Chinese brush strokes

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Explaining Chinese Writing to Kids: It’s Not an Alphabet

Cover page of the Shuo wen zhen ben, a dictionary dedicated to etymological descriptions of Chinese characters.

Author’s Note: If you’re looking for a Chinese alphabet that resembles English, check out our article explaining Pinyin.

Many parents who visit our website are looking for a guide to help explain written Chinese to kids, often searching for information about a “Chinese Alphabet.” But while English speakers are used to writing using a phonetic system, written Chinese is not an alphabet, but instead a vast set of distinct characters that have an assigned pronunciation (or sometimes more than one pronunciations, based on usage and meaning).

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