Would you like to learn Chinese and understand the language well? For beginner students, the process of learning Mandarin Chinese is complex and confusing. But is there a simplified way for total beginners to learn how to read like native Chinese speakers?

Learn How Chinese Writing Works

Chinese writing is different from other systems of writing in the world. Originally, Chinese texts were written and read from left to right and from top to bottom. But modern Chinese is written from left to right and in lines. This will confuse you if you’re an English speaker, learning the language. In addition to that, you’ll need to learn how to read Chinese characters and understand how to visualize them based on the meanings they represent. So, how should you begin to learn to read Chinese?

Start with the Basics

You can first start by learning pinyin, which involves transcribing characters into the Latin alphabet. This will help you to learn how to pronounce each new character you learn. After understanding pinyin, you can continue learning the characters present.

Learn the Formation of Chinese Characters

There are four types of Chinese characters that you need to understand if you want to master Chinese reading: pictograms (or pictographic characters), self-explanatory characters, associative compounds, and pictophonetic characters. Knowing how these four character types work will simplify your Chinese learning process a lot because you’ll have a better understanding of how the Chinese language was formed and why the Mandarin characters look a certain way.

Want to learn a language at italki?

Here are the best resources for you!

Pictograms (pictographic characters)

You’ll always come across pictograms in Chinese texts, and they are among the easiest Chinese characters to learn. Pictograms are simple diagrams that represent objects in the Chinese language. Chinese reading entails understanding the objects that these diagrams represent. Pictograms are exciting to study, and you can understand a lot about Chinese culture when you learn how these diagrams relate to the objects they represent. Unfortunately, the modern Simplified pictogram characters are very stylized and lost their pictographic flavor, therefore it’s not that easy to grasp what every diagram means.

Pictophonetics (pictophonetic characters)

Pictophonetics are Chinese characters made of two parts: a semantic element and a phonetic element. Or, in simple words: one part indicates the meaning of the characters and the other indicates the sound. You’ll learn how every pictophonetic character is pronounced after understanding this principle.

Understand How Components, Elements, and Radicals Work

Learning Mandarin characters requires breaking them down into elements, components, and radicals. This will help you to remember characters easily and even to demystify their meanings. You can split characters into:

Character Components

The components are called ?? (bùjiàn) which literally means “parts”. These are simply the different “parts” that compose the character.

Character Elements

The elements indicate a meaning or a sound: there are semantic elements and phonetic elements.

Character Radicals

Radicals are simple strokes or components that are shared between a large group of characters. They are used to group the characters together and place them in a dictionary, or to study them in groups. Radicals can also help to indicate the meaning of characters, but this is not always the case.

Radicals are an essential component in learning the Chinese language and learning to read characters.

Learn the Stroke Order of Characters

If you want to learn Chinese well, you’ll also need to learn and understand the stroke order that is followed when writing characters. Fortunately, there are many websites and mobile apps with convenient animations you can use to learn the stroke order when of each character. You can also study characters with a Chinese teacher ready to take you through the whole process.

Find Your Perfect Teacher

At italki, you can find your Chinese tutor from all qualified and experienced teachers. Now experience the excellent language learning journey!

Book a trial lesson


If what you’ve learned is not satisfactory, and you would like to learn how to read Chinese in the most efficient way, then italki is here to help. On our website, you can book Chinese classes with experienced 1-on-1 Chinese teachers and online tutors who’ll help you learn fluent Chinese effectively. Your private online teacher will ensure you know how to read Chinese and use the language for self-development.