There's a lot out there on the web that one could use to learn Chinese with. But it's hard to tell what websites are 1990-styled Geocities dump sites, which are overpriced courses, and which are actually useful. the worst part is that the best stuff on the web about learning Chinese, especially characters, is either dripping with sleaziness or hidden behind bad design with unclear value. There are some diamonds in the rough though, and that's what this article seeks to tell you about.
Learning Chinese characters requires three things;
- Basic understanding of what makes them tick.
- A well-designed method for practicing characters.
- Resources for digging deeper into tricky characters when you can't get them to stick.
Count this as the "best of the web," for Chinese character websites that fill those jobs.
Ten Great Chinese Learning Websites
Patrick Hassel Zein has done no small amount of research in education and Chinese language. He has a lot of goodies up on this site, most of which he has translated from his native icelandic, and his work with Chengyu is available on request. More importantly for out purposes is Mr Zein's short explanation of frequency learning Chinese characters and his (mostly) complete list of 3000 common characters.
A must visit for anyone looking for frequency learning.
Speaking of those who have done loads of Chinese research, JunDa's text computing website is much like Zein's, except it will generate a list of common characters and bigrams from various corpus's, including news, literature, and ancient Chinese texts. While, like all frequency methods, it's not perfect it's at least interesting to peel through the lists and see what you can pick up.
Good for a frequency interested learner who is willing to do a bit of researching.
3 and 4. Point and Counter point on "Chinesesy"
ShaoLan's TED Talk
A great TED talk that teaches about 象形字, or pictographs in Chinese. It's a feel good video about how Characters really aren't that hard to learn.
A great dissection of ShaoLan's points, but more importantly an excellent introduction to phonetic/semantic characters, which make up the majority of Chinese.
This is an excellent tool for seeing characters broken down and put together step by step. It's often useful, especially for more complex characters, to learn all of the components within a character in tandem with learning the character itself. Learning the difference between like characters often hinges on paying attention to the smaller pieces inside of them. Zhongwen.com will help with that.
Great for anyone looking to build a wider base of character knowledge.
This site helps to identify pieces of characters which seem out of place by looking up how they were originally constructed. This site shows the original script version of many Chinese characters which can give one great clues into what a particular piece of a character is meant to be.
For example, in many characters related to organs, the character 月 will appear as a component. This is obviously kind of strange until one looks at the etymology for these characters and find that the 月 component in these characters was simpified from the ancient version of 肉.
This site is great for anyone stuck on coming up with a good mnemonic for or understanding of a tricky character.
This is a site for specifically looking up characters that are similar to ones you've seen before but can't remember. You simply plug in a character that looks like the one that you're looking for and it will turn out a few choices of like characters.
This is great for anyone who is always running into confusing characters.
Remember.it is a personal favorite of mine for learning characters. The characters are arranged by confusability and compiled based on frequency, which the Zein and Zhunda articles above go into. The site stops at about 2200 characters though, but that's because the developers believe on getting you off of frequency study and into organic study as early as possible. It's the smart way of compiling their list, organizing the characters, and clean representation combined with good philosophy that does it for this blogger.
If you're an experienced intermediate reader and are looking to up your character recognition game, this is the way to go.
Skritter is a much more independent resource thanRemembr.it. Skritter will (unless you choose otherwise) start you off by choosing a textbook and quiz you over its vocabulary in several ways, the most valuable of which is writing stroke by stroke. Skritter's value doesn't end there though. It made this list entirely because it's an excellent companion through your entire language learning journey. Many a learner, including Chinese powerhouses like Hacking Chinese's Olle Linge swear by Skritter, and for good reason, it's taught them literally thousands of characters.
Although the subscription is a little pricey, Skritter is an excellent, expanded version of a standard SRS program.
Just for Fun
10. Hanzi Wallcharts
Hanzi wallcharts offers just that, good looking posters of frequency characters and HSK lists to hang on your wall. This isn't on the list because I think you should further convince your friends that you're a Sinophile though. It looks good and is an excellent way to track your progress through a giant list of things to learn. It's also an excellent, and attractive, reminder to do your studying. They're cheap too, so there's really no reason not to check them out.
If you are a person who loves to visually track your progress, picking up a Hanzi wall chart may be for you.
When your Chinese is up to snuff, this goofy cartoon is packed with information to help you learn Chinese. As silly as it is in places, this series (on both youtube and youku) breaks apart characters one related 5 minute chunk at a time. It's a must watch for anyone veteran still struggling with the basics in my book.
Just do a search for 学问猫教汉子
Notice how I said ten resources but gave you eleven? Only the best for you dear reader.
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