Chinese Characters Overview
Chinese words are written in beautiful, often symbolic configurations called characters. Each character is a word in and of itself, and sometimes it’s a part of a compound word. There are six ways in which Chinese characters reflected meanings and sounds. Of these, four were the most common: **Pictographs: These characters are formed according to the shape of the objects themselves, such as the sun and the moon. They show the meaning of the character rather than the sound. **Ideographs: These characters represent more abstract concepts. The characters for "above” and "below,” for example, each have a horizontal line representing the horizon and another stroke leading out above or below the horizon. **Complex ideographs: Combinations of simpler characters. **Phonetic compounds: Also called logographs, these compound characters are formed by two graphic elements — one hinting at the meaning of the word and the other providing a clue to the sound. Phonetic compounds account for over 80 percent of all Chinese characters.
Learn Chinese Characters through dictionary
Because Chinese characters are composed of several (often many) strokes of the writing brush, one way to look up a character is by counting the number of strokes and then looking up the character under the portion of the dictionary that notes characters by strokes. But to do so, you have to know which radical to check under first. Chinese characters have 214 radicals — parts of the character that can help identify what the character may signify, such as three dots on the left hand side of the character representing water. Each radical is itself composed of a certain number of strokes, so you have to first look up the radical by the number of strokes it takes to write it, and after you locate that radical, you start looking once more under the number of strokes left in the character after that radical to locate the character you wanted to look up in the first place.
You can always just check under the pronunciation of the character (if you already know how to pronounce it), but you have to sift through every single character with the same pronunciation. You also have to look further under the various tones to see which one of all the words pronounced the same way comes with the first, second, third, or fourth tone you want to locate. And because there are so many homonyms in Chinese, this task isn’t as easy as it may sound .