"I am thrilled with the program. It is a new and powerful tool in my study of Chinese."
—Jos Spapens

"I have been using the program for about 5 months now and I have moved from knowing a little over 2,000 characters to consistently scoring 3,000 or more on your on-line character test. More importantly I have finally moved from reading intermediate texts to on-line news I find on the WWW. Your program has turned out to be an amazing aid. I am now a huge fan."
—Brent Nelson

"Big thanks for the software! I just started learning Chinese here at the UN, and your program is just what I need. It lets me follow up what I learn in the classroom and then explore further."
—Nikolai Galkin, United Nations

More User Comments


Stepping Stones Lesson One

Audio Immersion  |  Audio Practice  |  Vocabulary Study  |  Vocabulary Review
Reading Practice  |  Exercises  |  Stepping Stones Home

3. Vocabulary Study

Study the vocabulary for one line of the poem along with the English translation of that line. You may want to go back to the previous step so you can listen to the line and practice reading it aloud. When you can read the line comfortably and with full comprehension, go on to the next line.

上 山, 下 楼     Climbing the Mountain, Descending the Stairs
一 二 三, 上 东 山,     One, two, three, climb up the eastern hill.
四 五 六, 下 西 楼.     Four, five, six, descend the western building.
七 八 九, 向 南 走,     Seven, eight, nine, walk towards the south.
十 个 人, 进 北 门.     Ten people enter the northern gate.


New Vocabulary

Click on any character to see how it is written. Click on any character's pinyin to hear how it is pronounced.

While learning to write the characters is not essential to learning to read them, it helps a lot and is highly recommended. Practice writing each yourself 5-10 times, being careful to follow the stroke order shown in the animation.

For more help learning to write the characters for this lesson, try out our Character Trainer App for iPhone and Android.

climb; above; up
hill; mountain
descend; below; down
towards; to
to walk; to go
[measure word]
to enter
gateway; door

Vocabulary Notes

Chinese Characters as Pictographs

Since the Chinese written language originated from pictographs, the modern written language still contains a fair number of characters that visually resemble their meaning. The characters 一,二, and 三, for example, mean "one," "two," and "three" respectively and indicate this by the number of horizontal strokes. The character 上 points in an upward direction while its opposite, 下, points downward and even indicates the downward effect of gravity. The character 人 comes from a stick figure-like representation of a person, the character 山 stems from the picture of a mountain, and the character 门 originates from the picture of a gate. Though these types of characters comprise only a small portion of the modern Chinese written language, recognizing these types of visual clues is still often a useful tool for reading Chinese texts, especially at the beginning level. [Additional Reading]

Radical and Phonetic Components

One characteristic of many Chinese characters, especially those more complicated in meaning, is division into radical parts and phonetic parts. The radical, most often found in the left or upper portion of a character, usually gives a vague idea about the meaning of the character. The phonetic part, most often found in the right or lower portion of the character, usually indicates the pronunciation of the character. This is based on other characters with similar (or sometimes the same) pronunciation. An example of this type of character from this poem is the character 楼. The radical, found here on the left, is 木, the character for "wood." This is appropriate because most buildings, especially in ancient times, were made of wood. Consequently, the right side of the character, based on the surname 娄, indicates pronunciation. The characters 搂,喽,and 镂 also all have similar pronunciations. [Additional Reading]

Characters with Multiple Definitions

Many Chinese characters are associated with several slightly different definitions. In these cases it is up to the context to determine the precise meaning of the character in a particular situation. The character 走, for example, can mean literally to "walk," or it can also mean to "go" or "leave." In the poem above, we can use context to conclude that its meaning is most likely to "walk" and almost certainly not to "leave."

Once you've studied the vocabulary and can read each line of the poem with comprehension, you are ready to go on to the next step.