How to learn Chinese characters - writing or flashcard apps?

Hi guys!

I’m just curious to know what you think is the best way to remember Chinese characters?

A few people have said to me recently that learning to write Chinese characters helps them memorize the characters much more than flashcard apps. Writing is something I’ve generally moved away from as I’ve progressed with Chinese (these days I only 打字/type Chinese) and I think in terms of sheer volume, flashcard apps like Anki would be the better method.

Wondering what everyone else’s thoughts on this are :eyes:

When I was in uni I used to write characters for hours and I still believe this is the best way to remember a character for a long time.

However, in the last couple of years, since I’m focusing more on my speaking skills, I’ve moved to flashcard apps. My favorite one is Quizlet, super useful!


That’s a good point. I guess for pure vocab acquisition, flashcard apps are more effective . But if reading / writing is your focus then there’s probably no getting away from the old pen and paper!

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I find apps more and more tiresome but I think it comes and goes in phases. I used to have about 10 or so for learning languages.

Now I’ve deleted them all. Too much screen time for me, but that’s also just me showing my age :joy:

I think writing has to be considered the best way because you are also getting a feel for radicals, stroke order and learning other little nuggets about the culture - you don’t get that with apps.

Didn’t you take a calligraphy class lately Hannah? How was it, useful for learning or more laid back fun?

I still find Hack Chinese the best tool to learn characters, however this can get boring and I think the best way is to learn as many in context as possible.

Cramming in 10+ new characters/words a day is even too many I think. Stick to a couple and learn them in context. Maybe throw them into a sentence with a native speaker and see if it comes off. You won’t forget it either way. :slight_smile:

For example I listened to a podcast the other day (Mao Mi Chinese) and I learnt a really useful word 潜台词. This essentially means “hidden meaning” in English.

I wanted to see if I could use it, so I threw it into a sentence with a friend in Shanghai and it came off. Minor proud win for me, and now I won’t forget it.

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Oh love the 潜台词 story! Small victories like that really do go a long way in learning Chinese

I did take a calligraphy class recently at the Taipei school!! It was super fun and actually did help me review stroke order (I can be a bit random with that otherwise :joy: ) it also meant we spoke about the characters we were writing (春,满 , 龙, etc) in context and about Chinese New Year / calligraphy tools / radical names. Would definitely recommend :star_struck:

I do a combination of flashcard app (Anki) and writing. Every day I practice new words over and over again and then add them to Anki where I drill it.

My flashcard method is to have two cards for each word (1. English on front, Character and pinyin on back and 2. Character on front, pinyin and English meaning on back). If I have my notebook with me, I drill and write the characters every time I come across a card that has the English word on the front. If I don’t have my notebook, I find I often do hand motions to reinforce tones and then “write” the characters with my finger in the air. (I only realized I probably look crazy when I caught someone looking at me funny while I was sitting in the airport last week :sweat_smile:). I find it very effective to learn reading and writing this way.


I find Skritter to be the best of both worlds because not only are they flashcards, you can practice writing. You can just use your finger, but I also have a touch pen I use on my phone. It uses SRS, so you can add new cards and and it spaces the review cards.


Ah yes I must admit I’ve always liked Skritter. The fact it moved into Japanese as well as Mandarin also made it more attractive.

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Ohh I love that double flashcard idea :heart_eyes: definitely giving that a go!

And don’t worry about the hand motions and looking crazy, I still do that half the time with my tones too :rofl:

I’ve never actually tried Skritter, I’ve always been an Anki girlie, but that writing practice sounds really useful - best of both words!

Thanks for sharing :star_struck:

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I am a bit old fashioned in the sense that I still write characters by hand to memorise them!

I’ve done that all through uni when apps didn’t exist yet. When they became widely available I started using them as everyone else, but noticed by retention was not great, and I would spend too much time on my screen which would give me a headache.

I went back to preparing lists of vocabulary to learn, and write lines and lines of characters in notebooks, which I now know is the best way for me to learn and remember them, although a bit time consuming!

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Time is definitely a big factor! If people only had time to practice Chinese during their commute, I guess then apps would be better, but definitely nothing wrong with being old fashioned :wink:

But really interesting to hear about your experiences! And now you’re in Taipei you won’t even need to go searching for reading practice, it’s everywhere :star_struck:

I am studying Chinese, Yiddish, and French. If I don’t write Chinese characters by hand, I don’t remember them. Period. The same for Yiddish words. Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet. I need to write out words in French to remember where to put the (correct) accent marks. Bottom line, there’s no replacement for 我的笔和纸!


Interesting that you’ve had a similar experience across two different writing systems! 笔和纸 definitely seem like the way to go :sunglasses:

Writing! Flashcards are good for supplemental (reading on the fly), but the repetition of writing a character is a great way to get to know its shape, its radicals, and its meaning. Reminds me I need to get some kindergarten workbooks to start up practicing again…

I recommend getting these:

Made by a popular Japanese stationary company so you know they are high quality. Also, unlike the ones made for kids, these ones have a smaller grid (for each character) so it’s less laborious to write on.

For some really pretty hand-writing to draw motivation from, check out (I wish I could write 所以 so neatly :pensive: … ):

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