Published by under categories Bilingual Baby, From Lina | comments Comments (1)

According to the US State Department, Chinese ranks among the toughest languages in the world for English speakers, requiring 2200 hours of study for minimal proficiency.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense for learners to start with the simplest Chinese characters, for example, pictograms, which are stylised drawings of the objects they represent (see How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 2))

Besides pictograms, a lot of ideograms are the simplest Chinese characters. Also called simple indicatives or simple ideographs, ideograms express an abstract idea through an iconic form. They either modify existing pictographs iconically, or are direct iconic illustrations.

In another word, ideograms are more like graphical representations of abstract ideas.

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In the examples below, the character for moon, which anciently looked like a crescent moon, and the character for sun, which is a stylized descendent of alleged early picture of the sun, are both pictographs. By putting the two together, something more abstract is formed—a new word ming, meaning bright.

Simplified Chinese English

Here is another example. By modifying Chinese chanracter dāo, a pictogram for “knife”, an ideogram rèn for “blade” is obtained.

Simplified Chinese English

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Not every ideogram is modified from a pictogram. Some ideograms are indicatvies —they do not picture things, but “indicate” their use. For an instance, the Chinese characters for numerals (one, two and three) are represented by their appropriate numbers of strokes.

Simplified Chinese English

Here are the Chinese characters for directions (up and below), indicated correspondingly by iconic indications above and below a line. The character for up has an upside down T with the dot above the perpendicular base while the character for below has a dot below the T of a perpendicular diagram.

Simplified Chinese English

The Chinese characters for convex and concave are another pair of typical examples of ideograms. And their meangings are so easy to decipher.

Simplified Chinese English

Reportedly, roughly 1% of the total Chinese characters are ideograms. Although this catergory is small, many ideograms, combined with pictograms, act as bushous or radicals or components in complex characters, thus help understand the meanings and structures of complex characters.

Therefore, my third advice would be ideograms are an easy start for children to grasp abstract ideas when learning Chinese characters, since they are quite easy to understand and memorize.

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Related posts:
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 1)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 2)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 3)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 4)
How to help children learn Chinese characters? (Method 5)


  1. 1
    MarkSpizer // May 3rd, 2010 at 3:16 am

    great post as usual!

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