Learning to write Chinese characters is one of the most difficult aspects of learning Mandarin Chinese. There are thousands of different characters, and the only way to learn them is by memorization and constant practice.
In this digital age, it’s possible to use a computer to write Chinese characters, but learning how to write Chinese characters by hand is the best way to gain a thorough understanding of each character.
Anyone who knows Pinyin can use a computer to write Chinese characters. The problem with this is that pinyin spellings can represent many different characters. Unless you know exactly which character you need, you will likely make mistakes when using the computer to write Chinese characters.
A good knowledge of Chinese characters is the only way to write Chinese correctly, and the best way to gain knowledge of Chinese characters is by learning to write them by hand.
Chinese characters may seem incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t know the language, but there is a method to constructing them. Each character is based on one of 214 radicals – the basic elements of the Chinese writing system.
Radicals form the building blocks of Chinese characters. Some radicals can be used as both building blocks and independent characters, but others are never used independently.
All Chinese characters consist of strokes which should be written in a specific order. Learning the stroke order is an important part of learning to write Chinese characters. The number of strokes is used to classify Chinese characters in dictionaries, so an added benefit of learning strokes is being able to use Chinese dictionaries.
The basic rules for stroke order are:
- left to right and top to bottom
- horizontal before vertical
- horizontal and vertical stokes which pass over other strokes
- diagonals (right-to-left and then left-to-right)
- center verticals and then outside diagonals
- outside strokes before inside stokes
- left verticals before enclosing stokes
- bottom enclosing strokes
- dots and minor strokes
You can see an example of stroke order in the illustration at the top of this page.
Work books designed for writing practice are widely available in Chinese-speaking countries, and you may be able to find them in cities with a large Chinese community. These work books usually illustrate a character with the proper stroke order and provide lined boxes for writing practice. They are intended for school children, but are useful for anyone learning to write Chinese characters.
If you can’t find a practice book like this, you can download this Microsoft Word file and print it out.
There a several books about writing Chinese characters. One of the better ones is Keys to Chinese Character Writing (English).