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Learn to Write Chinese – Chinese Characters For Beginners

In this video, I’m going to introduce you the four basic types of Chinese characters, talk about the different types of strokes, and get you practising a couple of characters.

Chinese characters Type 1 – “Ones that look like things”

For example:

日 (sun)
月 (moon)
山 (mountain)
水(water)
雨 (rain – a picture of raindrops falling from the sky)
木 (wood)
禾 (grain – from a picture of a bushel of rice)
人 (person/human – from a picture of a person standing up on two legs)

Chinese characters type 2 – “Ones that represent ideas”

For example:

一 二 三 (the numbers 1, 2 and 3)
中 (middle – an enclosure divided by a pole in the middle)
上 下 (above and below – with a figure above or below a horizontal line)
凹 凸 (concave and convex – with a part missing from the character or a part sticking out)

Chinese characters type 3 – “Ones that are two ideas put together”

For example:

林 (wood/forest – two trees put together)
森 (wood/forest – three trees put together)
休 (to rest – a man leaning against a tree)
好 (good/well – a woman + a child)
焚 (to burn – two trees on the top, fire on the bottom)

Chinese characters type 4 – “Ones that have a part indicating the area of meaning + a part indicating the pronunciation (sometimes)”

For example:

银 (silver – the 钅means metal)
妹 (sister – the 女 means woman)
雷 (thunder – the 雨 means rain)
说 (say – the 讠means words)
茶 (tea – the 艹 means grass)
江 (river – the 氵means water)
推 (push – the 扌means hand)
想 (think/miss – the 心 means heart/mind)

The different strokes that characters are made up of

Let’s also talk about the strokes that are used to write Chinese characters. Every Chinese person learns the same stroke order in school, essentially by copying the teacher’s example and picking it up.

Each character is made up of a number of different strokes, and there are a few types of strokes.

I’ve written more about the individual strokes here.

You might think that writing the strokes in a different direction or in a different order doesn’t make much difference, but it does actually make a character look different, so it’s important to get it right.

Learning to write characters

There are a number of websites and software tools that show you how to write any given Chinese character.

I learnt to write Chinese simply by following these examples many many times. The best way to learn to write Chinese is not to talk about theories and principles, but to learn through practice, so let’s try writing a character.

It’s only calligraphy that’s written with a brush and ink; most people use a pen or pencil, so grab one now and follow along.

The character that I am using is 永 (yong), which means ‘eternal’ and it’s an example often used in calligraphy classes, because it contains all the basic types of strokes. Copy each stroke after you see it, trying to make it look as close as you can to the example. Then, after you finish, go back over this section of the video and follow the example a few more times, until your version starts to look right.

Ok, let’s try one more character, 好(hao), which means good. This character is divided into two sections; the left hand side means woman and the right hand side means child. Try to copy this example as closely as you can.

So now you’ve learnt how to write two Chinese characters. You can now copy and paste Chinese characters into the software tools I have provided, and practise writing more characters.

It seems like there is a lot to learn; start by learning the characters in your Chinese course, and keep practising, that’s the most important thing! Practise and practise again.

If you’ve got any questions, just leave a comment in the box below.

  • Trinh Ta

    You are really good, thank you!