Chinese idioms are the most difficult for almost all Chinese learners (no matter beginners or high-level learners). Even if you have lived in China for ten years, you may still have trouble understanding and using Chinese idioms. But Chinese idioms are in fact one of the best methods to memorize Chinese characters. This article will explain why and how to learn Chinese idioms in two fun and easy ways.
What are Chinese idioms and how do they help you memorize Chinese characters?
After studying Chinese for a few months, especially if you learn Chinese in China, you become confident in your language abilities. Now is the time to level up, and you might want to challenge yourself with Chinese idioms.
The first thing you should know about 成语 (chéngyǔ) Chinese idioms is that they are not words from modern Chinese. They are classical Chinese. In English, the term 成语 (chéngyǔ) can be directly translated as “already made words” or “formed words.”
Chinese idioms always came from certain backgrounds, normally containing a story, from ancient myths, fairy tales, folktales, to philosophical musings and poetry. Chinese idioms are a testament to the longevity and stability of this language.
While idioms may not necessarily be the most important thing in other languages, it is an internalized element used every day in Chinese. Though most are thousands of years old, they are still widely used in contemporary Chinese. Around 5,000 to 20,000 Chinese idioms are being used in daily conversation, in Chinese online communities, and in Internet chat rooms.
Chinese idioms don’t just allow you to write and speak fluently. They also express information in such a way that it is impossible to mimic in other languages. In fact, as you continue learning, you’ll find that some things are impossible to communicate in Mandarin without using idioms!
How to memorize Chinese characters with idioms
1. Read stories
One of the most effective ways to learn Chinese idioms is to try to read some Chinese idiom storybooks with pictures to learn idioms, like reading comics or children’s stories. There are even animations for them.
For example, one of the most famous Chinese idioms is “熟能生巧 (shú néng sheng qiǎo) – Practice makes perfect” came from a story of “卖油翁 (mài yóu wēng)” – The oil seller” written by “欧阳修 (ōu yángxiū)” in the Song dynasty.
You can also watch a video to learn about it: https://youtu.be/ZEJFG5NIYkA
Another interesting idiom example is 画蛇添足 (huà shé tiān zú)
In the Warring States Period, a man in the state of Chu was offering a sacrifice（祭品） to his ancestors. After the ceremony, the man gave a beaker of wine to his servants. The servants thought that there was not enough wine for all of them, and decided that each would draw a picture of a snake; the one who finished the picture first would get the wine. One of them drew very rapidly. Seeing that the others were still busy drawing, he added feet to the snake. At this moment, another man finished, snatched the beaker（烧杯，大口杯） and drank the wine, saying, “A snake doesn’t have feet. How can you add feet to a snake?”. This idiom refers to ruining a venture by doing unnecessary and surplus things.
You can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/3gx4O0Qz2WM
2. Play games
Another way for a beginner to learn Chinese idioms is to play games with them. This is also a helpful way to learn any new Chinese terms. Especially when you have friends and classmates, you can practice Chinese while having fun with your friends.
Here, I would like to introduce Pandanese to you. You can enjoy playing Chinese characters games whenever you log in, and you can sign up for free. Here is how you can do it.
First, you open the Pandanese website: https://www.pandanese.com/ and sign up.
Then, you can check the bottom of this web page and find Mandarin flashcards, click it.
Now, you will see the picture below. It is time to play. There are many ways to use it. If you know none of these words, they’re all new to you. You can click on the characters and learn their meaning. For example, you click “一无所有(yī wú suǒ yǒu)”, a four-character idiom. You will get the page below.
First, you will hear a sound that reads the term for you. You can repeat this audio until you are fluent in reading it.
There are various ways to help you remember this idiom, such as breaking down the term and remembering it one by one or using mnemonic to remember its reading and meaning. You can also click the blue and orange flashcards to learn related characters.
After you and your friends finish learning the first row, you can start to play.
One person clicks a flashcard, and others listen to the audio, and then click your flashcard to find the word that matches the sound. Since each row has eight words, you can click four of them in one round and check if everyone found the correct words or not.
Now that you know how to memorize Chinese characters logically and easily. By letting the language enter your brain naturally, you will gradually get used to it and expand your vocabulary.
If you have any ideas about learning Chinese as a beginner, let us know by sharing a comment!