Top 500 Chinese Characters (and How to Write Them)

I created this because a) I’m sick of memorising Chinese characters the old-fashioned way; and b) I’m obsessed with collecting Chinese radicals and components.

If you’re looking for a systematic way to learn how to memorise all of the common Chinese characters, you’re in the right place.

Nothing like this collection exists anywhere else – trust me, I’ve looked. It’s been one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on for a very long time.

It’s 4am now, and I’m exhausted. Good night.

Top 500 Chinese Characters (Please note: the examples listed on the right include both characters which can be found listed under the respective radical in the dictionary and characters which just happen to look like the radical. For example, 木 includes 校 and 來, the latter of which can be found under 人R9 in the dictionary, while the former can be found under the 木R75 radical. This is the technical difference between a 部首 and a 偏旁, but for memorisation purposes this is not very important.)

Top 500 Chinese Characters (Pinyin Version) (Use this one if you want to test yourself by reading the pinyin and writing out the characters as a kind of silent dictation exercise.)




Basic Spoken English 《基础英语口语》

Basic Spoken English is now ready for download. Check it out!

I wrote this textbook last week for Chinese students wishing to improve their spoken English (英语口语), but English teachers in China may also find this a useful resource in the classroom.

The first lesson includes a breakdown of all the basic sounds of the English language. I have recorded both a male and female version of the mp3 which students can practice. The rest of the lessons are made up of short dialogues for students to listen to and role-play. You can find translations into Chinese of the key vocabulary in the Basic Spoken English PDF.



Download Basic Spoken English (PDF)


Lesson 1: Female
Lesson 1: Male
Lesson 2: Striking up a conversation
Lesson 3: Making a hotel reservation
Lesson 4: Making a call to a friend
Lesson 5: Asking for directions
Lesson 6: Dining out Part 1
Lesson 7: Dining out Part 2
Lesson 8: Asking a favour
Lesson 9: Catching up with an old friend
Lesson 10: Visiting a sick friend
Lesson 11: Late for a meeting
Lesson 12: Returning an item to a shop
Lesson 13: A visit from an old friend
Lesson 14: Discussing a crush
Lesson 15: Asking someone out on a date
Lesson 16: Going out on a date
Lesson 17: Encounter with a nosy stranger
Lesson 18: Ringing to change an appointment time
Lessson 19: At a party
Lesson 20: At the emergency room Part 1
Lesson 21: At the emergency room Part 2
Lesson 22: In a bad mood
Lesson 23: Making an enquiry at the visitors centre
Lesson 24: Bumping into someone


33 Funny Words in Chinese

Let’s try something a bit lighter today. Here’s 33 words in Chinese I’ve collected over the years that I think are pretty funny when translated literally. Some of them also reveal a little bit about Chinese culture and thinking. Enjoy!

33 Funny Words in Chinese

  1. A computer is an “electric brain” (电脑).
  2. A cactus is an “immortal man’s palm” (仙人掌).
  3. A chameleon is a “colour-changing dragon” (变色龙).
  4. A pet is a “spoilt thing” (宠物).
  5. A boss is an “old board” (老板).
  6. A van is a “bread car” (面包车).
  7. A work of erotica is a “yellow book” (黄书).
  8. A porn is a “hairy film” (毛片).
  9. A breast stroke is a “frog swim” (蛙泳).
  10. A woman who has a successful career but remains single is a “leftover woman” (剩女).
  11. A woman who is easy to seduce is like “instant noodles” (方便面).
  12. A mistress is a “little 3” (小三).
  13. A hot babe is a “spicy little sister” (辣妹).
  14. A dildo is a “massage stick” (按摩棒).
  15. If you date someone, you “talk about love” (谈恋爱).
  16. If you come on to someone, you “eat tofu” (吃豆腐).
  17. If you give someone a hickey, you “plant a strawberry” (种草莓).
  18. If you cheat on your partner, you “go off the rails” (出轨).
  19. If your partner cheats on you, you “wear a green hat” (戴绿帽子).
  20. If you stand someone up, you “release a pigeon” (放鸽子).
  21. If you put on weight, you “get lucky” (发福).
  22. If you get rabies, you get the “crazy dog disease” (狂犬病).
  23. If you leave something to the last minute, you “grab the Buddha’s foot” (抱佛脚).
  24. If you’re fired from your job, you have your “squid fried” (炒鱿鱼).
  25. If you make things hard for someone by abusing your power, you make them “wear small shoes” (穿小鞋).
  26. If something has nothing to do with you, you say you’re just here “to buy soy sauce” (打酱油).
  27. When you do something immediately, you do it “on a horse” (马上)
  28. When you encourage and cheer someone on, you urge them to “add oil” (加油).
  29. You don’t wear contact lens, you wear “invisible glasses” (隐形眼镜).
  30. You don’t take ecstasy tablets, you take “shaking head tablets” (摇头丸).
  31. Your fourth finger is not your ring finger, but a “nameless finger” (无名指).
  32. You’re not a country bumpkin, but a “dirt bun” (土包子).
  33. Your way of making a living is not your bread and butter, but your “rice bowl” (饭碗).

向“百年国耻”说再见 (Saying Goodbye to National Humiliation)


Saying Goodbye to National Humiliation

梁文道著 Text by Leung Man-tao

傅君恺译 Translation by Carl Gene Fordham



The road China has been going down over the past decade is really quite strange, especially since the relative liberalisation of the media. Yes, obviously, we can see China has a lot of problems and difficulties, but it’s not until you turn your head around that you suddenly realise China has become a superpower that is admired, even envied. And yes, it’s clear that we are a developing country that has been the bully’s victim for a century, yet over the past couple of years we have seen in the international media people becoming more and more fascinated with our country. Evidently just a few years ago we were still a country that was demonised by others, but now we gaze in wonder as Chinese becomes a popular subject in schools around the world.

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Carl’s IELTS Essay Correction Glossary (卡尔的雅思写作修改必备词汇)

When Chinese students ask me the quickest way to improve their IELTS Writing score, I always tell them that personalised feedback is the most important thing. That, and the three Rs: Rewrite, Revise and ReadRewrite your essays in accordance with the feedback you get; Revise everything that you learn; Read more articles that contain vocabulary that is relevant to the test.

每当中国学生问我有什么方法能最快提高雅思写作分数时,我总是告诉他们,针对性的反馈意见是最重要的。也就是要做到三个R:重写、复习和阅读(Rewrite, Revise & Read)——重写作文,按照你收到的反馈意见写;复习你学到的所有东西;多读文章,有考试相关词汇的文章。

But, as anyone who marks IELTS essays for a living knows, there are also a number of standard terms you use when giving feedback. Some of them can be a bit tricky, so that’s why I’ve created this list of the most common terms I use when correcting Chinese students’ IELTS essays. I have also sorted the terms in this glossary into their respective IELTS Band Descriptors. Enjoy! – Carl



Carl’s IELTS Essay Correction Glossary


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40 Terms Commonly Used in Chinese Academic Writing

The following is a collection of 40 terms that I have come across while reading Chinese academic writing such as papers, reports, theses, etc. I think this list will be very useful for any Westerner coming to China to study a Chinese-taught programme, but it can also be used by Chinese wishing to improve their academic English vocabulary, as well as translation students and practitioners. I have tried to only include the most “typically Chinese” terms; I’ve deliberately left out words which have a one-to-one correspondence with English. For your convenience I’ve included a relatively simple example sentence for each word so you can better understand their usage. If you’re about to take on a Chinese-taught program, I think memorising this short list will help you understand lecturers a whole lot better. Enjoy!

40 Terms Commonly Used in Chinese Academic Writing

1. 学术 xuéshù: academics; scholarship; learning 民间文学是非常有学术价值的非物质文化遗产。Folk literature is an example of intangible cultural heritage which is of great academic value. [Note that “academia” can be translated as 学术界 xuéshùjiè, literally, “academic circles”.] Read more »

15 Chinese Words Which Have More Than One Meaning in English

I’ve always been curious about words in Chinese which can refer to two more different meanings in English. Here are 15 words I could think of that I have encountered before. If you can think of any more please let me know by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post!


1. 笑 xiào

笑 can mean both “smile” and “laugh”. To avoid possible confusion, the terms 微笑 and 大笑 can be used respectively. “Laughter” is translated as 笑声; “laughable” as 可笑. In most cases, context will make the intended meaning clear. For example, in the sentence 如果做得不好,请别见笑 it goes without saying that a person would laugh at someone’s poor job, rather than merely smile at it. Similarly, in the phrase 笑得很灿烂 (literally, “to xiao in a slendid and dazzling way”) it should be clear that “smile” is being referred to.


2. 声音 shēngyīn

声音 can mean both “voice” and “sound” in general. Context should make it obvious which sense is being referred to. For example, in the sentence 这女孩的声音很低沉 it would be absurd to translate it as “this girl’s sound is low and deep” – obviously it is her voice which is low and deep. In the same way, in the sentence 关门的声音把他唤醒过来 it must be the sound of a door shutting that woke the person up, since a door cannot speak obviously.


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Random Word Trivia #10

See how many of these random words you can guess the English and Chinese for!

1. You have a bad habit, like smoking or gambling.

2. You have a tool that enables you to appear taller than what you are.

3. You look really similar to a celebrity.

4. You have an argument with someone because your personality is different to theirs.

5. You are paid money to keep your mouth shut.

6. You are walking through a city, looking for a something which is recognisable from a distance.

7. You are a woman, and this is your bedroom.

8. You are someone who never shuts up.

9. You remove hair from your body with a sticky kind of substance.

10. You have been asked to stand in the background at the filming of a movie.

11. You have a floor covering made of straw, imported from Japan.

12. You see a seat on the train that is for people with disabilities and pregnant woman.

13. You see a list of the main things that need to be learnt in your textbook.

14. You notice a lot of people are obsessed with something, but you don’t think it will be popular for very long.

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14 Nouns That Are Countable in Chinese (But Not in English)

The following is a list of words that are countable in Chinese but not in English. I think this article will be beneficial for both learners of English and Chinese. Enjoy!


1. 信息 (news)

Chinese example sentence: 我有个好消息要告诉你。
Literal translation: I have a good news to tell you.
Idiomatic translation: I have some good news to tell you.

Chinese example sentence: 这些信息是不对的。
Literal translation: These information are incorrect.
Idiomatic translation: This information is incorrect.

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250 Physical Verbs in English and Chinese

I’ve always wanted to compile a list of verbs in English and Chinese that involve physical actions, as I believe these are some of the trickiest types of vocabulary to master. They’re tricky because, although they’re the kind of things we do on a daily basis, we rarely think about how to express them clearly in our first language – let alone our second.

I’ve broken up this list into nine categories, covering almost any type of physical verb you could think of.

  • Head, hair and face: 18
  • Mouth and throat: 18
  • Eyes and brows: 17
  • Utterances: 20
  • Hands and arms: 51
  • Legs and feet: 20
  • Whole body: 56
  • Displays of affection: 18
  • Acts of violence: 32
  • Total: 250

 Let’s get started!

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