Introduction to Chinese:
Lesson 1

By Linas

We will be learning some Chinese characters. I want you to prepare a sheet of paper and a pen and draw each of the characters that gets mentioned in this course by hand on that sheet (trust me, it’s a lot of fun). Also draw answers on that sheet whenever you get asked to write something in Chinese in this course.

Chinese writing is really not as difficult as you might think. If we were to learn just any characters, we could simply build on them step by step until we reach the complicated ones. Since this is an introductory course, however, we will try to learn the characters which we can put to use immediately and will probably learn the most of the top 10 characters used in Chinese. Let’s begin.

The simplest Chinese character is that for one. It’s just a line.

Here’s the character for two - two lines:

Three is the same except you have another even shorter line between those two. I bet you could already draw the character for three:


Answer: 三
Not correct. Please try again.

Right. Here’s a thing that that is not really a character but is used in a lot of Chinese characters. We will call it a stick:


Anyway, talking numbers... let’s skip four and five and jump right to ten already. Ten is the character for one with the character for stick together. It looks like the letter T from the word Ten. Have a look at ten:

Right. Now you know what you happens if you have one with stick. If you had two with stick, that stick would have to get in between there and keep the two apart. That would require the stick to do some work and that’s exactly why it is the character for work:

Thus we know the characters for a) one with stick which means ten and b) two with stick which means work. I know what you want to know next... Three with stick... What could it possibly mean?

Well, imagine that you are ordering a veggie burger. Then you say... maybe I’ll have two veggie burgers instead. And then you say... no, wait... i’ll prefer three veggie burgers to which the waiter tells you... three veggie burgers?... why won’t you take one king-size instead? And the Ancient Chinese must have figured this out too because three with a stick means king:

Let’s now learn another symbol which does not constitute a character itself but appear in a lot of characters... we will call it a bit:

It means that there is a little bit of something else, something is missing or so on.

For example, if we take the bit and place it on the head of the king then we have somebody who has a bit of stuff or people working for him thus we have the word for master. Try to guess how you would write that:


Answer: 主
Not correct. Please try again.

Otherwise, if you take the king, the rest (all of the rest only amounts to a bit because the king is so important...) and enclose it in a wall, you get the word for country or kingdom (the characters don’t really distinguish the too):

You also have the necessary characters to start numbering things. Just a small catch, though. Look at a sign that looks just like an arrow pointing upward:

You must insert the arrow between the number and the thing that you are counting.

So, for example, if you want to write three persons, you write three个person. That’s simple, isn’t it?

You remember that wall we used to enclose our country in? If we took that wall (only slightly smaller) and just used our stick to divide it right through the middle then we would get the character for middle.

Try to draw it yourself:


Answer: 中
Not correct. Please try again.

Right, now here is the thing:

Chinese name for China is the Middle Kingdom.

You already know how to draw this since you know all of the characters. Write "middle kingdom" or "China":


Answer: 中国
Not correct. Please try again.

That’s cool. Take a closer look at the Chinese word for Middle Kingdom or China since it has so much we have learned in it:


Good. We will see this used more and also learn how to say Chinese later in the course. I hope you can are beginning to see how these characters are starting to flow together. We will learn more in the next lesson.