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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: How do I decipher Chinese characters I don’t know?
As we mentioned in an earlier lesson, you need to know at least 5,000 汉字 Hànzì to be able to read. Does that mean you have to memorize every single one of them? Not necessarily. Each character is made of components, which many times indicate or give hints as to what the character means. These components are called “radicals,” or 偏旁部首 (piānpáng bùshǒu). Learning some common “radicals” will help you recognize, remember, and reproduce characters.
For example, the character 明 míng is made of two radicals: 日 rì and 月 yuè, meaning “sun” and “moon.” When you put the radicals “sun” and “moon” together, we get the character 明, the most common meaning of which is “bright.” A lot of times, when you see the radical 日rì in a character, it often has something to do with the sun. Like this character 早 zǎo, meaning “early,” and the word 早上 zǎoshang, meaning “morning.”
水 shuǐ means “water,” and this radical 氵is its variation. When you see them in a character, it usually means the character has something to do with water. Such as 冰 bīng (“ice”),洗 xǐ (“to wash”),河 hé (“river”),海 hǎi (“ocean”).
火 huǒ means fire, and this radical 灬 is its variation. When you see 火 or 灬, the character usually is related to fire or heat. Some examples are 热 rè (“hot”),烧 shāo (“to burn”),灯 dēng (“light”),and 烟 yān (“smoke”).
言 yán and 讠are radicals for something related to “speech,” such as 说 shuō (“to say”) , 语 yǔ (“language”), 词 cí (“word”), 誓言 shìyán (“promise”).
食 shí and 饣 are radicals for anything that’s related to “food” and “drinks.” For example, 饭 fàn (“meal,” or “rice”), 饱 bǎo (“full”),饿 è (“hungry”),餐馆 cānguǎn (“restaurant”).
Learning Chinese characters does take a lot of time and effort, but the result sure is rewarding. After you learn some basic Chinese characters, you’ll even find it easier to navigate in some other countries, like Japan, since 汉字 Hànzì is also part of their writing system! So if you’ve decided to learn 汉字, I recommend that you start with radicals.


Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
See you next time!
我们下期再见吧!Wǒmen xià qī zàijiàn ba!