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Apart from combining the most critical aspects of Chinese characters into one worksheet, one of the best things about My HSK Dictionary is that you’re able to record your learning as you go. You’re not only tracking your progress, but each worksheet allows you to continuously review, add new content, or even revise your previous learning.
I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve used a notebook for vocabulary, then another for writing practice and various scraps of paper for ‘words I should learn.’ When I go to review, my notes are all over the place, and there’s no space to add additional example sentences or practice stroke order. This is a HUGE pain.
I will be honest; when I first started the worksheets, I was trying to make them look perfect just in case someone was going to judge me for my bad drawings or coloring outside the lines (real face-palm moment, I can tell you).
Once I realized that what was more important was how I used the worksheets that I started to scribble all over them.
I’m scribbling with these fineliners, btw.
These worksheets reflect your studying, so you should use them any way that works for you. That includes doodling, mega note-taking, or meticulous recording.
However, if some of you need a push in the right direction, keep reading!
SECTION 1 – ‘HOW CAN I REMEMBER CHINESE CHINESE?”
When we started developing My HSK Dictionary, one of the biggest things we focused on was remembering a character. After, ‘How do I learn Chinese?’, ‘How can I remember characters?’ is probably the next most frequently asked question in emails and social media.
It’s a good question, and even though I’ve probably told this story a hundred times, here goes:
When I first started taking proper Chinese classes, I never imagined in a million years that I’d be able to take a test ONLY in Chinese. Never mind being able to read and remember any Chinese characters!
Perhaps some of that was mindset and interest; I just wanted to learn to speak Chinese, which was my priority. However, once I did start to learn to ‘read,’ I felt a real sense of accomplishment.
So, let’s try and answer the question:
Firstly, there isn’t just ‘one way’ to remember Chinese characters. I’m going to suggest some methods that will help you remember a character and help you learn A LOT about the Chinese written language and Chinese culture. Trust me. It’s all related. It does mean that studying one character can sometimes take time.
This is also one of the main reasons why we decided only to send 5 worksheets every week. If you’re new to Chinese characters and whipped through these sheets in 5 minutes, you’re probably not doing it right (unless you have a photographic memory).
Let’s take a look at some of the first Chinese characters you’ll come across in My HSK Dictionary
We’re going to break them down and find a way to remember each character.
Here we have 爸爸, the Chinese bigram (two-character word) meaning ‘father’ or ‘dad’.
Now, I’m going to be honest; some characters just look like the word. These are known as pictographs [link to article]. 爸爸 is NOT one of these characters, (it’s actually pictophonetic 父 (fù) meaning ‘father’ and 巴 bā for pronunciation), but this is what I imagine when I see these characters:
I just mentioned in method 1 that 爸 (bà) is known as a pictophonetic character. One side or half of the character relates to the character’s meaning, and the other suggests the sound. These are quite common characters, and so it’s a great way to help remember them. To really take advantage of this method, you should start to learn some Chinese radicals. Radicals are the character ‘pieces’ that create a whole character.
As you can see in worksheet 9 for 菜 (cài) (you’ll receive it in week 2 of My HSK Dictionary), the radicals are on the right-hand side. In this example, 艹 (cǎo) meaning ‘grass’ provides the meaning (grass – vegetable – dish, etc.). At the same time, the bottom ⅔ of the character contains 采 (cǎi), which provides the ‘cai’ pronunciation.
The ‘flaw’ in this method is that the pronunciation part of the character doesn’t always share the same tone as the radical (cǎi and cài). There are also times when the pronunciation is tenuous and has a ‘similar’ sound or a change in the first letter. For example, 客 (kè), found in 不客气 (bú kè qi) includes the 宀 (mián) radical, which suggests the meaning (roof – house – guest). The bottom of the character 各 provides the pronunciation (gè).
Next, let’s look at 不 (bù) meaning ‘no’ or ‘not’.
I’m cheating a little bit with this one because I used one of my favorite Chinese character books to learn more about it.
At first glance, this looks like an arrow pointing upwards towards an additional line (stroke).
However, when I looked at the 不 (bù) character in my book, I discovered that the ‘arrow’ is actually a bird flying towards the sky. The line at the top represents the heavens, which also suggests a ‘limitation.’
A USEFUL RESOURCE
I have continuously returned to the Fun with Chinese Characters Series throughout my Chinese character journey, and I cannot recommend these books more. I’ve spent many hours (even when I was meant to be writing blog posts, and newsletters), reading about character origins, cultural references, and appreciating the humourous drawings that accompany each character.
I have all three physical books from the series (you can also buy them separately), and I recently saw a kids version too! They’re quite small but packed with so much useful and interesting information. I guarantee they WILL NOT end up gathering dust on your bookshelf.
This method is similar to number 3 because you’re creating a story using radicals, tones, and meaning to help you remember the character. You can learn about this method in Nora’s article, Secrets to Remembering EXACTLY How to Write a Chinese Character.
SECTION 2 – LEARNING TO WRITE CHINESE CHARACTERS
The next section on the worksheet is learning to write each character. If you’re new to writing Chinese characters, here are some suggestions on how to write correctly, and why it’s important:
CHINESE CHARACTER STROKES
Every mark that creates a character is called a stroke. Strokes are different from radicals, but sometimes a radical is made up of only one stroke, such as 一 (yī/héng), 丿(piě) and 丨(gǔn/shù). Additionally, strokes can sometimes be more than one line but written without removing the pen from the paper, such as ㇇ (héng piě) found in the character 对 (duì).
Probably one of the most important things to remember when writing characters is the correct order in which to write them. In most languages, there is a ‘correct’ way to write letters or glyphs. I know that I’m not following the same guidelines I’ve taught young learners myself. But unlike English letters, that can be written in any way as long as it is legible, Chinese characters cannot.
Learning stroke order is something you’ll pick up once you start writing, but it’s not something you should ignore.
On My HSK Dictionary worksheets, the strokes are highlighted for you to follow in the correct order. However, you also need to know which direction to write the strokes. To help you with this, visit the Online Dictionary to watch and follow the stroke animations.
First, search for the character using pinyin and find it in the list.
Next, click on the Learn More button, and you’ll see the stroke animation on the left-hand side.
To find out more about using the Online Dictionary, see our How-to Page.
You don’t need to be a Chinese character pro before you start writing, but why not download the PDFs below and keep them open while you study.
There’s much more to learn about writing Chinese Characters, so when you’re ready, visit our Ultimate Guide to Writing Chinese Characters.
SECTION 3 – WRITING CHINESE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
This section doesn’t need a lot of explanation, but I just wanted to offer some advice anyway.
If you don’t feel confident about writing your own sentences yet, you can do a few different things:
Write Other Useful Words Instead
Instead of leaving the example sentence section blank, use the first line to write some other related Chinese words. If you use the Online Dictionary, you’ll see a list of Common Chinese Words under the character you searched.
Use the Example Sentences From the Written Chinese Blog or Online Dictionary.
Feel free to borrow example sentences from our blog posts or the ones you’ll find in the Online Dictionary. Plenty of our blog posts include simple sentences that will be easy to write and remember sentence patterns.
If you type a character into the search bar at the top of this page (writtenchinese.com), you should find some articles that contain it. Once you choose a post, use the find function (command+f) and search again.
All the characters in the article will be highlighted in yellow.
My HSK Dictionary worksheets are all about YOUR learning and progress, so they should be as straightforward or as creative as you want them to be. Plus, if you’re a real perfectionist, you can always reprint your worksheets!
Before I go, I also want to suggest that you store your worksheets in a display book like this one to see every single sheet in the correct order.
MORE USEFUL RESOURCES FOR LEARNING CHINESE CHARACTERS
Here are some other resources that might help you with your character mnemonics, writing Chinese characters and more.