Chinese characters – tips for learning Chinese characters – memory aid and mnemonics to learn Chinese characters. Also Complicated-Avril Lavigne (with lyrics)

Decode Chinese characters – useful tips for recognizing characters longer and effectively: painting images in your mind or making a story for the character you wish to remember

Try to recognize Chinese Characters by rote is time consuming and the memory won’t last long. Seeing each Chinese character as a painting or continuous strips of story will aid essential visualization to your storage of Characters, make your recognition clearly and more interesting, and help you to build a lasting memory.

Most of Chinese characters are made of a few radicals or units. It is a good idea to study the parts first, then assemble the parts back to the whole meaning with these two ways. In order to do this approach, I suggest you to study at least 40 common radicals (部首 bu4 shou3). See my post about radicals to get more information about common radicals.

A Painting images on your mind

For example, the character 秋 qiu1 (autumn) is made of two basic radicals — 禾 he2 (crops) and 火 huo3 (fire). The time when you see the green leaves change to flaming red and orange and the farmers harvesting their abundant crops is the season of autumn. So, paint two images on your mind, both images vividly express the meaning of autumn.

So, next time when you see this 秋 qiu1 you will remember it right away that it is fall / autumn.

The character 早 zao3 means early. It consists of two radicals — 日 ri4 and 木 mu4. Ri4 日 is the sun and the mu4 木 means wood or trees. So, when you see the sun climbs up to the tree top, it is morning time. Morning is earlier than the noon or the night, thus, it has the meaning of early. Also, 早上 zao3 shang4 means morning, 早安 zao3 an1 means good morning.

The character 好 hao3 means good. It consists of two radicals 女 nv3 and 子 zi3. Imagine you are the man of the house, when you arrived home and saw your child and wife after a long day of working, you must have some **good** feeling? The ancient Chinese people thought that a man would be good and content as long as he has a wife and child – a wife to tend to his need and a child to carry his gene to next generation. So, paint a happy **good** family image for this character.

For the character above as you see in the picture, it is 醒 xing3 means awake. It consists of two radicals 酉 you3 (wine) and 星 xing1 (stars). What images popped into your mind when you saw the character. For me, it is a drunken person that fell asleep along the road side with a bottle of wine by the side, then, when he or she was awake, he or she opened the eyes and saw the stars in the night starry starry sky. The key point is the eyes opening part — taking in the twinkle stars and at that moment, he or she was finally awake from the drunkenness.

B Make a story for the character

Sometimes, it is hard to make images easily. When you feel some difficulty of creating the images, you need to have some creativity — try to make a story to it, no matter how silly, funny or ridiculous the story might be. so, learning Chinese can make you a creative person:)

Today, in my class, we were learning the character 重 zhong4 (heavy). I told the students to make a story for this character. Daniel said that the middle like the big face and the top and bottom like big hands and big legs for that person is very heavy.
I told him, “Yes, that is a fine story for you to recognize and memorize the word.” I said, besides that story, we can also think the middle is a big fat belly and the top part like the hands got squeezed up and hanging there, and the bottom part like the belly is so heavy and the legs got collapsed. The students laughed, and I bet they won’t forget this word easily 🙂

We also did another word lou2 楼 (multi- storied building). I told them, in ancient China, most houses were built by wood, so that is the radical we saw on the left side mu3 (wood). The bottom on the right side is the radical for 女 nv3 girl, and the upper one is 米 mi3 word (rice). I said, how about I remember this character by this story – Once upon a time, in a wood building, there was a starved girl. She always ate her bowl of rice while she was climbing up the stairs. The students felt the story was pretty ridiculous, but, as long as it can offer some mnemonic aid, it would still be useful.

A lot of people told me recognizing and memorizing Chinese characters are hard and boring. It can be yes or no, depend what approach you use. Remember when you first learned English, your teachers told you one of the most important strategies of reading is to chunk the word into little units, then blend them together and sound them out. Learning Chinese characters are the same – Chop the big pieces into little units and then assemble them to form the meaning — it can be etymological way, silly way or ridiculous way. However, as long as it works for you, it would be the best way and not complicated at all I hope:)

Hope you won’t feel too complicated at recognizing and deciphering the meaning of the Chinese characters you encounter. Have fun listening:)

Complicated-Avril Lavigne (with lyrics)

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13 Responses to Chinese characters – tips for learning Chinese characters – memory aid and mnemonics to learn Chinese characters. Also Complicated-Avril Lavigne (with lyrics)

  1. Edwin says:


    • Shu says:

      Only one word is not a positive comment. It is not a racing game:) I would like to see what is your understanding about the post, what you learned, or what you don’t understand, or any helpful suggestion you can make to help your fellow classroommates understand Chinese characters better. Thank you for visiting:)


  2. demor says:

    Thank you for posting this I have found that breaking apart the characters makes it easier to understand the character in a whole. With this I can now appreciate the complexity of Chinese.

  3. Shi Luo says:

    Yeah, I agree with Demor! 😀

    • Shu says:

      Dear Chinese class students:

      Please be more specific on your comments, thank you for the visiting. Hope you have good time doing your rules of Chinese character formation assignment (liu4 shu1 六书), and let me know if you have any questions. Good night.

      Lao Shi

  4. Rory says:

    This seems like a terrific strategy for learning and retaining characters, and I know that this will prove beneficial in my studying. It seems as if the more far-fetched and crazy the story is, the easier it would be to remember. I am definitely going to implement this into my studying.

    • Shu says:

      Yes, it is a good way for me too. When I was in middle school, I applied this strategy to my social study classes, by making some senses to those nonsense words like place names or a sequence of names, like which countries participated in what historical event. For example, if these are the countries — 俄德法美日奥意英, I would memorize them as if I am hungry then I will slowly cook one eagle 饿的话每日熬一鹰。So, as long as it helps with memories, as long as it makes sense to you, it would be a good strategy:)

  5. yan says:

    This is a good idea for teacher how to engage students to learn Chinese Characters. I am a Mandarin teacher. I believe” make sences” would be important for students learn Chinese characters. I will try the strategy next semester. Making connection between the unknown and known knowledge.

    • Learn Chinese Help says:

      Hi Yan,
      Sometimes, Chinese characters look like puzzles to students. A lot of puzzles, like a character puzzle forest, will hamper students’ learning and interest. It would be beneficial to students if we can make characters meaningful while we are introducing them new characters at the first time – by teaching them the meaning of radicals or by giving them an unforgettable image or even a silly story. I like what you said: “Making connection between the unknown and known knowledge.” Learning Chinese can be detective fun — by finding little clues and figuring out the word puzzle.
      Have good time teaching Chinese each time, and thank you for visiting:)

  6. Annaandtheking says:

    Hello again 老师 Shu….

    Thank you for your story of 好。。。
    I have tried this story method in my study… it is amazing…
    So far in my study i have been using this book:Learning Chinese Characters, a revolutionary new way to learn and remember the 800 most basic chinee characters by Allison Matthews n Lawrence Matthews…
    Unfortunately until now I cannot find the continuation of this book.

    This book has helped me alot so that I donot have to make my own stories, which is time consuming…
    If you have any idea or have seen this kind of book, please tell me.. because after the 800 characters (HSK level A) I need to continue learning the other characters…

    • Learn Chinese Help says:

      Hi Anna,
      Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters is a resourceful book with great reviews. Here are some other books about learning Chinese characters:
      Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary (English and Mandarin Chinese Edition)
      Reading & Writing Chinese: Traditional Character Edition, A Comprehensive Guide to the Chinese Writing System
      Memorize most of the radicals, and then take some time to create your only story of words. It is a way that is unique and creative, and I think you should be able to remember the words for a very long long time. When I was in junior high school years, I used this method to memorize a lot of tedious answers for social study and geography.
      Have fun learning Chinese. If I know some other useful Chinese character learning books, I will let you know.

  7. Robert Wary says:

    Learning mandarin characters is really hard.But as it is told breaking into small units n joining together is memorable.I think this would be not always possible to make stories and remember it
    what do u say?

    • Learn Chinese Help says:

      Hi Robert,
      You are right on it. It is not always possible to make stories and remember them. However, at the beginning stage of learning Mandarin characters, it would be fun by using this way to make learning characters more effective. When I teach topic characters of each lesson, I always try my best to make each character memorable and meaningful for my students by explaining the the meaning of radicals or inventing a vivid image by combining the compounds, so that they will be able to make sense of them and remember them better. Have good time learning Chinese!

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