Chinese Characters

Chinese Characters

In order to learn Chinese characters effectively, it is important to understand a bit of the history behind them. The earliest examples of recognizable written words date back to as early as 1500 BC and can be found on oracle bones. The bones were used for divination and were often inscribed with questions and answers regarding hunting, warfare and other information. Some earlier pottery, dating back to 4800 BC, has been found that might contain a form of writing. Unfortunately, due to the scarcity of samples it is unlikely the writing will be deciphered.

When you learn Chinese characters today you are studying Hanzi. Hanzi can be broken down into the Classical Chinese and the simplified version commonly used today. Classical Chinese became standardized around 220 AD and was the main form of writing until the early 20th century. You can still learn Chinese characters in this style today. The words are generally written with a single character and have only one syllable. In the 1920s the written word was simplified based on spoken Mandarin and this form is most widely used today. About 2,000 words were simplified, the goal being to increase literacy throughout the country.

The difficulty when trying to learn Chinese characters in the modern form comes from the fact each word can have one or more syllables written with a separate character. Each character is always given the same amount of room when writing. Therefore, while reading you have to decide which symbols go together and what they mean.

The other difficulty people have when they learn Chinese characters is the fact there are so many of them. The largest dictionaries include over 56,000. Thankfully, you will only need to read about 3,000 in order to understand modern publications. For Classical Chinese, technical writings and literature you will need to recognize at least 6,000.

In order to write words, you will need to learn Chinese characters by their different strokes. There are a total of 12 basic strokes used in modern writing. These consist of dot, horizontal, vertical, left-falling, right-falling, rising, four styles of hooks and two styles of turning. Any given syllable will be written using anywhere from 1 and 64 strokes. As you learn Chinese characters you will find you must make these strokes in a particular order to be able to write properly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *