Why Learning Chinese Characters are important?

By Sujanti Djuanda – LingoLearn Chinese Teacher

People who want to learn Chinese often say, “I want to learn Chinese conversation with Hanyu Pinyin but I don’t want to learn Chinese characters. Why Chinese characters are important? Why Hanyu Pinyin cannot replace Chinese characters?”

Learning Chinese is not the same with other languages that have alphabetical. Each Chinese character can be a word in and of itself or part of a compound word. Hanyu Pinyin is only a tool for learning Chinese pronunciation.

If Hanyu Pinyin is used without the Chinese characters:

a. It can make an ambiguous meaning. Chinese has many different words with the same pronunciations but different meanings, it’s called同音字(tóngyīnzì=homophone).

Example 1:

“hǎiguī” can means “海归(hǎiguī= overseas returnee student)” or  “海龟(hǎiguī=turtle).”

Example 2:

“nán” can means  “男(nán​=male),”         

“难(nán​=difficult)”, or南(nán​=south)”

Example 3:

“yào” can means ” 要(yào=to want),”      

药(yào=medicine),” or ” 耀(yào= brilliant).”

b. It’s more difficult to understand what exactly the meaning is. For a short sentence like the following, readers may have to read twice to understand.

Example 1:   (Pinyin Only)

jīnnián suǒyǒu de shí​ niánjí xuésheng dōu zuò zhìyuàn gōngzuò.

Compared with Example 2 (Chinese characters with Hanyu Pinyin):

This year all 10th grade students do the volunteer work.

今年(jīn​nián=this year)所有(suǒ​yǒu=all)的(de) 10(shí)年级(niánjí=grade)学生(xuésheng=student)都(dōu=all)做(zuò=to do)志愿(zhì​yuàn=volunteer)工作(gōng​zuò​=job)。

Compared with Example 3 (Chinese characters without Hanyu Pinyin):

This year, all 10th grade students do the volunteer work.


If you write Chinese characters with/without Hanyu Pinyin, even if there are any grammar or character mistakes then once reading readers will know that is a wrong sentence. In addition, Chinese people don’t use Hanyu Pinyin in daily life.

Why is it not enough only to learn Chinese conversation?

I know someone who has learned Chinese conversation for two years in China. When he told the street name to the taxi driver, the taxi driver didn’t understand what he meant and asked him to write (type) it down. When he worked as a waiter, the guest didn’t understand what he meant and asked him to write (type) it down. The problem was, he didn’t know Chinese characters. Then he realized that learning Chinese characters are also important.

If you would like to learn Chinese conversation, the best way is, together with Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin. You don’t have to memorize all Chinese characters. It’s impossible. You just need to know the most frequently used words. 

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