Nov 6, 2008

chinese characters

This post is inspired by Nick's post about Chinese characters.

I think to most people learning Chinese, the hardest part about learning is probably the characters. After all, there are like zillions of characters I guess. I don't even know them all. I don't think anyone does.

But we sort of came up with a way to overcome this problem. Like they say, when there's a will, there's a way. True enough, some genius out there invented this saying:

有边读边, 没边读上下. (you3 bian1 du2 bian1, mei2 bian1 du2 shang4 xia4)

It basically means "if there's a side of the character, read the side, otherwise, read the top or the bottom of the character".

In Chinese, every part of the character is not pointless. In case you're wondering why certain words are formed this way or that ..

Let's take a look at this character - 饼 (bing3)

This character means 'biscuit' in Chinese, and look at the formation of the character. I can't really highlight it here because the computer doesn't allow me to highlight only a part of a Chinese character but anyways, the left part of the character is what we call a 'side', and it usually describes the characteristic of the Chinese character. For this character, the 'side' is a 'food side'. Any word that comes along with this 'side' is usually related to food.

Next, let's check out the other side of the character. That is pronounced as 'bing4'. Notice the link? ;)

Yes, the other side of the character usually aids in the pronounciation. Although not exactly similar, it helps, somehow. When you think of a food that sounds like 'bing4' what would you think of? Biscuits (bing3) of course! ;)

This is highly useful especially when you're trying to read something to someone and suddenly stumble over some words you don't know. I remember we use to use this trick back in school when we go for reading examinations; we always guess and then pretend we are coughing to cover up for our ignorance.

It doesn't work everytime of course! So the best way to learn Chinese characters is still the conventional way, memorise!

I hope this helps.


Nicholas Cripps said...

Yes I always use this technique to guess the pronounciation of characters... but in Japanese, Chinese characters have a "Chinese pronunciation" and a "Japanese pronunciation" and so the technique doesn't work when trying to memorize the Japanese one. I guess that's why they have a standardized test in Japan...

Theresa said...

oh i see. yup i kinda realised that there's always this few japanese characters on top of a chinese characters for japanese. no wonder people are complaining that japanese is a hard language to learn. haha. too confusing.