Mnemonics and stories to remember Chinese characters

Mnemonics, stories

 “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”



A working memory is based on associations. Most of what you learned in life, even if you do not realize it, is done by way of mnemonics and connections between ideas and thoughts. You associate the new concept you are trying to learn with something you already know. After a while, the connections tend to disappear and the new idea or word is transferred to the long-term memory.

It has been shown that humans more easily remember surprising, humorous, silly and shocking stories. The more absurd, the better. Also, strong emotions help things stick. Most people remember where they were on September 11 or, for the older generation, when John F. Kennedy was shot. And you would probably remember better when your friend Joe decided to run naked in the street after having drunk too much than when he was average Joe on a typical day.


The stories that appear in the Chinese Blockbuster series are the glue to help you remember all there is to know about each character. They may refer to historical facts and events, but most of them are totally fabricated and filled to the brim with mnemonics. Some stories may also deal with harsh themes, as strong images are necessary for impressing our brain. Political correctness is not good to remember stuff. In fact, if we are shocked, we will remember the characters, their pronunciation and their building blocks better!

You will also notice that the stories often use ‘I’ in the present tense. This usage of the first person is not about me but about you. I want you to imagine yourself at the center of the action. You become the main character in the story. Also, most stories are written with the masculine gender, only to lighten the text.

Furthermore, if a German or Italian word is used as a sound word, the story may concern a German or an Italian person or it may place you somewhere in Germany or Italy, just to help you remember the proper sound word.

The stories are only examples of what is possible to achieve with this method. I even encourage you to make your own stories with the building blocks I provide. If you have more personal stories you can relate to, use them. They would work even better. Think of this book as a box of Lego blocks, where you can build the model shown on the box cover or make your own toy. For some of you, my madness may suit you just fine and that’s alright!

Use your senses

Finally, to make the stories work better, use as many senses as you can. When reading a story, close your eyes and see the building blocks with vivid colors (visual sense), odors (sense of smell) or as humongous objects when they are concrete things or as a struggling action when it is a verb, all the while hearing the sound word resonate or reverberate in your mind (audio). See the definitions as repeated, incessant actions when they concern verbs and adverbs, or as a swarm of objects when they represent concrete things.

I assure you that if you spend the extra effort to make the stories as vivid as you can, the characters will be yours and you will be reading Chinese in no time!

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