Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hanja

Photo from: Adam Ward
Photo from: Adam Ward
Quick Link: Hanja Learning Resources I studied Chinese for 3 years in university, so I already have a pretty decent idea of what goes into studying Chinese:
Repetition, repetition, repetition
I've recently been interested in the use of Hanja (Chinese characters) in Korea. You can see them pop up occasionally, and most people have Hanja letters for their names on family registers and things. But how much Hanja is actually in use in Korea? And how do Koreans study it?

Fast Facts about Hanja:

hanja-book

Vocabulary:

  1. Roughly 70% of all Korean vocabulary comes from Chinese
  2. There are 100,000+ characters in Chinese dictionaries
  3. There are 50,000+ characters in Korean Hanja dictionaries (official dictionary counts)

Education:

  1. 900 Hanja are studied in South Korean middle schools
  2. 900 Hanja are studied in South Korean high schools (middle + high school list)
  3. But according to this article (2008), Hanja classes are optional and most university freshmen can't even write their own names in Hanja
  4. Korean education focuses primarily on character recognition (for literacy)
  5. Calligraphy (서예) is available for students wishing to learn how to write more extensively
  6. North Korean students learn up to 3,000 Hanja through university
  7. Chinese students typically study 3,000 characters in elementary school

Radicals (부수):

  1. There are about 300 total radicals in Chinese (partial characters that combine to form other characters); 100 in common use
  2. There are at least 214 radicals in Hanja (in standard Chinese dictionaries)

Practical Daily Use:

  1. Most Korean personal names and place names use Hanja
  2. Even though Koreans study 1,800 Hanja, they are only really expected to know 1,000 to read most newspapers and other articles (this is called the 천자문 "Thousand Character Essay")

Different Parts for Memorizing a Hanja

oist9e Each Hanja consists of at least three parts in a Korean dictionary. But knowing the other three parts listed here is also helpful for memorization and application:

For Literacy:

  1. The symbol
  2. The sound: 가
  3. The meaning: 집 가 (house/family 가)

For Writing, Dictionaries, and Calligraphy:

  1. The radicals (부수) that make up the symbol (here's a collection of radicals)
  2. Different types of strokes (획)
  3. Stroke order

How to Study Hanja

  1. Get a book if possible (here are three)
learn-hanja-the-fun-way images 1800

This morning I stumbled upon this helpful Wiki article by Jonathan Gardner that laid out a very effective method for studying Hanja. (I've also employed this method previously when studying Chinese.) He writes:

There is a proven method to master the Chinese characters. This method has been used for the past two thousand years with billions of students. It is tried and true. Don't mess with it. Before you approach this, think carefully: If it takes a smart Korean student 6 years to learn 2,500 characters, how long will it take you to do the same? You cannot expect to put in less effort and time than a smart Korean kid and get a better result.

The Method I've Used:

  1. Get a book if possible (or use other online resources - listed below)
  2. Learn Hanja in chunks of about 10 characters per week
  3. DAY 1: Focus on the character shape and any memorization tips or stories in the book
  4. Learn the stroke order
  5. Write out the first character 10+ times in the proper stroke order in boxed (wongoji) paper
  6. Always say the character name and meaning as you write the character
  7. DAYS 2-7: Review all the previous characters and rewrite them 10 times per day saying name and meaning as you write.
  8. Review previous characters at least once per week to keep them in your memory.
You'll probably need to plan on between 30min ~ 1 hr of study every day to really learn them. Additionally, here's a link to a Korean site that gives "the Best Method for Memorizing Hanja" to Korean students.

The Best Method for Memorizing Hanja (in Korean):

  1. Memorize Hanja radicals (부수)
  2. When you memorize the radicals, you need to know their original meaning
  3. Disassemble and memorize the word
  4. Memorize the words you use together with that word
  5. Audibly speak and sound out the words while memorizing them
  6. Intensely stimulate your brain
  7. Repeat (review) the memorization

Strokes and Stroke Order:

hanja-strokes

Strokes (획):

Wikipedia lists at least 10 types of strokes. After you practice writing characters for a few weeks, you'll learn most of the relevant strokes and begin to see there is a pattern to the way Hanja are generally written. It will then be easier to pick up new Hanja without explicitly studying the strokes or stroke order of the characters. Simple strokes (pictured above)
  1. D-black.png "Dot" (Tiny dash, speck)
  2. H-black.png "Horizontal" (Rightward)
  3. (n/a) "Break" (A change in stroke direction, usually 90° turn, going down or going right only)
  4. S-black.png "Vertical" (Downward)
  5. G-black.png"Hook" (Added to other strokes, suddenly going down or going left only)
  6. T-black.png "Rise" (Flick up and right)
  7. P-black.png "Throw away" (Falls left - with slight curve)
  8. N-black.png "Press down" (Falls right - fattens at the bottom)
Combining strokes (not pictured)
  1. W-black.png"Bend" (A tapering thinning curve, usually concave left)
  2. XG-black.png "Slant" (Curved line, usually concave right)

Stroke Order:

There are is generally ONE major rule that I learned in school, but additionally 8 more rules listed on Wikipedia (for a total of 9 rules):
Strokes are generally written top-to-bottom and left-to-right.
  1. Write from top to bottom, and left to right. 三-order.gif
  2. Horizontal before vertical 十-order.gif
  3. Character-spanning strokes last 聿-order.gif
  4. Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right 文-order.gif
  5. Center before outside in vertically symmetrical characters 水-order.gif
  6. Enclosures before contents 回-order.gif
  7. Left vertical before enclosing 口-order.gif
  8. Bottom enclosures last 道-order.gif
  9. Dots and minor strokes last 玉-order.gif

Different Levels of Hanja Mastery:

calligraphy-master These levels are from hanja.com (Level 1 is the highest, Level 9, the lowest):
  • Level 1: 3,500字
  • Level 2: 2,500字
  • Level 3: 1,850字
  • Level 4: 1,500字
  • Low 4: 900字
  • Level 5: 600字
  • Low 5: 450字
  • Level 6: 350字
  • Low 6: 250字
  • Level 7: 150字
  • Level 8: 70字
  • Level 9: 40字
As I begin learning Hanja, I'll be making weekly study guides based on the leveled word-lists found on hanja.com.

Hanja-Learning Resources:

This list will continue to be updated as I find more good resources. Be sure to bookmark it or check back often.

Lessons:

  1. Chineasy.org (Illustrated Chinese - helpful to remember Hanja meanings)
  2. Korean Wiki Project Guide and Lessons
  3. Everyday Hanja (with Stories, Stroke Order, New Vocab, Examples - an excellent resource)
  4. Hanja Lessons (your first 75 Hanja in 15 lessons - with Korean and English examples)
  5. About Hanja and Calligraphy (서예)
  6. Fully translated and annotated 천자문 from Chinese (no Korean) - Korean version here (no English)

Dictionaries:

  1. Naver Hanja Dictionary (with drawing board to look up stuff you see but don't know)
  2. Mobile Naver Hanja Dictionary
  3. Very simple word-linked Dictionary for learners of Korean
  4. Korean Wiktionary

Leveled Hanja word-lists and Hanja TESTS:

  1. Hanja.com
  2. This Hanja testing website
  3. EXCELLENT Hanja Study Guide according to level (but only complete up to Level 6-2)
  4. Information on Hanja Certification Exams (in English)

The full 1800-Hanja list for Junior and Senior high schoolers:

  1. Korean Ministry of Education HWP lists
  2. Korean Wiktionary (with ability to look up words)
  3. Korean Wikipedia (just a list of the words)
  4. Middle School Hanja on Naver Dictionary
  5. High School Hanja on Naver Dictionary

Internet Search Terms:

  1. "한자 1800"
  2. "중고등학교 기초한자"
  3. "한문교육용기초한자" ("Basic Hanja for educational use")
  4. "filetype:pdf" (or "filetype:hwp") Change the filetype to anything you want to search for
  5. "천자문" (1,000 Hanja Essay) - full text found here

Smart Phone and Tablet apps:

iStuff:

  1. Chunjae app (Levels 8-3) with all 1800 Middle and High school Hanja
  2. Chunjae Hanja app for kids (Levels 7-8 with pictures and stroke order)
  3. Cofratech Hanja dictionary (with compound words in Korean and English)
  4. Daolsoft app (Levels 8-1) that teaches stroke order ($1.99)
  5. Another Daolsoft app (Levels 8-3 - school level 1800 Hanja) that teaches stroke order ($0.99)
  6. Wisdomhouse Hanja comic book (series) to learn Hanja in context ($6.99)
  7. Hanja dictionary app with multiple look-up functions ($9.99)

Android:

  1. Daily Hanja app (Levels 8-4) with listening, reading, writing, questions, and homescreen widgets
  2. Daily Hanja app (Levels 3,2,1) (1,000 won) (Haru Hanja homepage)
  3. Hyunkyo app (Levels 8-6) that teaches stroke order
  4. Chunjae app (Levels 8-3) with all 1800 Middle and High school Hanja
  5. Chunjae Hanja app for kids (Levels 7-8 with pictures and stroke order)
  6. Very simple Hanja 1800 app
  7. Skyapps Hanja 1800 app

Games:

  1. Hanja Quiz Action (iDevice) GAME (with the 1800 Hanja) FREE
  2. Hanja Quiz Action (Android) GAME (with the 1800 Hanja) FREE
  3. Old, discontinued Hanja MMORPG for Windows
Hanja Maru Gameplay http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTuP5j_TrnE

Any other Hanja-learning tips or resources I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

13 comments

    1. I had noticed that many of my camp students have Hanja notebooks. But I’m still not sure. Is Hanja a required set of classes? Or optional? I found one article from 2008 that seemed to indicate that most incoming university freshmen couldn’t even write their own names in Hanja.

      1. Starting in the fall of last year, the Seoul Municipal Board of Education brought back Hanja education beginning in elementary schools. They even set up workshops in libraries to teach Hanja. I believe it’s optional everywhere else. (Source: http://www.koreabang.com/2013/stories/protests-over-plan-to-bring-hanja-education-back-to-schools.html)

        Hanja education in elementary school was actually banned until 1992 and banned entirely from public education from 1968 to 1972. I started learning Hanja in elementary school shortly after that ban was lifted. Unfortunately, that generation (i.e., those born in the late 80s and early 90s) saw the English craze first kick in to the detriment of Hanja education.

          1. Thanks. You too. Nice to meet another English-speaking, Korean-studying developer (even a beginner). I’m no “pro” either, but I enjoy it and hope to someday change my job to webdev.~

          2. Hey Aaron, it’s Pablo again (I lost my WordPress login hehe). Do you think you could add the Hanja Explorer to your list? It would be very nice if you could. Let me know if you’d like me to improve anything to make sure it makes the cut:)

  1. Thank you for this useful resources. I’m using this workbooks and like them a lot because they are beginner level and easy to understand and follow.

    1. I’ll look into it over the holidays. As for a good way to go about learning the 1000 Hanja essay? I’d say you probably need some help. Many Koreans I know can’t even read the whole thing. It is “technically” written in Chinese, so if you happen to know any Chinese students who are studying Korean, that might be your best bet. Since I live in Korea, I know a handful of them. They’d definitely be able to understand it all and could more easily look up the words in Korean than even a Korean student of Hanja probably could.

  2. Schools aren’t particular effective because they are locked in tradition instead of efficiency (not only for language learning but many other subjects).
    Nowadays is very easy to learn ideograms much faster than traditional methods used be native studants.
    I’ve learning Japanese for 2 years with spaced repetition beside grammar study and already can read more than the 2000+ kanjis for adult proficiency.
    What Jonathan Gardner wrote isn’t true and by thinking different and using better methods you can learn much more fast and easy than tradicional ways.

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