One of the most common questions about learning Chinese characters is if it’s really necessary to learn correct stroke order. The answer I give, along with 100 other common questions about learning Chinese is:
Yes, but this becomes easier the more you learn and is not an issue after a while. You need to do that because it represent a natural way of writing the characters, and it makes your handwriting easier to read. It also makes it easier for you to read other people’s handwriting!
The follow-up questions about how to learn and what resources to use are a bit harder to answer in a single paragraph, though, so in this article, I have collected all the resources you need to learn stroke orden in Chinese. It includes everything from information about stroke order and how to practise it, to resources for looking up the stroke order for specific characters and generating your own printable worksheets.
Tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast to listen to the related episode:
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This article contains the following sections:
- About stroke order, why it matters and things to be aware of
- More about handwriting in general
- Looking up stroke order
- Printable worksheets with stroke order
- Tools and apps
- Other stroke order resources
About stroke order, why it matters and things to be aware of
- Is it necessary to learn the stroke order of Chinese characters? (article) – As hinted at above, the answer is yes. The alternative is to use different stroke order every time you write a character or make up your own standard, but non of those options makes any sense.
- Chinese Stroke Order Rules (video) – This is a video we made over at Skritter for teaching the basic stroke order rules. I’m responsible for the pedagogical content here, although the video itself is of course a team effort. I believe this is the best introduction to stroke order rules in six minutes.
- Chinese Stroke Order Rules (article) – A written version of the above video, in case you want to read at your own pace instead of watching a video. It contains the basic stroke order rules with examples.
- The Core Chinese Strokes You Need to Know (video) – While the strokes themselves are separate from the order in which they are written, knowing the basics of strokes makes some things easier, especially stroke direction. Being aware that 提 (tí) is directed upwards will make some characters much easier to write.
More about handwriting in general
- Is it necessary to learn to write Chinese characters by hand? (article) – In this age of smart phones, computers and voice recognition, is it really necessary to learn to write Chinese characters by hand? My answer is yes, but not necessarily because you need to write a lot by hand.
- How to improve your Chinese handwriting (article) – This article is about how to improve your handwriting, not just related to stroke order, but how to practise if you’ve realised that your handwriting looks really bad and you’re not okay with that. Note that beautiful handwriting of course isn’t a requirement, but writing characters that other people can read is still a good idea.
- Chinese character variants and fonts for language learners (article) – Sorting out why characters look different in the textbook, the web and on the whiteboard. Not directly related to stroke order, but since it’s likely to cause confusion for the same people who want the other resources listed here, I include it anyway.
- Handwriting Chinese characters: The minimum requirements (article) – Not really the “minimum” requirements, but good info about how to write properly by hand, with tons of examples. Does not relate specifically to stroke order, but again, most of the things here are relevant for the same group of readers.
Looking up stroke order
- Arch Chinese (web) – Animated stroke order for characters. Requires a bit of clicking if you want to look up many characters, though, but has nicely coloured animations. Subscription available, but basic look-up is free.
- 汉字屋 – 汉字笔顺 (web) – A good site for looking up stroke order (just type or paste the character in the top-right corner) without anything extra. Easy and simple!
- YellowBridge (web) – Animated stroke order for characters that works relatively well. Be warned that the site has a ton of ads though, and that ad blockers are… blocked.
- LINE Dictionary (web) – Generates stroke order images (animation also available) that can be printed or copied. Neat if you want to use the images for something else or don’t want animations.
- 现代汉语通用字笔顺规范 (authoritative (mainland), book, PDF) – Published by the Chinese Ministry of Education, authoritative resource for stroke order for simplified characters. Only exist in printed form and is very hard to navigate unless you know what you’re doing. Mostly useless for beginners, but good to have if you want to be sure.
- 國語辭典 (authoritative (Taiwan), web, app) – Published by the Taiwanese Ministry of Education, authoritative resource for stroke order for traditional characters. Animated. Also the best dictionary available for Chinese-Chinese (traditional) character and word look-up.
- 中英對照香港學校中文學習基礎字詞 (authoritative, Hongkong, web) – Show officially correct stroke order for the Hong Kong standard for traditional characters. Note that this is sometimes different from the Taiwanese standard.
Printable worksheets with stroke order
- 田字格字帖生成器 (web) – The interface is in Chinese, but the resource is free to use. Select “笔顺”; many other options available.
- 宝宝学习网 (web) – Also in Chinese, but still free. Several variants available (click images below the generator for other versions).
- Chinese Character Worksheets (ArchChinese, web) – Highly customisable with interface in English, but requires a paid membership.
- Chinese Practice Worksheet Generator (Purple Culture, web) – Highly customisable with interface in English, but requires a paid membership.
Tools and apps
- Skritter (app) – The best app for practising to write Chinese characters. Requires subscription. Full review here.
- Pleco (app) – The best dictionary for your smart phone. Has a paid add-on with stroke order animations.
- Hanping (app) – Another great dictionary app. Includes some free animations for the most common characters, but then requires pro upgrade.
- There are also a bunch of apps (such as this one and this one) that show basic stroke order and that are financed by advertising of various kinds. They are typically not very good in other areas and it seems well worth the money to upgrade Pleco or Hanping for not just stroke order, but great dictionaries in general.
Other stroke order resources
- Wikimedia Commons Stroke Order Project (web) – Offers a variety of resources for stroke order, including coloured characters when the shading shows stroke order, among other things. Somewhat hard to navigate, but otherwise very nice. Also published under Creative Commons 3.0 licence, so easier to use in your own projects than other resources.
- How to look up Chinese characters you don’t know (article) – Basic information about how to look characters up for those who are completely new to learning Chinese.
- 21 essential dictionaries and corpora for learning Chinese (article) – An overview of the best Chinese dictionaries and corpora for Chinese learners.
That’s it for now! I’m sure I have missed something, so if you know of a great resource related to stroke order, please leave a comment below!
Please note that the goal here is not to list every single resource, but the best of each kind, so I’m not really looking for a bunch of more videos about stroke order or apps that do the same as the ones listed here, unless they do it better or in a significantly different way.
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