20 April 2011

About Chinese words

Chinese words are 象形文字, ie. the character looks like the object it means. For example:

日 comes from this pictorial representation of a sun.

山 comes from this pictorial representation of a mountain.
Over the centuries, ancient Chinese used the 象形words as a base and created more words out of the original 象形.

Example 1:

看is made up of 手(on top) and 目 (at the bottom). When we put our hand above our eyes, it symbolises we are looking at something, so that’s 看. This word is formed using the basic 象形 but based on the intention of the combined basic 象形.

Example 2:
Words such as 猪,狗,猫,狼 etc all have the same character on their left hand side, ie. 反犬旁. Whenever we see this character on the left side (偏旁), we know that the word refers to an animal.

Example 3:
财refers to money, property, like 财产,发财. Ancient Chinese used the method of combining a sound side (声旁) and a meaning side (形旁) to create this word.  财sounds like 才. And贝 refers to money as seashells were used as a form of currency in the past. Thus by combining the 2 characters together, it combines the sound of 才and the meaning of 贝 and thus created 财.

So, how can we make use of such characteristics in the Chinese words to help our children learn Chinese?

Here are some suggestions to teach our children Chinese words:

1. Relate the words to the objects the words mean. Show them the similarity between the object and the word. The visual relationship between the word and what the object means can help the children remember the words more easily.

2. Prepare a picture of the object (if it’s a basic 象形字). Ask your child to trace or write the word on the object. Or, you can ask your child to draw the object and write the word on the object.

3. Help your child identify the sides (偏旁) and teach him what the sides are usually associated with or what the sides mean (as in eg. 2 and eg. 3). This is especially useful when the child learns more words that look similar (usually in upper primary). It helps them to differentiate these similar looking words and remember them correctly.

I'm sure many creative parents out there can come up with many more ideas on teaching Chinese words once you understand the characteristics of Chinese words. Do feel free to share with me on your ideas ^.^

As a last note, since Chinese words are 象形文字, not phonetic, we should teach them without hanyu pinyin. Chinese is not hanyu pinyin. If we introduce hanyu pinyin too early, children end up relying on them and reading from them instead. Hanyu pinyin comes in handy when children progress to reading a story on their own, and there are words that they don’t know.

For parents who need hanyu pinyin to aid them, it's fine to get story books with hanyu pinyin. But the focus should be on the Chinese words. You can pick out certain words you want to teach your child and write it out separately on a piece of paper, then relate it back to the story. 


  1. Interesting, thanks for sharing.

  2. ya, very interesting, thanks for sharing. This made chinese more interesting. :)


Welcome to Happy Cottage!

I started 开心屋 - Happy Cottage because I have 凯 and 欣 in the house. Together they are the 开心 (sounds like) team.

Mommy loves Chinese language and is a big fan of Chinese story books. Thus the kids often receive interesting children Chinese story books from mommy. Many of the children Chinese story books are so beautifully drawn and well written that I like to read them myself.

Learning and loving the language is not an easy task in Singapore as our environment is not condusive enough for such learning. Thus I believe I have to create such an environment at home. Through daily communication in Mandarin and regular reading of the Chinese materials, I hope to cultivate their likings for the language. You can find many of the books in the Book Store.

Besides introducing children Chinese story books to you, I would also like to share some learning resources and tips on the usage of the language here. I've met some parents, in their best attempt to communicate with their kids in Mandarin, misread some words or used an incorrect sentence structure. You can find the information in the tabs above.

So, why is this blog written in English? I know of many parents who have kinda lost touch with the language. If I were to share in Chinese, then it may not be as effective.

Do come back often for more updates.