Chinese characters can be one of the most daunting parts of learning Mandarin Chinese, but they don't have to be. Thanks to technology, learning and using Chinese characters has become much easier.

In this lesson we will give you some basic info about Characters and how they work. We will also give our recommendations on how to learn characters. Just like with pinyin and tones, don't let yourself be overwhelmed by Chinese characters. You aren't expected to master all characters to learn Mandarin.d

Basic info about Chinese characters:

Simplified vs. Traditional

Below are three comparisons of simplified and traditional characters.Note that the two characters are the same in the 3rd example.


Stroke Order

Characters are written using strokes. Each character has a order that strokes are supposed to be written in. Stroke order used to be very important because it was used to find characters in a dictionary. Nowadays a character can be looked up on a phone or computer by drawing the character. Stroke order is still helpful in that it provides some structure for writing characters, which can be good if you are just starting to learn characters. We recommend getting a basic understanding of stroke order, but don't spend too much time on it.

Below are some general rules for stroke order accompanied by a character that demonstrates each rule. Click start to see the characters written with the correct stroke order

Characters and Meaning

Words can be made up of one or many characters. For example the word 'person' just uses the charcter '人' while the word 'panda' used the two characters '熊猫'.

Some characters have more than one pronunciation/meaning. For example the character '长' can be pronounced as 'cháng' in which case it means 'long', it can also be pronounced as 'zhǎng' in which case it means 'to grow'. This might seem complicated, but context will usually help clarify which pronunciation/meaning is being used.

Typing Characters

The last thing we need to consider is how to type or input characters into a cell phone or computer. There are two commonly used input methods. The first is to type the pinyin. For example, if you wanted to type the character '三' and you know the pinyin is 'sān' then you would just type 'san' and your device would provide several characters to pick from. The second method is to draw the character with your computer mouse or with your finger/stylus on a touch screen. Since the exact input methods depend on the specific device you use we recommend you google 'how to type chinese characters on' and include your specific device in the search.

Congratulations you have reached the end of the introduction course. We hope you have found this course helpful and encourage you to move on to the HSK 1 course, linked below, to start learning your first Mandarin words.

HSK1 Course Home Course Index HSK Vocab Quiz