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The importance of learning radicals...

Song You Shen

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Song You Shen

What is it? It is really important to learn radicals? While studying Chinese my class put absolutly no effort in learning Radicals. We never received any explinations or teachings about what they are, and the purpose they serve.

If Radicals are so important, does anyone have a recommendation of a good book that can help me understand their use? Thanks.


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Strange...... :-? Learner can easily memorize characters, if he/she knows from which parts are they made. Radicals and phonetics are basic forms of characters and memorizing them can help in remembering the characters. Radicals can tell you the meaning of character or at least in which group of things does it belong. Phonetics are for pronunciation. One phonetic can have a lot of different, but in some way similar pronunciations.

That's why it seems to me very strange that your teacher did not put an emphasis on function of radicals and phonetics in characters.

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I would say that learning radicals in the beginning (at least some anyway) are important for these reasons:

a. Most of them are simple characters themself, with meanings.

b. Once you know a few common ones, you will likely see them very often. It will also likely help you understand some meanings of characters that you do learn. Example. hao3 meaning "good" is constructed from two radical characters nü3 (woman) and zi3 (child). A woman with a child, which suggests the completion of birth - considered a good thing.

c. The dictionaries are organized by these radicals, and stroke counts.

Because these radicals would be very common to see, some have likened them to the closest thing to our Alphabet. Now, if you were teaching someone to read English and understand words, you probably wouldn't want to teach them words without learning the alphabet.

It may be possible to teach someone to remember that "hello" looks like this, or it may be possible to teach someone how to write 你好. But, it would probably be easier to remember if you knew also what parts made up the character and understood it.

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When I first studied Chinese at university in Australia the teachers never taught us about radicals. It is really a failing on the teacher's part. Chinese characters are a seemingly confusing bunch of squiggles until you become aware of the radicals.

I remember one of the Japanese students in my class telling the teacher how to write a character. He said (in English) "fire plus rice" (=autumn). Suddenly it all made so much more sense.

When you consider that a large number of characters are made up of a meaning radical plus a phonetic radical or meaning radical(s) alone, knowing the radicals makes learning so much easier and intuitive.

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He said (in English) "fire plus rice" (=autumn)

Wow, that's how chinese people think of characters... I prefer "fire plus turtle" though:mrgreen:

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Wow' date=' that's how chinese people think of characters...


In my experience, Chinese people don't think of characters this way. One of the examples that comes to mind immediately is 嫖. They don't seem to realize that this is a 'woman ticket' as I like to think.

But yes, in learning the radicals, you can learn the phonetic component and the phonemic component, which really helps in understanding the character. You still may not know the exact meaning, but you can get a good idea of the concept.

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Really? Interesting. The main reason I don't like simplifications (besides the way they look) is because they sometimes take away the original phonetic component making it hard to discern.

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