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Homeschool Chinese: Writing Chinese Characters

As I eluded to in an earlier post (Homeschool Chinese:  Vocabulary Homework), our Mandarin teacher provides the kids with homework to engage them in language activities on a daily basis.  Their homework can involve creating flashcards, copying characters, working on projects, and/or writing and reading assignments.  Together, their teacher and I have found that variety is the key to keep them engaged and willing to do the work.  Additionally, we are discovering what types of activities they enjoy the most – while Meili enjoys projects, Buddy prefers games.

One of the most time consuming and for some, the most difficult, part of learning an Asian language is learning to recognize the characters. Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of  Chinese.  They can also be called hanzi 汉字 (“Han character”).  Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands, though most of these are only encountered in historical texts. Studies in China have shown that functional literacy requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.  It is therefore a necessary evil (my daughter has said) that they must repeatedly practice writing the characters they are learning many, many times.

When new vocabulary is introduced, one of the assignments that the can expect is to practice writing the character repeatedly.  This is a tried and true method and while it isn’t very exciting – it works!  The kids write the characters as many times as is necessary to get it to stick.  This may be just 10x  .. or it may mean doing it again a few weeks later if the character seems to have escaped them.

Meili likes to use the grid paper notebooks designed specifically for this purpose that we find in the markets of Chinatown.  They typically have cute little characters on the cover and she likes to keep these as she fills them up.  They are inexpensive so we generally buy a bundle each time we travel to San Francisco.  Jiejie doesn’t quite have the hand-coordination to write the characters so small and neatly as these little books require.  He thereby uses engineering paper and on occasion, just blank paper. This enables him to write his characters much larger and thereby with less anxiety.


Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Julia permalink
    March 9, 2013

    I’m working through My First Chinese Words with my 6yo and 7yo. My 6yo gets overwhelmed writing the characters – too much, she says. Would you recommend I still insist on it? Or can she wait a year until she’s in 2nd grade?

    • March 11, 2013

      When my son first started, we didn’t insist that he work on characters. Even now, after a year of study, our focus is on conversation and building vocabulary. The characters he knows he has become familiar with over time. It is amazing how much he can remember without the character practice. If there are particular characters that our teacher feels he should now, he will ask that he practice writing them 10x each. However, he doesn’t expect this regularly. Our ultimate goal is that they both enjoy learning the language.

    • Esther Lee
      March 11, 2013

      Kids definitely get overwhelmed with writing the characters, so just choose a couple to start off with. You can even just start off with 1. Since each of the Chinese characters is a pictogram, sometimes it helps to give the kids a bit of background of how the word was developed. We have a DVD collection called the Magical Chinese Characters that uses animation to tell a short story of how a Chinese character was developed. It helps to make the Chinese characters a bit more approachable and memorable in terms of what to write.

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