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Why you only need to learn 200 Chinese characters instead of 3000!

Tim shares his insights with you why 3000 Chinese characters can be broken down to only 200, like lego pieces.

If you are like me, no one really told you much about the logic of Chinese characters when you started learning Chinese. You start by writing each new character about a hundred times – only to forget its writing by the next day.

Characters are made up of around 200 character components called radicals (部首). Strictly speaking, radicals are the components that are used to index Chinese characters in Chinese character dictionaries. The amount of them was set to 214 in the 17th century by the Kangxi dictionary. Modern dictionaries vary wildly around the number 200.

About every radical has an assigned meaning and pronunciation. In 80% of Chinese characters, these can give clues about the character’s meaning or pronunciation. Take 饭 as an example: It is pronounced fàn and means food. The right component is pronounced fǎn, so expcept fot the tone, it has the same pronunciation. Therefore it is the characters phonetic component. The left part 饣 (on it's own or in traditional characters written as 食) is pronounced shí and also means food. So it is clearly the semantic part (pointing at the meaning of the character). 

Therefore, finding out about the different character components in a new character can help a lot in remembering it’s pronunciation and meaning. But guess what: It also helps remembering its writing: If you know how to write the different radicals in a new character, then there’s no need to learn how to write the whole character all over again – just remember what components it is composed of. For example take the character "音" which means "sound". Can you see how it is composed of the parts "日" and "立"? So simply by learning the components there is no need for you to remember 音" on its own! 

The Zizzle method is exactly based on this idea: Learn the character components and then use the meanings of the character components and of the character itself and make up a special story – a mnemonic. Thinking about this story the next time you want to write this character will not only help you rememer its writing, it will also help you remember its meaning.

Tim from Zizzle

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