Learning Chinese Alphabets


If you do not know a single word in Chinese, but I tell you that I can help you and in less than 8 hours you will be able to read about 20% of the words in a Chinese newspaper. Would you believe me? Probably not! But read on.

One of the difficulties for foreigners learning Chinese is that Chinese has no alphabets. “When you read you begin with ABC”. So what do you begin with when you read Chinese. I would say with the 20 most frequently used Chinese characters.


Further, everyone would agree that the best way to learn the English alphabets is by the popular jingle “A for apple, B for boy, C for cat……”, at least that is how I learned when I was a kid. So wouldn’t it be nice if there is a jingle made up of the top 20 Chinese characters, which can help you learn Chinese.


One of the interesting facts about Chinese is that the uses of Chinese characters are concentrated on hundreds of characters. Based on a study carried out by a Chinese linguistic expert in 2004, the mostly used character in Chinese is 的, which was said to be used 2.5 times as much as the next character . Also according to the same study, the top 10 mostly used characters were said to be appeared in about 14 times out of 100 characters used in popular publications such as Chinese newspapers, magazines and Internets and the top 20 characters about 20 times.


I have made a jingle out of those 20 mostly used characters to help you learn those characters. Here is the jingle.


他们来中国为的不是在 tāmen lái Zhōngguó wéi dí búshì zài
有你这一个上大人*和我 yǒu nǐ zhè yī gè shàng dàrén hé wǒurure

They came to China not because there are “such an upstanding great man like you” and I.


You may learn each and every one of the above characters by clicking on the respective characters. The English translation is not a character by character translation of the jingle and is solely to help you understand the jingle and does not necessarily make any sense nor is it grammatically correct.

After you spend some time (make sure not more than 8 hours) on those characters, please click here or here and read the news articles therein. See if you can recognise, on an average, 20 characters out of 100 in those article. Please let me know of the results. In the meantime, I am working on the next set of mostly used characters.


*上大人 is part of a popular Chinese verse, the whole of which is 上大人, 孔乙己, 化三千, 七十士, meaning “there is one great man named 孔乙己 he had 3000 students of whom 70 became scholars”.



Seven Steps Verse 七步诗

Here is a very famous Chinese poem which had used metaphors to its fullest. It is well known that Chinese are very subtle especially when it comes to critising some one more senior than you, be it in the family, in a company or in politics, hence, metaphors are often used for this purpose. The scene of the Seven Steps Verse took place at the end of the Han Dynasty, or sometimes known as the Era of the Three Kingdoms or the 14th Century.

Below is as quoted from Wikipedia:

The famed scene described Cao Pi’s suspicions of his brother Cao Zhi trying to usurp his rule (Cao Pi was also jealous of his brother’s talents, particularly his masterful command of imagery). Consequently, Cao Zhi was summoned to the court and was issued an ultimatum in which he had to produce a poem within seven strides such that Cao Pi was convinced of his innocence. Cao Zhi did so, and Cao Pi became so flustered with emotion that he spared his brother, although he later exacted punishment upon Cao Zhi in the form of demotion.

The poem itself was written in the traditional five-character quatrain style and was an extended metaphor that described the relationship of two brothers and the ill-conceived notion of one harming the other over petty squabbling.

The poem is as follows:

煮豆燃豆萁,Zhu3 Dou4 Ran2 Dou4 Qi2,
豆在釜中泣。Dou4 Zai4 Fu3 Zhong1 Qi4.
本是同根生,Ben3 Shi4 Tong2 Gen1 Sheng1,
相煎何太急? Xiang1 Jian1 He2 Tai4 Ji2?

The literal translation of the poem is as follows:

Bean stalks were added to the wood for boiling the the beans in a pot,
The beans were weeping in the pot (the beans were popping like popcorns (or weeping) in the oil held in the pot)
Both the beans and the bean stalks came from the same root (plant),
Bean stalks why you have to burn me so bad (says the beans)

The English tranlation of Wikipedia is as follows:-

Boiling the beans while charring the stalks,
and of this the beans thus wailed:
“Born are we of the same root, brothers two;
should you now burn me with such disregard?”

Here is the Spanish translation of the poem provided by my good friend jocoso:

Las legumbres se cocinan con el fuego de sus tallos
Desde el medio del caldero se oye un penoso lamento:
“Si de una misma raíz fuimos hechos, hermano
¿Por que te esfuerzas con tanto celo a verme rostizado?”

This poem, I think, applies to fights among neighbours, different factions or races within the same country, or fights among family members.