It will only take 3 minutes to read this post!
Here’s another one of Bethany’s great posts which is not only relevant to beginners of the Chinese language but also for those of you who have been studying Chinese for a while and now want to learn to read and write Chinese characters.
I remember the revelation and comfort I found in the word ‘radical’, especially since it appealed to my rebellious side. You can read about my experiences in The Radical Truth
Radicals are essential if you want to learn and fully understand the Chinese language. Below, Bethany discusses how learning radicals helped her to remember the characters and it’s meaning by using mnemonics. This character ‘story’ method is commonly used by many students of Chinese, including native Chinese speakers. Because we believe mnemonics are important and really do help to cement the meaning of a character for many people, we now have what we call our living dictionary. We say that it’s living because we hope that it will be forever growing.
Posted by Bethany from WrittenChinese.Com
I am new to learning Chinese and one of the largest hurdles for me has been learning how to make the characters meaningful. I am not a huge fan of rote memorization, so I had to figure out a way to help my brain remember the hundreds of characters necessary to read Chinese even at a basic level. I was so happy the day when I first learned that all characters contain radicals: smaller pieces of the character that give clues to the word’s meaning or pronunciation. Some of these radicals have a consistent meaning across all characters, such as 木 (mù), which refers to things that are related to wood or trees. You can read more about the tree radical in the blog post 木字旁: The Tree Radical.
Because Chinese characters were created a long time ago, sometimes it is difficult to figure out the exact connection between the radical and the meaning of the word, but it many cases, it is SUPER, SUPER helpful.
For example, 想 (xiǎng: to to think / to believe / to wish / to miss) contains the radicals 木 (mù: tree / wood / coffin), 目 (mù: eye / item / section ), and 心 (xīn: heart / mind / intention / center / core). To help me remember this word, I imagine a person standing next to a tree, looking out into the distance, pondering things in their heart. While the memory tools we create for ourselves can seem far fetched at times, it is helpful to create a context for ourselves until the characters become more familiar.
Many dictionary apps, including our own WCC Dictionary App contain a list of radicals, their meanings, and the characters that contain them. I highly recommend studying radicals as a learning aid for any Chinese student, beginner or advanced.
Remember, if you’re using your desktop computer you can also visit our Online ‘Living’ Dictionary for useful features, including radical breakdowns, character stroke order, example sentences and user character mnemonics!