The Basics

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oracle bone scripts

Oracle Bone Script

Dating back thousands of years, the oracle bone script is the earliest known form of Chinese writing and the precursors of modern Chinese characters. These ancient scripts are called oracle bones because they were discovered carved into bones and turtle shells that were used by pyromantic fortune-tellers during the Shang Dynasty. Since modern Chinese characters evolved from these ancient pictographs, they are useful tools for learning the thought processes behind the writing and the meaning of modern Chinese characters.

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radicals in chinese


Radicals are similar to root words in other languages. They are the simplest forms of Chinese characters and the base from which compound words are written. Radicals give the broad general meaning to their characters (semantic indicator), and can often indicate how they are spoken as well (phonetic component). The radical is the basic categorization for how characters are listed in the Chinese dictionary. There are 214 radicals, each radical is usually sorted by the number of strokes. Mastering Chinese radicals is to have the key to unlocking Chinese characters.

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pinyin phonetic system


Pinyin is the official phonetic system for transcribing pronunciations. Or, how you say it. In Mandarin the tone in which you speak a word will change it's meaning, so it is important to note them when written. There are 4 tones plus a neutral tone in Mandarin. The basic 4 tones are sometimes modified when they occur in combination. The first tone "ā" is spoken in a flat tone. The second "á" is spoken in a rising tone. The third "ǎ" is spoken in a falling-rising tone. The Fourth "à" is spoken in a falling tone.

The neutral tone varies depending on the tone that precedes it, resolving to an unstressed tone. A solid understanding of Pinyin will allow you to effectively communicate in Mandarin Chinese. Pinyin Rules

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stroke order for chinese

Stroke Order

Words in Chinese can be composed of many different strokes and to the casual observer can appear complex. Indeed, to a beginner, writing Chinese can appear to be a daunting task. However, over many years a set of generally agreed upon guidelines have been developed for writing Chinese efficiently and beautifully. Writing Chinese characters in the proper stroke order also helps improve speed, accuracy and readability, and will make memorizing the words easier. We created a simple stroke order animation to accompany every character. There are many online resources for learning about the different Chinese strokes and the stroke order to write them.

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chinese fomration method system

Formation Method

In Chinese, characters are easily classified by how they are formed. Most radicals are either pictographs or ideographs. Pictographs or Pictograms are formed by a simplified direct visual representation of the word they represent. Ideographs or Ideograms are formed by a simplifed picture that depicts the meaning or idea behind the word. Compound Ideographs are words formed by combining the meaning of two or more radicals to suggest the meaning of a word; while Phono-Semantic Compound words use one set of radicals for general meaning and another radical to indicate the sound of the word. A Rebus is a character that has replaced another because they were pronounced the same. And, a Transformed Cognate is a word that used to have two meanings but has split to become two separate words. Formation methods often reveal the logic behind how characters are constructed.

These methods can form single-character words, words like 林 (forest) and 明 (bright). Additionally, two or more characters can also be used together to form new meaning, but they remain separate characters. Words like 火山 (volcano), and 人口 (population) are good examples of these kinds of words.

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