Working with Chinese Characters

The objective of this blog is to make you comfortable with looking at, and working with, Chinese characters (中文). I thought learning Chinese was impossible, however I am happy to report that it is very easy to get start with recognizing Chinese characters. It is possible to look at Chinese writing and make sense of it.

First, each character is word. Chinese characters originally came from pictures. For example, the Chinese character for mouth, is a square 口. To verify this, use the Google translation tool. In the tool's web page, enter the mouth, select English to Chinese (Simplified), and click Translate. The Chinese character is displayed to the right.

You may of heard, Chinese is written from top to bottom (columns), left to write. This is still true of many Chinese text such as fiction books, and some magazines. However, for Internet web pages, the order is the same as English, from left to right (rows), top to bottom. To see this, go to Ming Pao, a Chinese newspaper web site. Notice that the characters are alined in rows, not columns.

Another modern trend, is that Chinese people use 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9; same as English speaking persons. More traditional Chinese web sites, such as the Ming Pao, will also use the Chinese numbers.

Chinese CharactersEnglishComments
0
1
2
3Did you already guess this one?
4
一,二,三,四,五,六,七,八,九,十1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10
10Numbers over 9 are written from left to right, same as English
二十20
三十30Like you could not have guessed this one.
四十40

Exercises for the reader to start working with Chinese characters:
1. Open up a document in an editor such as StarOffice, OpenOffice, or Microsoft Word.
2. Copy and paste the Chinese characters for 1 to 10 (一,二,三,四,五,六,七,八,九,十), into your document.
3. On a new line, copy and paste the Chinese characters to make the number 73.
This is view of my work:
.

Multiple Chinese characters are often combined to make the equivalent of a single word of English. I will use dates to demonstrate this. The Chinese characters for March are 三月, or 3月. 月 means moon in English, and when combined with a number, means the month of year.

Chinese Characters EnglishComments
一月JanuaryAlso written 1月.
二月februaryAlso written 2月.
star
星期一Monday
星期二Tuesday
星期三Wednesday
星期日SundayThe exception to the rule, is Sunday.
The SunAlso used to signify day of the month.
YearExample, this year is 2006年.

Another exercises:
1. In your Chinese document, add the Chinese characters of: 月, 日, 星, 年 and 期 (moon, sun, star, year, and period of time).

On a new line, copy and paste the Chinese characters to write
2. Thursday.
3. June 22, 2006.
4. December 2, 2007.
5. Friday.
This is view of some my work:
.
Note, when in doubt how to write something, try to use the Google translation tool.

From a fundamental set of 26 strokes and characters, it is possible to make most every Chinese character you would use in conversation.
Below are samples of building Chinese characters from fundamental strokes:

Chinese CharactersComments
口 八 -> 四Chinese characters mouth and 8 are combined to make the Chinese character 4.
日 生 -> 星Chinese characters sun and born are combined to make the Chinese character star.
女 子 -> 好Chinese characters female and male are combined to make the Chinese character good. The Chinese saying is: A woman and man together is good.

There are 2 fundemental character sets: Simplified and Traditional. In China, about 50 years ago, Simplified Chinese became more and more popular, as it was mandated. Simplified, simply means, some of the Chinese characters are simpler in that it takes less strokes to create them. Simplified is used in what is called mainland China, the main part of China. Traditional is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Example, the word for country in Traditional Chinese is 國, in Simplified, 国.

Chinese Characters EnglishComments
Center or central
中国ChinaThe central country
person
中国人Chinese person, also written 中人
Beautiful
美国America, "America the Beautiful"
Signify a questionSimplified Chinese
Signify a questionTraditional Chinese
YouSame in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese
你好吗?How are you?Simplified Chinese
你好嗎?How are you?Traditional Chinese

Exercise:
1. Translate American person into Simplified and Traditional Chinese.
2. What is your best guess of what this, 中國美丽, translates to in English?

Useful words:

Chinese Characters EnglishComments
小 中 大small-medium-largeUsed for classification of dim sum at Chinese restaurants
Go, as in go to
Not/negation
英文English
中文Chinese writen characters
简体中文Simplified Chinese
谢谢Thank youSimplified Chinese
謝謝Thank youSimplified Chinese

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