Chinese language learners used to suffer far more than we do nowadays.
Imagine those days of yore, before the internet was just one double-click away.
To learn Chinese characters, you’d have to go through an arduous manual process with a notebook, a pen and a dictionary.
With the technology of today, there are tons of great resources online to enhance your Chinese learning experience.
In this post, we will cover a few of the more popular and positively-received resources available to you right now. These are specifically designed to boost your ability to read and write Chinese characters. Any one of these will help set you on the path to utilize Chinese readers, understand Chinese newspapers, and eventually master reading Chinese novels.
As for acquiring all the complex grammar patterns, sentence structures and vocabulary you’ll need to tackle bigger reading projects, well, that’s a post for another day. For now, let’s focus on your quest to master all the Chinese characters essential to fluency.
6 Fantastic Resources to Learn How to Read and Write Chinese Characters
The following in-depth reviews of Chinese language learning resources includes all of the positives and negatives for each option. There’s no doubt that some resources are better suited to different learning styles. Carefully consider your personal preferences and optimal learning styles. How do you learn Chinese best? What has worked for you in the past? Stick with what you know works.
That being said, any of these resources can be used in combination for a more powerful effect. Many are free, meaning that the extra learning boost will come at little to no additional cost to you. Take a close look at the unique benefits each one has to offer, and go from there!
Skritter is a resource that is fundamentally different from all the other resources that we will go through today. This is because Skritter uses a completely different system for learning Chinese characters.
Skritter focuses on learning characters through writing. In the reviews of other popular resources, a common disadvantage of each resource was its lack of assistance for character writing. Skritter was able to solve this problem. Instead of a more passive style of learning, you must take on a more active style by writing out the individual characters in the Skritter course you are taking. Along with each writing exercise, you’ll also find that Skritter has provided the context of the character, practice sentences, component radicals and an audio clip of the pronunciation.
Skritter also matches other resources for additional functions. Like a lot of the other resources, there are several user-made courses to choose from, so that the advanced learners starting Skritter do not have to go through the basics all over again.
Skritter also makes use of Spaced Repetition Software (SRS). This is a system that theoretically optimizes effective learning. With this tool, unfamiliar characters are reviewed more often, and familiar characters are reviewed less often in a systematic way. Skritter employs it in order to make its learning approaches more effective, and ultimately to match the learning technology of any close competitors.
In fact, other language programs like FluentU use SRS, and the two programs can be used in tandem to maximize the process of learning Chinese characters.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
In any case, Skritter is a pretty neat tool that can offer you unique assistance in learning Chinese characters. Skritter can also be used as a secondary tool to give you a little push with your writing practice.
Pleco is first and foremost a dictionary. It is used for characters and words, both for Chinese to English translations and English to Chinese translations. However, it comes with flashcard decks that may remind you of Anki (reviewed below).
Similar to Anki, there are user-made flashcard decks that you can download and synchronize. There are different courses designed for all different learning goals and learning styles. Whether you are a beginner interested in learning HSK 1 vocabulary or an advanced learner learning HSK 6 vocabulary, Pleco will have it covered.
Additionally, since Pleco’s primary function is that of a dictionary, it is very easy for you to browse unfamiliar words and characters. The definitions are quite in-depth, so you are able to get a good grasp of characters through sample words and phrases.
Pleco is free, so it is a valuable addition to any learner’s arsenal. It can be used in 5-10 minute intervals of downtime because of its simplicity. Need something to kill time in the dentist’s waiting room? Pleco is there for you. It is highly recommended and well worth the download, since it works well as a secondary tool or digital dictionary.
Learn 2194 Characters in 90 Days is Remembr.it’s claim to fame.
Sounds like a bold claim, but Remembr.it provides an easy and attractive interface to help you accomplish this lofty goal. After the lengthy introduction, you are quickly started on the Remembr.it system. Every day you are given new flashcard vocabulary lists, which you can preview and then later commit to memory.
At the end of the day’s vocabulary list, you are not given the option to continue and learn extra. However, there is plenty to study daily, so this will not be a problem in normal cases. For you overachievers, it might be nice to have a program that will manage your unreasonably high expectations. It is far better to fully memorize a given set of characters than to try to overstuff your brain and lose half your already-learned characters in the process.
The process of learning the characters is nicely designed. Each day’s lesson will feature a set of characters that are related to one another, like 中and 忠. From these character sets, you come to see the connections between similar characters. Another laudable feature is the contextualization of each character. Every character flashcard comes with a number of words in which the character is a component. From these words, you can better understand each character in a wider context. Finally, you are able to hear what the character sounds like with the integrated audio system. Each lesson is carried out utilizing a helpful SRS.
Remembr.it comes with one noteworthy disadvantage, which is its lack of support for character writing. However with its strong advantages, Remembr.it is a good resource for beginners. By following the tried-and-true, intensive study plan for 90 days, Remembr.it will live up to its promise. Keep in mind that although these 2194 characters form 98% of today’s most commonly used characters (according to Remembr.it) it is what comes after these characters that proficiency is determined beyond intermediate levels.
Anki is a flashcard program that makes learning very simple. In order to use it, you just download the software and then download a flashcard deck you are interested in.
In terms of using this software to learn Chinese characters, it is very straightforward and quite effective. There are several decks available to download. These decks are uploaded by users and encompass a wide variety of characters. For example, some decks might only contain radicals for beginners while others might be about characters required for the HSK 6 for advanced learners. Since the flashcards are user-created, it is worth mentioning that they may vary in quality. Some flashcard decks do not have sound, which can be very important for mastering difficult Chinese character pronunciations.
Anki also uses a SRS for more effective learning. A good thing about Anki is its customizability and additional features in this aspect. Unlike some of the other resources, there is not a fixed system that determines your learning experience. Instead, there is an options menu for each deck that allows you to select learning preferences, mostly relating to customizing the deck’s SRS to your tastes. Moreover, there is a statistics menu that shows your learning statistics for the deck.
However, Anki cannot help with some aspects of learning. Like Remembr.it, Anki cannot help with character writing due to the nature of the software, but this disadvantage can be mitigated by using other supplemental programs. Despite this, Anki is a great system for all learners, as it is very simple to use. It is available in many formats, so it is a handy application to download on different devices where you can study during 5 minute downtime periods.
Memrise is a website founded by Ed Cooke, who is a Memory Grandmaster. Building on his experiences, Memrise incorporates mnemonic techniques into its learning environment as well as a SRS. All in all, these work together to create a unique learning resource.
For those who are not familiar with the concept, mnemonic devices are techniques that learners can utilize to learn and memorize information more effectively. These techniques can include visualization and association. They are typically very personal – whichever images, rhymes, songs and colors best stick in an individual language learner’s mind.
Memrise creates a platform where it is easy for learners to share their personal mnemonic techniques. This helps users work together to find the best methods for learning individual terms. This creates a nice community which has only grown in effectiveness with increased numbers of users. These shared mnemonic techniques are nicknamed “mems” on the website.
Past its mnemonic foundations, Memrise has other additional details that make the website great. It uses user-made content in the form of various courses. Memrise is particularly good at user engagement, as Memrise innovates on the learning experience by creating a game-like system. Users earn points for reviewing and learning new terms, and they can compete with friends. This type of system makes Memrise’s learning environment less stiff and more fun.
However, Memrise does not focus on writing. Despite this, it is undeniable that Memrise’s innovative learning strategies makes it a fabulous resource. It’s perfect if you want to get started learning a large number of Chinese characters quickly and effectively. However, you may require further familiarization with each character using other resources. While mnemonic devices definitely help characters stick in your brain, they are only a short-term solution to memorization. Additional repetition and practice will be necessary.
Remembering Simplified Hanzi Series
This book has been helping many learners with their journey to learn Chinese characters since 2008, and the system still remains relevant enough for learners today to use it as well. There are two books in the series, and each contains approximately 1500 characters each.
The methodology is similar to Memrise in that the author, James Heisig, promotes a mnemonic device driven approach to memorizing characters. For the first pages, he offers you a long suggestion paragraph to use as a reference for mnemonic tools. Later on, he gives a few keywords and leaves the reader to draw on their own experiences and knowledge to create a personal mnemonic technique for each character.
Another positive is that the author also focuses on writing as well. His method involves character writing in the same vein, through mnemonic tools like short stories involving the component parts of the character. In this way, memorization and writing both use mnemonic techniques.
One thing to note is that James Heisig primarily focuses on the understanding and writing of the characters. He does not go over character tones or give information on how the character is to be used in a bigger context. Essentially, this book focuses on learning writing Chinese characters and assigning them their basic meanings. This book may come in handy for some learners, but this resource needs to be used in conjunction with other resources. Finally, this is a resource that is in the form of a physical book, so this may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your personal preferences.
Happy learning, and we wish you good luck!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.