

Research has shown that the more senses and actions we use to learn something, the quicker the new information sticks in the memory and becomes habitual. To apply this principle while learning the Chinese alphabet, write out huge letters by tracing them in the soil, or with chalk on the floor. Now, while saying the letter out loud, walk on the lines you have just traced. In this way, you ‘write’ the letter by moving your whole body!

Having fun just makes it even easier to learn something, so why not ‘write’ the letters out with dance steps while moving to your favorite Chinese music!

This is a simple trick that seems silly, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you will commit intricate letters to memory this way. It really works!

⑤ Use Associations To Memorize Letters

This technique would involve saying the Chinese letter out loud, and then thinking of a word in your own language that sounds the same as the letter. That would then create a phonic association that should make it easier for you to remember the letter. Better even if the association is something you can draw or picture.

If the script of the new alphabet is very different from your own, look at it closely, and see if you can find an image that the letter reminds you of

⑥ Now Have Fun Trying To Write Words!

Try to write words from your own language in Chinese, and ask your friendly ChineseClass101 teachers for feedback! Or post them on the forum and see if anyone can read them. You will be so pleased with yourself when you start writing words that are readable and recognizable by native speakers.

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How good is your Chinese? Care to put it to the test? Here’s the deal! We’ve come up with this must-know Chinese Phrases List. Learn the top 25 Chinese phrases, hear the native pronunciation and put your Chinese to the test. Did you know them all? If not, review the list and master these easy phrases!
How to Say Thank You in Chinese
Has anyone thanked you today? We will. Thank you for reading this article and learning with us! In fact, today, you’ll learn the many different ways to say “Thank You” in Chinese. It’s one of the most important Chinese phrases. Check it out and watch the video too to practice your pronunciation.

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