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Chinese Language Skills : Linguistic Elements

Chinese Language Skills : Linguistic Elements

In Compare & Contrast we discussed how developing the ability to compare and contrast also helps with building up Chinese language skills. Because children 0-6 acquire and practice many basic skills, it’s important to teach our kids to find the similarities and differences between objects and things. This skill builds a scientific, linguistic and mathematical foundation.

This post furthers this discussion, focusing on the many aspects of the Chinese language such as characters, phrases, grammar and more.

Important Chinese Characters Practice

Since written Chinese uses shapes and strokes instead of an alphabet, learning to read builds upon children’s ability to differentiate between characters and some common components. The Chinese language is rife with ways to teach our children how to compare and contrast.

We will focus on 4 major areas in this post:

  1. Components of Characters
  2. Simplified vs Traditional scripts
  3. Intonations
  4. Literary Forms
A. Components of characters

The built-in visual similarities and differences between characters and components in

1. Strokes

  • How are the characters in each row similar?
  • How are those characters different?
  • What is the pattern in the progression of the characters?
2. Bushou (Radicals)

  • What do these characters have in common?
  • Why do you think they have the same radical?
  • How are they different?
  • Are any of these characters similar to other characters in looks? Sounds? Meaning?
3. Sounds

  • What do these characters have in common?
  • What are their similarities in sound?
  • How are they different?
4. Meaning

  • What does this group of characters have in common?
  • Why do you think 女 & 子 make 好 when 好 doesn’t sound like either?
  • Why do you think 小 & 大 make 尖 when 尖 doesn’t sound like either?
  • Why do you think 日 & 月 make 明 when 明 doesn’t sound like either?
B. Simplified and Traditional scripts

The Simplified and Traditional scripts are excellent examples to study because:

  • These are characters that are at the same time both the same (because it is literally the same word) and different (because the are written differently)
  • some changes are universally applied (eg: a Simplified radical)
  • some changes seem to be unique to particular characters only

Let us take the following characters as an example.

Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Each pair of the above characters represent the same word, yet one is in Traditional and the other Simplified. Study them and discuss with your child

  • What are the differences?
  • Which parts are kept the same?
  • How was each character simplified?
  • Is this how you would have done so?
  • Why do you think this was the chosen change?

You may want to search on the internet the general logic behind the simplification of individual characters. Sometimes, the characters reverted to a certain variant from the evolution of Chinese writing. Sometimes, the characters were changed into different sound or meaning components.

C. Intonation

The different tones in some Chinese characters can sound very similar to an untrained ear. Meanwhile, there exist many homonyms (both homophonic characters 同音字 and homophonic words 同音詞), and heteronyms (多音字). Below are a few examples and suggestions of discussion points with your child.

1. variations in tones

  • What are the different tones?
  • What are the different meanings?
  • Do you notice any similarities between the characters? Differences?
2. homophones
媽 (mother)
嗎 (what)
機 (machine)
雞 (chicken)
事 (matter, thing)
是 (to be)
市 (market)
世 (lifetime, generation)
室 (room)
士 (soldier)
  • What are their different meanings?
  • Can you tell from the characters?
  • How can you tell which word someone is using when they’re talking and you can’t read the character?
3. Words made of two characters

For older or more sophisticated students, you could attempt some homonyms and intonation variations for words that are made of two characters.


Word 1
Word 2
猩猩 (ape)
星星 (star)
權利 (power, right, privilege)
權力 (power, authority)
行李 (luggage)
行禮 (to salute)
談情 (to engage in love talk)
彈琴 (to play on the piano)

Intonation variations

Intonation 1
Intonation 2
熟食 /shóu shí/ (cooked food)
守時 /shŏu shí/ (punctual)
通知 /tōng zhī/ (to inform)
統治 /tŏng zhì/ (to govern)
補牙 /bŭ yá/ (to repair a tooth)
不雅 /bù yă/ (vulgar)
投寄 /tóu jì/ (to post a letter)
投機 /tóu jī/ (to speculate)
D. Chinese Grammar and Linguistic Elements

Chinese extensively uses techniques of comparing and contrasting in poetry, couplets and idioms. By pointing them out to children and directing their attention to these elements, they not only learn to think of language technically, but they also learn about Chinese grammar, history, and culture.

1. Dui-Lian (Couplets 對聯)

Dui-Lian (Couplets 對聯) are pairs of poetic lines that complement each other by using various literary artforms. While we won’t go in depth analyzing couplets here, in general, they can be used to teach children culture, grammar, symbolism, and poetic language. Here are two popular examples:


In this sentence, we can look for similarities. All four things mentioned are nouns as well natural phenomenon. Cloud is paired with rain and snow is paired with wind. Why are they paired together? What does each pair have in common? How are the two pairs different? Looking at the four nouns, what do they have in common other than being weather related? What do the characters look like?


In this sentence, we have a contrast in differences. We have two verbs that are antonyms: one is coming and the other is going. We have two nouns that are also different: a large goose and a small swallow. We can also use this sentence to study similarities since there are two nouns and two verbs. They are both paired words and are compared to each other.

2. Poetry

Each set of sentences below illustrates contrasts and similarities:


Contrast: looking up vs looking down

Compare similarities: the verbs “to look” / “to think”; the nouns “moon” / “homeland


Contrast: the sky vs the earth

Compare similarities: 比翼鳥 (two birds flying wing to wing) & 連理枝 (two trees with branches intertwined), they both simulate lovers.

3. Cheng-yu (idioms)

Chinese idioms are full of contrasts and similarities. These idioms often provide vivid images and would be an excellent way to engage children in examining the concept of compare and contrast. Below are a few examples (the first three are featured in Idioms in Comic):*

 白 分 明






* in each example, the coloured character and the highlighted one contrast each other, the other 2 characters share some similarities

We hope this article has given you some ideas of how to use the Chinese language to help your children with their observation skills and at the same time learn Chinese in the process.

If you have questions, or would like us to discuss further on some other related topics, please feel free to drop us a note:


We discuss Chinese language and culture related topics on a regular basis.
If you would like us to discuss certain topics about Chinese, please let us know.


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© 2020 Sagebooks Hongkong. All rights reserved.

Sagebooks Hongkong promotes independent reading and life-long learning by nurturing the child’s confidence, autonomy and self-teaching abilities. Since 2006. Find out more About Us.

© 2020 Sagebooks Hongkong. All rights reserved.

Sagebooks Hongkong promotes independent reading and life-long learning by nurturing the child’s confidence, autonomy and self-teaching abilities. Since 2006. Find out more About Us.

© 2020 Sagebooks Hongkong. All rights reserved.