How to memorize Chinese Characters
Ирина Пономарева (Irina Ponomareva)
The problem of memorizing Chinese characters is one of the most widespread sources of headache among the learners of this popular, but mysterious language. There are different approaches to learning Chinese. Some teachers prefer to start with speaking and phonetics and add characters much later, but there is another and much more hardcore approach: to make students learn the words and their characters more or less at the same time and even write dictations – from memory, without looking at characters – almost from day one. It is easy to say that this approach is all wrong and outdated, but if all teachers in your area stick to it, you don’t have much choice. And whatever method you are using, sooner or later you will have to master the art of writing in Chinese from memory as native speakers do.
It is much easier to memorize those characters well enough to recognize them in the written text, but even that can present a problem. For this, flash cards are a good solution, but if you are preparing for a dictation, you might find that flash cards don’t help at all.
Teachers would often recommend to write the same characters 10 or 20 times, but even that is not always very helpful, because if you do this looking at the sample, your brain will rely on the sample and never turn the hidden mechanisms of your memory on. It is much more useful to write a character just once with your notes being your guide. Then cover it all up and write it again, uncover the notes and compare what you’ve written with the correct version. If you got it right, fine. Now just repeat the procedure two or three times without looking at anything. If you got it wrong, make the corrections, and try again.
It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for many. It is also helpful to associate various keys and strokes – or the whole character – with familiar objects, even if they have nothing in common with the actual meaning of it. And lastly, don’t forget to review the characters regularly, even if you already know them, because they are insidious and only wait for a convenient moment to escape from your memory and go wandering around. Don’t let them do this!