Introduction: A Method to Memorize Chinese Ideograms

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Here in Brazil, as in many other countries a great number of people are studying, or are interested in studying this wonderful and challenging language: Chinese.

One of the most intriguing questions that come up when you start to study Chinese is how to memorize the great amount of its beautiful ideograms… at least 2,500 of them, which, as I’ve heard several times, are the most common ones and enough for you to read a magazine or a newspaper… Wait! It is not only the ideograms… still there are the correspondent pinyin which you must learn and memorize to be able to recall how each ideogram sound…

A brief explanation on pinyin: Pinyin is the transcription in roman letters of how each ideogram sound, for instance, the ideogram : 这 which means “this” , has its pinyin written as zhè, so, when you see the ideogram above you can recall exactly how it sounds!!!

In fact, at least in the school where I learn Chinese, we first started learning the Pinyin, not the ideograms. Ideograms are introduced gradually as course flows. As I heard, in China they also learn the pinyin, so it is not something used only by foreigners who want to learn the language.

In a nutshell, you have three things to memorize: The ideogram, the pinyin and how the word sounds (some letters in pinyin do not sound exactly how they sound in Portuguese or English), then, finally, how can you memorize such amount of information? This method I suggest bellow in this Instructable is working just fine for me, and it is a simple idea for those interested in studying the language to try! Besides that you will save a lot of paper because you will be using MS Excel and MS Paintbrush!

Step 1: Select a List of Ideograms You Want to Memorize

Select a list of ideograms you want to learn. I think 30 ideograms is a good size for a start…. Write them down in an Excel sheet, one bellow the other, and, in the column on the right side write the equivalent pinyin. If you wish, in the next column on the right write also the meaning of the ideogram.

Step 2: Hide the Ideograms From Your View...

Freeze the entire columns that have the pinyin
and the meaning, as seen on the picture allowing only the column with ideograms to be visible:

Step 3: Draw the Hidden Ideogram...

Open a blank page on the MS Paintbrush, minimize or hide the excel sheet, and try to write the ideograms with the mouse, and also the due pinyin, like seen on the picture.

Step 4: Checking and Final Comments

Check if you got it right uncovering the Excel columns with the pinyin. If you didn’t get it write the first time don’t worry it is not that easy to get used to a totally new system of writing… try again until you are able to get it right.

Erase everything on the Pintbrush and start writing the second ideogram repeating the procedures on the Paintbrush and Excel. When you reach the fifth ideogram try to write the first one again and check if you get it right… you might realize that as we learn new ones we also start to forget the old ones… but that is the way it happens… The good news is that, after some days practicing one hour per day you will notice that you really learned!

The important thing I would like to stress is that when you try to WRITE the ideogram you “process” the information more deeply, and after some time you will be able to RECOGNIZE and WRITE the ideogram. As far as I know flashcards are a good and traditional way to learn and memorize the ideograms, but, when you try to write you realize that there is something missing…That is the gain in this method. These ideas are simple and I think I am not the first one to realize that.

I would like to explain that I am not an expert in learning methodology or something similar, this is just a suggestion from one student to another!

Other ideas on the same issue.....

Above you can see a video I posted on Youtube.

I wrote a piece of software in VBA which is a matching game to help people to learn and memorize the ideograms. It is narrated in Portuguese but it is possible to visually understand how it works. If you have a minute, check the video.

I wish you good luck in your study!

Best Regards from Fabio