2000 Years Old Method for Memorizing Chinese Characters

More than 2000 years old method for memorizing started in Ancient Greece and Rome. They called it the method of loci which is more known today as memory journey or memory palace. This method is based on visualization, association and the fact that people are great at remembering places. In this article, I want to show you how I use this method to learn and remember Chinese characters.

Not only is this method great for learning Chinese characters, but you can really memorize anything with it. The eight-time World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brien uses this technique. I remember reading his book to learn how to do it myself. In the end, I used it to remember Math definitions and theorems.

In today’s world, we no longer need to memorize things that much. We have our smartphones and calendars, but if you find a situation where you need to remember a ton of information, you might want to give this method a try. One of the situations is memorizing Chinese characters.

How to learn Chinese characters using the method of loci?

I said in this article about Mandarin Chinese, that learning Chinese characters is a very logical process. The reason why I think so is that every character is composed of radicals. In turn, radicals are the smallest building blocks of every Chinese character, word, and sentence.

To give you an example, consider word 跑 [pao3]: to run. This word contains two radicals ⻊{足}[zu2] meaning “foot” and 包[bao1, or pao2] which means “to wrap, to pack” (note: 包 can be further divided, but I like to keep it like this – It’s my personal preference). You can right away see that the first radical carries the meaning whereas the second one carries the pronunciation hint. In this case, we have quite a natural association link and so we don’t have to create our own.

The way how I keep 跑 in my memory is simple. I visualize a football player who is on defense. He sees an opponent running around him. The player who’s on defense runs after him and makes a foul breaking both his legs in the process. The defender is stunned by the amount of blood on the field. The only sentence he is able to say is: “I do beg your pao3]”.

This example is a bit extreme but perhaps because of it, I can recall the word 跑 really well.

I encourage you to make up your own visual stories that stick in your memory.

The 100 most commonly used radicals

Now, you might be thinking: “Alright, so I know how to memorize characters using radicals, but how to memorize radicals?”

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are not that many radicals as there are Chinese characters. In fact, if you learn the 100 most commonly used radicals, it will be more than enough for most Chinese words which are used in daily conversations.

The bad news is that it’s a rote learning. Most of the radicals don’t resemble their meaning. I don’t recommend trying to memorize all of them at once. Rather, as you are learning Chinese and Chinese characters, slowly start adding the radicals into your vocabulary to keep a sane mind. I learned all of them using flash cards in the period of two months.

I will leave you with practice sheets I created when I was learning radicals. You can create your own. Just google: “empty Chinese practice sheets” or go to this website which I’ve been using. It’s free.

Here is the list of the 100 most commonly used radicals:

Legend: The first row is always pinyin, the second is the character (radical), the 3rd row is the English translation. On the left side of each paper, you can occasionally see extra characters labeled as Var. Those are other variations on how to write a given radical. In some cases, a radical has as many as 3 variations. Finally, you can see the stroke order in red.

Quality: It’s a bit old-looking and rusty sheet, but all the radicals are there.

My practice sheet of the 100 most common radicals: 

Image of 1. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 2. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 3. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 4. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 5. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 6. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 7. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 8. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 9. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 10. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 11. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 12. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 13. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 14. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 15. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 16. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 17. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 18. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 19. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters Image of 20. sheet of the 100 most common Chinese radical for Chinese Characters

Daniel Pelnar

Hey, I am the founder of GrowthTotem.com. If you would like to contact me, tweet me @DanielPelnar or drop a comment below for this specific article. I wish you happy reading. ^_^

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Gogo says:

    How do you integrate the journey/palace memory techniqu into ite??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *