An important part of learning Chinese is to learn characters. Learning characters is different from learning words in other foreign languages.
This can sometimes be frustrating for beginners because you might find it hard to know how to learn something so completely different. You might think you know how to learn vocabulary in French, but is that method good for learning Chinese?
Probably not. Most students use very inefficient methods to learn vocabulary regardless of language. This article will talk about two things. First, how to learn a new character. Second, how to maintain the ability to recall that character later. These processes are of course related, but they aren't the same.
Here are some quick tips for learning Chinese characters more efficiently:
Don't write the character immediately. As a beginner, it's tempting to treat Chinese characters as pretty pictures that you learn to reproduce by copying them. This is not a good approach. Look at the character first, understand its composition. Look at how the different parts are placed. Note the stroke order! It isn't important that you memories the exact details of all strokes right now, but you need to learn which strokes belong to which part.
Write the character once without looking. You should try to avoid copying stroke-by-stroke as much as possible. This is a very bad habit and you don't really learn much by doing so. Instead, try to remember as large parts of the character as possible. If you can look at the character, look away and write it! If you can't do that, divide the character into parts and peek once for each part. In any case, don't look at the model character while writing.
Write the character a dozen times. Once you know how to write the character, write the entire character a dozen times and pay attention to the right stroke order. You're not allowed to peek while writing a character, only to check if you're right or not! The idea here is to increase your familiarity with the character and also get some flow into your handwriting.
If you don't find enough information in your textbook to allow you to do all this, you might want to check out some free online resources. For character decomposition, you can use HanziCraft, which will tell you not only which components a character consists of, but also how the sounds of these components relate to the pronunciation of the character, something which is very unlikely to appear in your textbook.
Remembering Chinese characters
It's relatively easy to remember a few Chinese characters, but the more you learn, the harder it becomes. When you know a few thousand characters, the main obstacle isn't to learn more characters, but to remember those you have learnt and the difference between them. You also need to remember how they are used and which other characters they typically occur alongside with.
The best solution is to combine spaced repetition software with actual communicative practice.
For instance, you could change your input language to handwriting and draw the characters on your phone instead of typing. You could also use handwriting input on your computer if you have a writing tablet. If you happen to have Chinese-speaking friends who are willing to help, you could of course also do e-mail correspondence.