How to Learn to Write Chinese: Introduction

Anyone can learn to write Chinese if they have the right knowledge and the right approach. Even with poor knowledge and a bad approach, it’s still totally possible for anyone to learn to write Chinese. In fact, I would say that most people do it with poor knowledge and a bad approach, at least at first.

That’s why I’ve put together these three articles.

Hopefully I can make the process a little bit smoother and faster for people who are interested in learning to use this fascinating writing system. This page is the introduction for my advice on how to learn to write Chinese. I think it’s very important to begin this process with some knowledge of the concepts and what it all involves. This will make it much easier and faster in the long run, because you’ll be better equipped to approach the challenge.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at what you’ve got in store for yourself in your quest to learn to write Chinese! It’s going to be a fairly long read, so make sure you’re comfortable, get a cup of green tea (绿茶 - you’ll be able to write that soon), and begin!

(Note: this series of articles is aimed at total beginners who want to learn to write Chinese. If you’re a bit more experienced and want a better way to study Chinese characters, I highly recommend Olle Linge’s ‘sensible way’.)

Three things to note first

Before explaining some important concepts about the Chinese writing system and how to learn to use it, I want to make some general points. If you’ve studied foreign languages before, you are probably familiar with them (although the Chinese writing system really is a whole different ballgame to European languages, if that’s what you’ve learnt before).

This is going to take time

Learning to write Chinese is a big challenge and one that’s going to take a considerable amount of time and effort. Be in no doubt about that. Also, you should immediately be suspicious of any product or course that tries to tell you otherwise. This is going to take years. You can of course make a lot of ground in the first few days, weeks and months, but to really learn to write Chinese in a meaningful way, you’re going to have to stick with it for years.

In my view, that’s a great thing. This is a hobby that will serve you with interesting activities for a lifetime. Learning to write Chinese is constantly interesting, because there are always more things you can be learning. You’re about to make a wonderful new addition to your life!

By the way, you should be aware that there’s a fantastic amount of nonsense surrounding Chinese online and elsewhere, partly because it’s acquired an aura of being difficult and mysterious. Ignore all of that and anyone peddling it. Anyone who actually knows much about Chinese will tend to be quite matter-of- fact and down-to-earth about it. This is a real, human language used by more than a billion people to write normal stuff every day. (See also: common myths about Chinese).

You can learn to write Chinese for free

I want to make this point clear from the beginning. It is entirely possible to learn to write Chinese on your own, using free resources that are available online. Classes, courses, textbooks and software are not essential. That’s not to say that they can’t be useful and effective, especially for beginners, but always remember that it’s possible to do this for free. That knowledge lets you make better judgements about whether you want to pay money for something.

The main obstacle to learning to write Chinese for free is a lack of knowledge. When you’re on the outside of this knowledge bubble, you likely have no idea how to get into it, so people offering to get you in for a fee may be a good option. What I’m hoping to do here, though, is equip you with enough knowledge to make your own way and learn to write Chinese yourself, if you wish. I will recommend one bit of paid software you might like to consider, though.

Learning Chinese characters vs learning to write Chinese

The last of these three points is about the difference between learning to write Chinese characters and learning to write Chinese in full sentences. This guide is about how to learn to write Chinese characters as individual symbols. Learning to produce written Chinese text is another huge skill beyond that, and one that I think you should treat separately. At this stage, focus your efforts on remembering how to write Chinese characters.

It’s also worth mentioning here that learning to read and write Chinese is very different to learning to read and write European languages. Firstly, written Chinese is generally even more different to its spoken version than European languages are. Secondly, because Chinese writing isn’t as closely tied to the spoken language as European languages are, knowing how to speak is very separate from knowing how to write. I’ll elaborate more on this point later in the guide.

Everything will become clear

That’s the introduction out of the way! In the next section I’ll explain the key concepts I think you need to know to learn to write Chinese characters. If this seems like a lot of reading or a lot to take in, just remember:

  • It’s worth spending a little bit of time reading this stuff now so that you can save time later.
  • No matter what, everything will become clear in the end. Just keep moving forwards and you’ll get there.

Please feel free to leave comments on any of the articles in this series. You can ask questions, make suggestions, tell me how wrong you think I am etc.

Series: How to learn to write Chinese

  1. How to Learn to Write Chinese: Introduction (this article)
  2. How to Learn to Write Chinese: Key Concepts
  3. How to Learn to Write Chinese: The Method

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