Professional Teacher
How do you memorize Chinese characters?

Today I'd like to share with you my favorite approach to memorizing “phonetic-semantic compounds”. I will just remind here that “phonetic-semantic compounds” are built of two components: one represents the meaning (the semantic component) and another one represents the sound in the spoken language (the phonetic component).

For example, the character 妈 mā “mother”. I explain this character to my students this way: “it’s a woman who works as hard as a horse” (I think it’s pretty accurate) but, jokes aside, look at the structure: 女 woman + 马 mǎ horse. The semantic component 女 tells us that the character is related to people, women to be precise, and 马 tells us that the character is pronounced the same way as “horse” is, i.e. ma (don’t forget that the tones may be different). 

Do you think the foam on the ocean looks like little fluffy lambs? Use it to memorize the character “ocean” 洋 which consists of semantic element “water” 氵and phonetic part “sheep, lamb” 羊. Associations are your true friends. It doesn’t matter if the images in your head are different from what other people think. You found an association to memorize a character correctly? You won.

You can go further and even tell yourself stories about characters. For example, 哭kū “to cry” is composed of three parts: two 口 kǒu “mouth” (which may also refer to a person in general, not only to the part of a face) and 犬  quǎn “dog”. That is the story I made up: there was a family of two people who were awfully poor, one day they decided to eat their dog, but as they loved the dog very much, they were crying while eating it.

You can make up your own mnemonics – the sillier or more personal, the better. Doing this will help make the characters you learn unforgettable and make your learning more fun at the same time!

What is your way to memorize all those tones of Chinese characters?

Apr 24, 2019 6:18 AM