The goal of my new book Chineasy is to allow people to learn to read Chinese easily by recognizing characters through simple illustrations and animations. By learning one small set of building blocks, students can build many new words, characters, phrases, and even sentences.
In the past year, I broke down thousands of common Chinese characters and analyzed how they are constructed. The process is just like a little boy breaking down lots of Lego models (a fire station, a boat, and maybe a space shuttle). This boy then starts classifying Lego bricks. He then realized that no matter how fancy and complicated the models are, they are all built out of the same set of Lego bricks.
In Chinese, most characters are built out of roughly 100 “building blocks.” I designed a program on my computer and then started prioritizing the most common and useful building blocks. In my computer program, I identified the correlations between each character until my screen was full of thousands of lines and tiny characters.
I then started using illustrations to help students memorize the building blocks. After knowing how to recognize those “building blocks” you can then carry on constructing loads more characters. I called those newly constructed characters “compounds,” meaning the characters which are composed of two or more building blocks.
Here are three examples: king, water, and cow.