Chinese characters Question (Japanese, Korean, Chinese)

There are readings for Chinese characters and then there is their meaning are both worth learning for Chinese learners?
Japanese Learners ignore the pronunciations/readings because there are a lot of them and its to much to rote learn, But with Chinese there is only one reading so should one just learn the pronunciation/reading and ignore the meaning? Which is more important to learn the pronunciation or the meaning?
Or in Chinese it is worth learning both? Do Native Chinese speakers just learn pronunciation and then pick up the meaning of a character through seeing the character used in lots of words (my hypothesis but correct me if I’m wrong). Thank you for the Help!

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As a native Chinese speakers, I suggest you learning pronunciation first.
I will show you the thinking process we native speakers use (Writing and Reading)

When we try to write something
1.First, the word we want to write is “one”
2.Then, we have the word sound in our mind: “yī”
3.Then we try to recall the image of the sound “yī”, There are 5 characters all sound “yī” as following: 依,一,醫,伊,衣
4.Only the second character “一” means the “one”
5.Hence we write the word “一”

Then what’s the thinking process when we read the Chinese words?
1.We see the Chinese word “一”
2.We speak it in our mind, the sound of it is “yī”
3.Then we recall the meaning, that means “one”

The process is not very strict, but generally you can see that the pronunciation takes a very very important role in writing and reading.
Thought → sounds → characters
Characters → sounds → thought

Even for the native speakers, we CAN’T write or read the word if we don’t know how to pronounce it.
Hope this can help you.


Thank you so much! This is extremely helpful to allow me to tackle Chinese characters in a logical and practical way. Also it is very interesting the function of characters in language since I lack it being a native English speaker.

Oh! I forgot do Chinese people learn 일 means one and 衣 means clothing? Through direct study or through learning lots of words?
you wrote
Thought → sounds → characters
Characters → sounds → thought
Where doe the meaning come into this process like 衣 means clothing for example? Thank you again!

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The question “Do Chinese people learn…Through direct study or through learning lots of words?”
We generally don’t learn character “one by one”, because one character can have many meanings if combining with other character

Take 門 for example, 門 means door:
But if 門(door)+路(road), the word 門路 means tips
門(door)+派(group), the word 門派 means sect
門(door)+徒(follower), the word 門徒 means disciple

It’s better not learning from single character, but learning from sentence, like this:
我的 門派 有 一點 門路
wǒ de mén pài yǒu yī diǎn mén lù
(My sect have some tips)

Take the same example, but here I show the worse way to learn Ch:
我 的 門 派 有 一 點 門 路
me, of, door, group, have, one, dot, door, road

You can see if you learn Ch character by character, it’s hard to understand the real meaning

Another very common example is the word 不錯
不(Don’t) 錯(Mistake), many foreigners study Ch character by character, hence they think this is a insult word.
But actually 不错 means “Very Good”

So don’t dig into the meaning of the character, just learn from sentences by sentences.
By learning lots of sentences, you will naturally grasp the meaning of the character.

A fun fact is that even we native speakers don’t understand meaning of all characters, but if you put that character into a sentence, we will immediately understand the meaning of the sentence.


Thanks this is perfect!

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Native speakers (in every language) are already fluent in the spoken language before they learn to write. In non-phonetic languages (Chinese, English) writing might be taught for many years in school. We call it “spelling”.

I study Chinese. So each “word” is the pronunciation, the writing and the meaning (various English translations in various situations). I want to learn both spoken and written Chinese, so I have to learn both sound and writing.

Note that Chinese people “type” on computers and smartphones phonetically. You type “yi” and the computer pops up all the characters pronounced “yi”. You select one and continue. So you have to know the sound to type. And everybody types nowadays – the days of writing with a brush are gone, at least for most people.


But actually 不错 means “Very Good”

  • There is a similar expression in American English: “not bad”. It means “very good”. It is probably confusing to English-learners.

Yes, you have a very good observation. Because the invention of computers, people nowadays can only write common Chinese characters, but forgot how to write complex Chinese characters (We can read and pronounce it, but hard to recall how to hand write it).

Usually people type the sound “yi”,then choose the correct character “一” on the computer.

But do you know we actually have other Chinese input methods for computers?

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