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01 July, 2007:
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Copy Characters

Copy characters over and over until you remember them.

This is a very basic tip for beginning Chinese students. Like most basics, it seems very easy, but it is also very important.

It is a good idea when you first start studying characters to get into the habit of doing your Chinese studies at a certain time every day and in a set order. Learning characters takes a lot of time and effort because it is little more than memorization. One of the best ways to memorize is by simple repetition. Copy each newly learned character at least ten times—more if you don’t remember it right away. This process is time consuming and a little boring, but extremely helpful.

There are a few things to keep in mind while copying characters:

Do not simply copy characters while looking at a vocabulary list. After the first few times you have written a character, try to write it from memory each time. For example, write the character three times while looking at it, then write it seven times from memory. It’s okay to peek if you need to, but the more you force your memory to work the better.

Copy words, not characters. If you want to remember vocabulary better, copy whole words (two to four character compounds) at a time. If you need to learn the word 知道 zhi1dao4 “to know,” then copy it as a whole ten times. Don’t copy ten times 知, followed by ten times 道.

Do more than simply copy the characters on paper. While you are copying characters pronounce each word out loud. You may feel silly saying the same word repeatedly, but a character should be associated with its pronunciation. Anyway, repeating the words out loud will help you remember your oral vocabulary as well as the written form.

Once copying characters becomes a habit, you will find that it can actually be an enjoyable exercise. Memorization may always be boring, but it can also be relaxing. If you copy characters before doing the rest of your studying, then you may find that copying characters actually focuses your mind and helps you prepare for more taxing intellectual labor.