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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Yinru here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Chinese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: What are Chinese characters?
Chinese characters (汉字 Hànzì) are logograms. These are symbols used to represent whole words. They’re used in written Chinese. In English, we use an alphabet to spell out each word. However, most letters on their own don’t carry a particular meaning. In Chinese, characters come with an assigned pronunciation and their own definitions. You can combine certain characters together to make words. Most Chinese words are made of 1-3 characters - for example, 我 (Wǒ) “I,” 喜欢 (xǐhuān) “like,” 冰淇淋 (bīng qí líng) “ice cream.”
As you may know, Chinese culture has had a great influence on all the cultures in East Asia—Chinese characters are a great example. 汉字 have been brought to and modified in several other Asian languages, including Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.
There are fifty thousands Chinese characters in existence. But don’t be scared away. You only need 3000-5000 to be considered literate. It may still sound like a lot, and it does take time to memorize them, but it’s not an impossible task. You can start by learning the components of characters, which are called "radicals" (偏旁部首 piānpáng bùshǒu). This will make it much easier to recognize, remember, and reproduce characters.
For example, the character 明 míng is made of two radicals: 日 rì and 月 yuè, “sun” and “moon.” When you put the radicals “sun” and “moon” together, we get the character 明. The most common meaning for this symbol is “bright.”


How was it? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer them!
我们下期再见吧!(Wǒmen xiàqī zàijiàn ba!) See you in the next episode!