A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Learning Chinese #2

Summer break at uni but as our teacher pointed out: “Chinese should be rehearsed consistently”. Because, besides memorizing the correct tones, another very difficult part of studying is to learn (and to really remember) the characters.

Chinese does not have an alphabet, but individual characters symbolizing words or syllables. That entails that you won´t be able to read a word unless you have learned it before. In languages like English, you can read out an unfamiliar word – possibly with a wrong pronunciation – but still understandable. However in Chinese, that is not possible for the individual characters – you need to have learned the details first (pronunciation and tones of a language) before to be able to read it out.

The good news is that it is certainly true that the more characters you know, the easier it gets to remember new characters, as Chinese is a very logical language. Obviously, you need to study the basic vocabulary first, to be able to draw connections to new words, but after a while you will pick up some common words like big, not… and you can grasp the meaning of a more complex word easier.

For instance it is good to know that xué means to study, as the word university in Chinese is: dà xué, which means big study ( = big). Primary school is xiǎo xué (xiǎo = small), which means small study and student is xué sheng (sheng = life), meaning study life– I hope that is correct 😉

Analyzing the meaning of the individual syllables of a word is also a very interesting aspect of studying Chinese! What I mean by that is easier to understand with the help of an example: for instance the word China in Chinese is Zhōng guó, consisting of the syllables Zhōng  (meaning: middle, centre) and guó (Kingdom). From that you could conclude that to the time this word was created, the Chinese might have seen themselves as the center of the world. America for instance is Měi guó, meaning beautiful Kingdom/country. Not only countries are interesting to analyze but also objects for example the word telephone is diàn huà in Chinese. Diàn stands for electronic and huà means something like talk or conversation. Here you could also extrapolate the meaning of diàn huà, in case you are familiar with the individual syllables.

I hope that I could spread my interest and enjoyment to learn Chinese also in my 2nd post of my Chinese Trilogy, and the last post – coming up soon – will then conclude with a little report of a trip to China town and how much I could use of my Chinese.


dà jiāzài jiàn!!



Leave a Reply


This entry was posted on July 8, 2014 by in Frederike, Study and tagged , .

Hit Counter

  • 894,636 total visits!
%d bloggers like this: