Would you learn mandarin writing from the begin?

I started 2 weeks ago to learn mandarin with pimsleur + assimil.
I want to learn the writing also but don’t know when to begin with that.

Should I firstly build up some basic with the above mentioned methods and then begin the journey with the symbols or should I learn the writing right now?


Most people on this site will tell you to learn characters from the start.

My own view is a little more aligned with this post:

I think it is important to pay attention to the characters, and to how the same sound and tone combination can have many different meanings.

But…I also believe that character learning has a lower ROI in this age of; pleco, OCS, instant web page translators etc.

I type all my Chinese email and text messages using pinyin input into pleco, and read all my Chinese email with pleco reader.

I am not looking at this as a matter of ROI , because I am learning for fun. Am just pretty interested in chinese culture , history in general so I don’t look forward to the benefits. I am just want to learn it.

I would get familiar with the sounds and structure for a few months and then really apply myself to learning the characters.

I think listening and speaking (work on pinyin) first for a few months and then the characters, but right away you can try out some of the real simple ones just to get a feel for it. Just remember it’s not as easy as 一 二 三. Writing is somewhat time intensive but I think it can be made more efficient and helpful for memorization. Once you know the basic stroke order, you can start to write a lot of characters by just looking at the character and reproducing it on paper or on ipad iphone, smart phone. I use Pleco on my phone as well to practice my writing. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to practice writing so much that you can write it from memory – just being able to copy what you see in the correct stroke order is enough. If you do it enough times, you will learn the character over time and will write from memory. One thing about memorizing without writing is that it’s very easy to confuse characters, especially if you don’t have a compound to help you out…characters like 我 and 找 can be tricky if you haven’t written them out before. I find writing to be a good way to aid memorization. I have read a lot of debates on to write or not to write by hand, and I tried for a while not to write but just memorize and it was not very effective for me. What I do now is use Memrise – because it has a timer. I don’t use mnemonics as they suggest but I use the timer to write out characters on my samsung (using Pleco). If the character is too involved and I can’t write it out in time, then I just look at the stroke order diagram to see the correct way. Either way, I am forced to pay attention to what is going on with the character. All this ia probably too much for you right now, but just something to consider down the line are you get into the characters…To sum up: I wouldn’t worry too much about writing as being a waste of time, if you do it as an aid to learning characters and you do it in an efficient enough way. In the age of pinyin input, I don’t think writing is necessary skill (for non native Chinese), but I think it’s a good way to start learning Chinese characters.

Thanks the advice!

When I achieve a level where I start to learn the characters should I immediatly learn the symbols when I learn a new word?

I think it’s a good idea because the symbols are, in fact, the words. That said, your pinyin recognition (and recognizing a word by just listening without script) might move ahead of your character recognition – this is the case with me. However, evidently it’s good to keep up with character recognition because at some point you’ll be able to read texts, which will be a great help to get to a high level fluency. I’m still at a point where I need a lot of translation help when reading, so I can’t speak from experience. However, this is what I’ve read from people who’ve reached a high level – that reading (characters) is what helped them to advance.

Hi, I am a Chinese learner and I find Chinese is interesting.
I use a free e-book which is amazingly great.
I highly recommend this to you and hope you like it.

@mary - fortunately that Taiwan site has simplified characters, not just traditional, yay. Thanks for the link.

Before learning the characters, I think it is recommended to learn some basic vocab in pinyin. But what is really important is to learn at least 100 of the most common radicals before learning the characters.

“But what is really important is to learn at least 100 of the most common radicals before learning the characters.”

I don’t agree with that statement. Understanding of the radicals expands while new characters are being learned. The number of 100 as the most basic radicals also seems a tad high to me.

I agree with Friedemann. Trying to learn the radicals upfront without any familiarity with the characters and with the contexts where they are used, is really like pushing a large stone uphill. The statement “Understanding of the radicals expands while new characters are being learned.” is absolutely correct in my experience.

On the other hand learning the 1000 most frequent characters is a good strategy. Whereas I normally don’t recommend focusing one’s effort on learning the 1000 most frequent words of a language , in the case of learning characters I think this is a good strategy. If a language is written in the phonetic alphabet, I think we will naturally come across the most frequent 1000 words. However, learning the characters is a different kettle of fish. Characters are so strange to us at first, that they require very deliberate study.

If you spend the first month or two using pin yin, when you start to study the characters you will be discovering old friends in new forms. Thereafter your growth in the language can parallel the growth in your knowledge of the characters. Make sure you read a lot. Mandarin is a language where I strongly recommend graded readers, graded for character count. I am not a fan of graded readers in languages written in phonetic alphabets.

As with most things in language learning, you need to find your own way, to find those things that you find most enjoyable and efficient.

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Hi Zolihun,

The fun fact about learning a language is to exchange with people. And a lot of chinese people have bad pinyin (z/zh, n/ng, c/ch, …) and it can be a bit tricky. And when a friend of yours send u an email in characters, it’s just …

Pinyin is a good help to learn characters (and it was created for that), you really should use it this way, and begin to learn characters. The sooner, the better. And with a good approach, it’s really interesting (learn the etymology, and see how the caracter was before, like a picture of something, and how it became the way it is now.) The etymology approach also can make some sense when looking at similar-looking characters (as milestones said with 我 and 找 )

I disagree with Steve (呵呵) for the character frequency list, and for the words frequency list (or HSK words lists). The frequency is the key (because you can guess the others, just the way chinese people guess unknown characters, looking at the association of known characters in the new one). Learn the radicals this way too, no need to learn the 214 radicals before u start. But some like 女,人 could be really useful.

Spaced repetition (Anki) + Pleco are good tools too.

好好学习,天天向上 :slight_smile:

au contraire mon ami! I do favour both SRS systems and using character frequency lists. It is only in Chinese and languages where we have to learn characters, where I believe these approaches really pay dividends. In languages which are alphabet based, we will naturally come across the most frequent words, in my view. However when it comes to learning Chinese characters, we cannot even start reading until we have a fairly large number of characters. So spaced repetition, Heisig and other methods need to be used.

Heisig had indeed a good idea, nowadays you can even make your own stories with ressources like http://www.chineseetymology.org/ (in english) and http://vividict.com/ (in chinese)

By the way Steve, I just sign-up (after viewing a video of yours speaking mandarin) and LingQ seems to be a really useful tool. Ill talk about it soon on my blog :slight_smile:

That’s great Cedric. I had a look at your blog, which looks very interesting. I gave it a Like.

BTW I will be doing a video in French today for my YouTube channel, where I will discuss the subject of whether children or adults are better language learners.

I see from this thread that a few months ago I was gung-ho on mnemonics; however, I am not so keen on that approach now. I am finding that the more traditional analysis approach more useful for learning characters. I now use Wenlin (Pleco when I am on the go) for the study of each character. I think Wenlin is by far the best study resource out there for this…(lists characters by frequency). While I did memorize “words” for some time, now I just study individual characters one at a time and look out at for the higher frequency words that they are a part of. When I read & listen, I pay attention to new words w/o any attempt at memorizing – just try to get familiarity with as many as I can, even if it’s just recognizing how they sound. I no longer SRS much (except for Wenlin’s character flashcards, which I treat now as a different, far slower animal)…though by now I recognize most of the vocab of HSK 1-4 by dint of SRS-ing over the last year and a half. My thinking now is that going “deep” into characters and “wide” on words will serve me well over the long haul.

I used to think mnemonics and SRSing was going deep, but this turned out not to be the case for me. Many times I’d think I’d know a character but would end up puzzling over it, or skipping it, which slows down reading speed/weakens comprehension. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve taken on a more in-depth character study and already I see promising results. However, I think it makes sense for a beginner to focus on very high frequency words as a whole and not get too fixated on separate characters. For instance learning 什 then 么 individually is not very helpful。 什么 is what…you see all the time, something worth learning right away.

No, I just learn speaking and listening, and I decided to learn the writing next month. I think you could learn all of them so that you can much more understanding Chinese and Chinese culture. I highly recommend this Chinese learning webiste http://www.hanbridgemandarin.com to you and hope you like it.