Writing Chinese characters, or 汉字 (hànzì), is a valuable asset to your Chinese language learning. Many people think that in the age of computers when Chinese characters can be typed using Pinyin there is no need to learn how to write. Read on to find out why this is not the case!

Practicing Chinese calligraphy

The Top 3 Benefits of Learning to Write Chinese Characters

1. Writing By Hand Makes You Remember

Researchers at Princeton University and UCLA found that knowledge sticks better when notes are taken by hand rather than with a keyboard. You can certainly type common phrases in Pinyin and recognize the characters that pop up. But if you have never practiced writing Chinese, are you really going to be able to tell which “zu” to choose from between 租 and 祖? It is certainly a lot easier to get to grips with the detail in the characters when you have learned how to write.

2. Knowing How to Write Characters Makes Reading Them A Lot Easier

If you only ever look at characters passively (including typing in Pinyin and seeing them pop up) then they will not sink in as effectively as when you put pen to paper and feel every stroke. Becoming intimate with the characters is one of the best ways to improve your reading.

3. It’s Enjoyable!

Learners take pride in writing characters. Every character learned is a badge of honour! Practicing writing Chinese characters is a meditative process. Sitting down and writing out characters lets you escape for a while the distractions and information overload we meet every day in this modern world.

Tang Dynasty Characters

The 3 Biggest Challenges of Writing Chinese Characters

No matter what stage you are at in your Chinese learning, you no doubt are aware of some of the difficulties involved in mastering Chinese characters. Below we have listed a few of what we consider the main challenges.

1. No Alphabet

The Chinese language does not have an alphabet! It would be awesome to have a short list of letters which you can stick together to make words. But in Chinese, each character has its own meaning and “words” are usually made up of one, two, three or four characters.

2. They Are Not Pictures

You might also think that characters are easy to write because they are just “drawings” representing real life things. However, pictographs make up just a small percentage of all Chinese characters. Moreover, they have been stylized throughout the years and learners might not be able to guess their meaning simply by looking at them.

3. Stroke Order

In order to write characters properly, one must follow a precise writing order. At first, it might seem impossible to memorize the order of strokes for each character. However, the most important thing to remember is that characters are written from left to right and from top to bottom. So Long as you bear this in mind, you shouldn’t go too far wrong!

Culture of Chinese characters

5 Tips from Practical Mandarin to Overcome the Challenges of Writing Characters

1. Use Practice Paper

This is a key hack for practicing writing characters!

Get your hands on some proper practice paper. This consists of squares subdivided into four smaller squares. In Chinese this kind of paper is called 田字格纸 (tiánzìgézhǐ), named after the 田(tián,field) character, which looks just like the practice squares! Copying a character into these squares helps you maintain the right distance between one stroke and another, the result will be a well-proportioned character. Check out Hanzi Grids for printable templates.

Once you are confident that you can write individual characters with decent proportions, you can move on to using paper lined with small squares, one square for each character (方格纸 fānggézhǐ). This will help you keep your characters all of the same size and you can practice writing each character neatly lined up under the character above it. Here’s a template we found for you。

2. Practice Similar Characters Together

Many Chinese characters look almost the same, writing them side by side can help you figure out those differences which are so hard to detect but which result in totally different sound and meaning.

Take these two characters as an example:

(tǔ ) and(shì)

At first sight, they look exactly the same, don’t they? However, looking more carefully you’ll notice that the length of the horizontal strokes is different! The first character means soil and the second means scholar and both have totally different pronunciation.

3. Keep a Diary

Learning how to write characters doesn’t have to be a chore! You can transform it into an enjoyable and useful activity by writing out:

–       Your feelings, e.g.: “今天我对我妈妈很生气”, Jīntiān wǒ duì wǒ māmā hěn shēngqì, “Today I’m angry with my mom”

–       Commitments, e.g.: “明天去银行”, Míngtiān qù yínháng, “Go to the bank tomorrow”

And when you feel comfortable enough, you might even be able to write a short story or write about a topic that really interests you!

4. Discover the art of 书法 (Shūfǎ)

Chinese calligraphy is one of the most fascinating arts you can experience! Take brush and ink and start writing your favorite characters. It’s a good way to appreciate the harmonious shape of each character and to let the stress melt away!

5. Take it Step by Step:

Practice writing the easiest characters first, then move on to the more complicated ones. Once you’ve mastered the characters with fewer strokes, the more complex ones will be easier to learn. You will notice how they are usually made up of simpler characters which you have already learned!

A picture of an iPhone

Top Resources For Practicing Chinese Characters

Skritter is an amazing APP which will make you a Chinese handwriting expert through games and fun challenges. It also gives you the opportunity to create personalized learning schedules and flashcards. It can be used for free for the first week after which you choose between a monthly or annual plan.

The Chinese Writer can be used online and also has a free APP. Whether you are using a phone or your desktop, be careful! Some characters will fall from the top of the screen, and you’ll have to draw them correctly before they reach the bottom. Some extra content requires a small fee. 

Here you can create your personalised character sheets, print them or save them as a PDF. You can access most of the website is free and what you cannot is accessible at a modest price. 

This is a learning system perfect for training your stroke order. It can also be used as a Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionary. After registering, you just need to pay $4/month to access the whole content.

Practicing writing Chinese

Contact Practical Mandarin to learn writing Chinese characters with our professional teachers, discover our fresh learning material and have fun!

In Practical Mandarin classrooms, we don’t teach characters in isolation.

We don’t force feed our students 10 characters per week.

Learning characters should be a progressive and sustainable progress.

Starting from Beginner, we provide a 5 step training to teach you how characters are formed.

The next stage, is about grouping characters and training your eye. With classroom games and practice methods, students can easily master Beginner Characters 101.

From Level 2 onward, character learning becomes a natural learning habit. Students have trained eyes to read them, and ask critical questions about how one character is different from another.

We know learning characters is not the easiest task to tackle. With your tenacity, our great guides, and an open mind, you will no doubt welcome this challenge with open arms!