For beginners, learning Chinese characters is usually the most difficult task. Some Chinese characters have only one stroke, but others have as many as fifty-two strokes. In order to learn the more complicated characters it is helpful to break them down into meaningful parts and learn those parts first. These materials are designed to teach the simple characters that can serve as components first and to teach complex characters that can be formed from them at a slightly later time. Learning occurs best when students make attempts to demonstrate learning based on what they already know -- something that is rather paradoxical. People have said to have three different levels of memory: short term, medium term, and long term. People hold memories of many experiences in their minds for three to five minutes and then let them go. To get something to be stored in medium term memory, it is generally necessary to revisit the things that are in short term memory several times so that they are not quickly extinguished and eventually pass to the medium term memory. The same general process applies to moving things from medium term memory to long term memory. Four-sided flashcards are provided to expedite learning by taking advantage of the opportunity to give students hints when they are not sure of how to write something rather than making the experience failure and then view the correct answer. If a student has learned to write the components of a character, being given a hint when needed of what those components are will often make the student able to successfully write the entire character. So on the first side of one of the flashcards that go with these lessons is the English meaning. On the second side of the flashcard is the pronunciation in romanized Chinese (pinyin). After the character has been learned, these bits of information should be sufficient to prompt the student to write the correct Chinese character. But if the character does not readily pop into memory the student may look on side three of the flashcard where the English meaning and the pinyin pronunciation of each component is given. Starting with simple Chinese characters that are actually stylized drawings of common objects, these lesson teach up to 20 characters per week. The first several lessons are largely concerned with teaching some basic components. Even though there is not yet enough vocabulary to support a story, every attempt is made to put the characters in some meaningful contexts. By the eighth lesson it becomes possible to begin telling a story. Be patient, and learn the early lessons well.
First Steps in Reading Chinese has benefitted from the help of generations of colleagues, especially Professor Liu Hong, one of our early exchange professors from Guanxi Teachers University.
(These PDF files are quite long. You can use them to look up characters and compounds in units one and two if you know their pronunciation.)
If you can count the number of strokes in a vocabulary character, or in the first character in a compound, you can look it up here.