Q & A

Q & A

A.   How many characters are there in Chinese? How many characters do I need to know to be considered literate?

The precise quantity of Chinese characters is a mystery; numerous, rare variants have accumulated throughout history. Although there are 47,035 Chinese characters in the Kangxi Dictionary (康熙字典), the standard national dictionary developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, one only needs to know two or three thousand to be considered literate. Studies from China have shown that 90% of Chinese newspapers and magazines tend to use 3,500 basic characters. You will learn about 650 characters when you finish CHI 101 and 102.

B.    What should I pay attention to when I am practicing characters?

  • Some characters are very similar to each other, so when you are writing characters, please pay special attention to
    1. the length of a stroke: longer or shorter:士 solider 土 earth
    2. the position of a stroke: higher or lower :人 person 八 eight  入 to enter
    3. the size of components:  姓 vs 女生   好 vs女子
    4. out of line or not: 牛cow 午 noon
  • Be familiar with the writing rules: strokes and sequences of strokes
  • Be clear about the structure of a character: top and bottom; left and right; frame and innards
  • When you are writing character, spend some time on analyzing the structure and components of a character, then write it component by component, instead of stroke by stroke.
  • Read aloud and remember the meaning and radical not strokes

C.   How to practice characters so I can remember them better?

  • Learn the meanings of the radicals and the history of and analyze the structure of a character helps.
  • Summarize characters with the same radical to help you straighten out characters that look alike and create new connections
  • Use flashcards
  • Practice characters for a couple of times, then try to write it from memory. If you cannot remember it, please write it 2 or 3 times, and come back to it after studying other characters until you can write it from memory.
  • Try to write the whole dialogue or text out of memory, and then practice more those you don’t remember.

D.  Are there any useful APPs or websites that I can use to practice characters?

Previous students find the following APPs or websites very helpful for characters learning and practicing,

  • Pleco: an APP is useful as a dictionary to look up the meaning and breaking down the character components.
  • Quizlet: Flashcard and games, handwriting feature are very helpful for character learning and writing.
  • Anki with “Chinese Support Redux” Add-on
  • dong-chinese.com/wiki/home, an open-source dictionary that have pinyin, stroke order gif, components, and etymology of a character
  • Yellow Bridge Chinese: you can search for and read about etymology and the construction of a character