"In the last two months I have learned more using Clavis Sinica than I did in two years of college Chinese."
"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
The Chinese language has no alphabet. Or, to be more precise, the Chinese written language does not have an alphabet in the traditional sense of a set of letters that are combined to represent the sounds of words. The idea of the alphabet can be helpful, though, in understanding how Chinese characters are constructed. Just as a standard alphabet consists of a small number of letters that can be recombined to form a large number of words, so the "Chinese alphabet" consists of a relatively) small number of structural elements that are recombined to form a much larger number of characters.
A typical Chinese character consists of two component parts, referred to as the radical and phonetic. The radical part often provides some indication of the meaning of the character, while the phonetic part often provides a clue as to the pronunciation of the character. The complete set of all the radicals (189 in simplified Chinese) and all the phonetics (several thousand) can be understood as forming something like a "Chinese alphabet."
While mastering this Chinese alphabet is obviously much more difficult than learning the 26 letters of the standard alphabet, understanding how radical and phonetic elements from the Chinese alphabet come together to form Chinese characters is very useful in learning to read or write Chinese.
This website offers a number of useful resources to help you learn Chinese characters: