What is the best method for learning how to handwrite characters?

August 10, 2009, 10:26 AM posted in General Discussion


I want to learn how to write characters more efficiently.  I have tried the following:

  1. Copying other people's work
  2. Writing my own essays
  3. Writing new words over three times (or so)
  4. Memorizing radicals so it is simpler to assemble characters later

I can't figure out which is best.  Do any of you have an ideas?


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August 10, 2009, 10:29 AM

skritter is by far the best place to start. (my opinion)

knowing radicals is very helpful.


one problem I have though is that people dont write characters in a strictly formal way. There is a "cursive" form that you can only learn from a Chinese teacher. If you dont write this way your work will resemble that of a child.

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August 11, 2009, 02:47 AM

Ah yes....

Here is a technique I sometimes do and one that I think I might resume:

  • Find a Chinese text that I find interesting.
  • Read a sentence, then look away.
  • Try to copy that sentence.
  • If there is a character I can't write, I write it over three times.

This method has two benifits: 1) it is less repetitive an thus less boring, 2) in addition to helping me memorize characters, it allows me to get a handle on good writing style.

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August 10, 2009, 10:43 AM


if you have never seen it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Let me know what you think.

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August 10, 2009, 03:44 PM


My ability to handwrite Chinese is abysmal but I if I were to teach somebody else how to write Chinese I would start by teaching them about the radicals and phonetic parts: just about every single Chinese characters can be pieced together using just over 200 radicals and just over 900 phonetic parts, maybe even less since we're using simplified characters here.  See the link I provided in your first thread on ancient writing.  

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August 10, 2009, 04:04 PM

Number 3 wins hands down IMO. This way you integrate writing skills into your overall learning of the language, rather than as a separate activity.

I've taught myself to write in block letters. I don't know whether I'll ever put in the time and effort to write in cursive. Even if you don't use cursive, learning it can be useful to be able to decipher other people's scribblings.

I no longer bother about radicals etc. I think in terms of components. With time nearly all new characters appear as made up of a combination of basic components (building blocks). Identifying  radicals was a must before the advent of digital dictionaries.

One thing you can't overlook is stroke order. If you learn the wrong stroke order it will be very hard to correct later.

Regarding what to write down, the best thing is to write down new or difficult words in each lesson. This way you gradually practice writing and at the same time iron out difficult bits. Writing things down works wonders.

I tried writing with a brush once but I immediately decided it was not for me. It is very difficult and requires years of daily practice.

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August 10, 2009, 04:14 PM


Write each character 100 times in those little books with squares..  copy passages from books...  put up a blackboard at home and try writing with chalk..  learn seven new characters each day ... find out about abbreviations..  use a soft pencil, and love the result.... Show your work off to your friends.  Enjoy the accolades.    


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August 10, 2009, 07:50 PM

@xiaophil, When you say that you want to learn to write more efficiently, does that mean you can already read characters? Or you want to learn to read and write?

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August 10, 2009, 10:41 AM

Cool, I'll check it out.  Thanks.

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August 10, 2009, 10:54 PM


I can write perhaps 2/3 of an average sentence without looking up words in a dictionary, but that isn't good enough as in about a year I need to pass a written exam that doesn't give me this luxury.

everyone else

Thanks for the help.  I will be back soon to comment more.  Gotta run now.

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August 11, 2009, 12:02 AM

I also go with #3, but then everyone learns differently. 

Since going to 師大, I am forced to learn how to write the characters for each new vocabulary.  Before, I was lazy and would just learn the pinyin, but now that I "have to" learn how to write the character, my retention of the vocab. has improved a lot.

For new vocabulary I do the following:

1.  Write the character about 20 times in a Moleskin "squared" notebook (fairly expensive, but well worth it IMO).  Of course any notebook will do.

2.  When I'm on the go, I use PlecoDict's (awesome!) "Free-answer" test to practice writing the characters.  This test gives you the audio pronunciation, then you need to write the character:

For those who have Pleco, here's the test setup screen:

This is also great for coming back on a regular basis to reinforce writing the characters.  I try to do that once every 2 or 3 weeks.


I also liked Skritter at one point.  The main issue I see with it is that if you don't have a tablet to hand-write the characters, using the mouse isn't a good simulation for writing characters.  That, and you're tied to your computer with it.  But I do see its value for learning the stroke order and overall character.

Characters...I love 'em, but man they're a lot of work!

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August 11, 2009, 01:40 AM

RJ, Calkins and everyone

Thanks for the comments. 

RJ - yeah, that's fun.  I'm practicing writing radicals now.


I notice that you are going to 师大.  Which one might that be?  You used the traditional character, so I guess it isn't mainland.  Anyway, the reason I ask is I am wondering if you consider ChinesePod to be supplementary or equal footing with your classroom studies.  I went to 上海交大.  I found the education useful, but at some point I was tired of the stale material.

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August 11, 2009, 01:46 AM

Actually, most of my study is now filled with Skritter time. I briefly go through the CPod lessons including expansion and exercises - import the vocab to Skritter and continue from there on. If time permits, I also do Popupchinese-HSK tests. And when questions come up that I mess up because of vocab I also add that to Skritter.

Maybe this is just a temporary phase, but currently I am addicted. I have never learned vocab (including writing) more holistically and efficiently - and the spaced repetition of Skritter also really helps.

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August 11, 2009, 02:22 AM

Hi xiaophil,

There comes a time in every forum moderator's life when he wants nothing more than to sit by the fire with a glass of good Scotch, reminiscing about the glories of days gone by.

In that spirit, please see one of the first comments I ever made on CPod, initially addressed to uber-poddie, Light487:

  • fold a normal sheet of notebook paper into six vertical columns.
  • in the first write your Chinese words, in the second the pinyin WITH TONES, and in the last your native language (or if you are ready for the challenge, the Chinese meaning. But this leads to a lot of writing.)
  • then cover the Chinese and pinyin so you can only see the definition and try to write the Chinese and pinyin in the next columns.
  • check if you were correct.
  • now keep going, covering two columns and writing the last.
  • Do this alone, so that you will feel comfortable saying both the English and the Chinese out loud as you write.

I recommend jumping around randomly top-to-bottom on your word list so that you are not just memorizing the sequence and "gaming the system."

In one day I will generally do six columns, then a day later do the other six on the back of the paper. Then at the end of the week, I go through the words I learned that week and make a new group of ones I consistently got wrong.

One other hint, since it looks like you play the guitar. For me, writing characters is like playing an instrument. You only really know the character if you can write it slowly and methodically. Anybody can blast through John-Petrucci-style, but it is actually harder to think about making each stroke, or note, correctly.

Hope this helps. Any other poddies with study tips or problems, please consider this an open thread.

Note: This is frankly and unapologetically a rote method of learning. It is not for everyone. I have not tried any of the new products. This is basically the poor man's (or lady's) method. And I'm serious when I say I enjoy the feeling of continuity with the past that comes from writing the same characters that millions of other hands have written out through the centuries.

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August 11, 2009, 02:44 AM


Thanks.  In my 交大 days, I used to do something similar, especially during break time when I really didn't have much else to do anyway.

Don't apologize about rote methods.  Sometimes we can't get around having to do something boring.


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August 10, 2009, 09:39 PM

The whole cursive thing - it just looks like "writing joined up" to me, as long as you get the stroke order correct. Is it as simple as that? Because my normal handwriting is scrawl, so I wonder if joined up my Chinese writing scrawl is just wrong or as messy as it would be if I were native...