Creative Memory-Visual Association 

Anne Bingham

Learning Chinese characters can be fun and exciting for the CSL student. Many, however, are intimidated by the complexity of the language and become easily overwhelmed. I have attempted to design a method to help my students recognize and remember Chinese characters. There is no science or set format to this method. It is simply a collection of creative visual and verbal associations that my students and I have found helpful. I recommend first teaching the students how to recognize the meaning of the characters and say the English meaning out loud. Once they have started to make the association, encourage speed and confidence. Watch their faces as they recall the meaning with delight!

For the beginner, I believe it is of greater learning value to first teach them how to read and write fundamental characters before asking them to remember the sound the character makes. When pronunciation is eventually taught, I believe students will feel more confident, learn faster and have a greater ability to associate the sound with the character because the written character has already been committed to memory. This way, some of the mystery has already been taken out of the learning process. Though some of the associations may seem quite silly, it has been very effective when teaching beginners. Good Luck!


A person

Use two fingers showing a walking pattern to help them associate the character. Then give another visual aide for students by demonstrating a long sideways stride with your legs.


Remind students of what looks like then open and spread your arms wide apart to show them that the character is visually conveying the meaning of big/large. And say to students "The character is saying to you...'see how large this is...'"


Stand up with both legs closely together. Flex up your right foot while holding out your hands slightly away from your body. Say to the students " small this is." Try to draw attention to your hands.


Remind students of and then . Then place your hands (fingers touching) flat on top of your head. Say to the students, "The highest things above the sky...or heaven."


Most students guess that this is a window. Explain to them that this is an "aerial" view of a field. Use your imagination and suggest some crops a Chinese farmer might plant. Let them make the suggestions.


Use your index finger and make a square around your lips and say, "This square opening is my mouth."


Tell the students that this is a half moon.


Tell the students that this is a very bright's so bright that you must take your hand and put it right over your eyes to keep from getting blinded by the light.


First remind the students of what looks like. Then explain to them that this character means white because when someone surrenders...they hold up a "white" flag. Point to the little mark up by the left. Tell them not to mix the two up. Quiz them five minutes later and have them explain the difference.


Tell the students that this is the color black. Help them to remember this by explaining that this character looks like a robot. Then in a mechanical voice say..."I am black! I am black!"


Teach this character together with off/down.


Explain how the character looks like what it says.


Tell the students this means king and then using a trumpet sound..make three signals to introduce the king. Remind them that the left to right strokes represent the trumpet sound. Remind them of stroke order...quickly have vertical stroke before the last trumpet sound.


Remind the students of what king looks like. Explain that every kingdom has its territory. Show them the border . Then say, Here's the kingdom, here's the king and let's give him some jade/riches. (Teach jade while you're at it!) And then say...lets close up and guard the land.

学生 Student

Tell your students that this is a student (male ) who has studied so hard...that he messed up his hair trying to learn! Then take your hand and mess up your hair. Point to the top of the character. Explain that he's devoted his life to for now...he's a student-life.

医生 Doctor

Explain to your students that this represents a doctor. He has devoted his life to medicine. He is running down the hall of a hospital saying, heavens! I must hurry! Show the students that the doctor looks like the character heaven and has a stethoscope flying up in the air.


Simply explain that wood is made from a tree and that this looks like a tree.


Add another next to it and teach them "lin."


Tell your students that this represents fish because first you need a hook to catch the fish (point to top) then you must walk home through the field and cook it on the fire to eat it.


Explain to your students that this cute character is a pretty bird. It has a little feather sticking up out of its head, a "bird’s eye" and a wing. Show them on the board.


Explain that this is a vehicle. Encourage your students to visualize the "gears" shifting and the axel rods.


Tell your students to visual that this is someone’s skin

being injected with a needle. Emphasize skin...downplay the needle. You want them to remember skin not needle.


Write this character on the board and then make a mountain range around it. Use the eraser to take the mountain range away. Explain this means mountain/hill.

朋友 Friend

Explain that friends have known each other for "many moons" and that one friend has the other by his right side.

昨天 Yesterday

Teach these three "yesterday, today and tomorrow" together at the same time. Explain that this character includes a sun and a funny "F". Suggest to them that for funny "F" stands for "forget about’s in the past."

今天 Today

Tell your students that this character says, "I am the kind of person (show them )who only thinks about today...I don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow.

明天 Tomorrow

These two characters represent tomorrow because a "sun" and a moon" brings a bright new day!

I, Me

Teach these four together ,, and. Explain that this character is so busy using it’s fingers to talk about itself. Say "I, Me" and demonstrate your fingers busy "talking".


Explain that this character includes the radical. Point out to them that it contains . They can imagine that this character looks like someone's eyes/nose/mustache,etc. Write and say.....你好!! until they make the association. Draw a face around if you have to.

He, him

Teach him/her together. Point out the .

Her, she

Point out the . You can say "I know him and I also know her. Teach ye while you are at it!



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