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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What are Chinese radicals?
Siuling: And why is it important to learn them?
Michael: At CantoneseClass101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Mark Lee is not sure how to write one character. He asks his boss, Snow Lau, "How do you write 'hou2'?"
李傑雷: 個「好」字點寫? (go3 hou2 zi6 dim2 se2?)
李傑雷: 個「好」字點寫? (go3 hou2 zi6 dim2 se2?)
劉小雪: 女字邊,加個子字喺右邊。 (neoi5 zi6 bin1, gaa1 go3 zi2 zi6 hai2 jau6 bin1.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
李傑雷: 個「好」字點寫? (go3 hou2 zi6 dim2 se2?)
Michael: "How do you write 'hou2'?"
劉小雪: 女字邊,加個子字喺右邊。 (neoi5 zi6 bin1, gaa1 go3 zi2 zi6 hai2 jau6 bin1.)
Michael: "The 'woman' radical with the 'child' character on its right."

Lesson focus

Michael: The Cantonese writing system uses the traditional Chinese characters and they are known to be challenging for learners, but I have a learning tip for you! The characters can actually be broken down into smaller components, so they’re less daunting. These smaller components are called radicals, or
Siuling: 部首 (bou6 sau2).
Michael: You can think of radicals as being the building blocks of the Chinese characters. Every character has a radical, and sometimes the radical itself can be a character on its own. The term "radical" can be used loosely to refer to each element in a character, but you will also find that each character has one key radical, which can also be used for looking up the character in a Chinese dictionary.
Siuling: By learning radicals, you will not only better understand the character that you have learned, but you will even gain insight on many of the characters that you have yet to study.
Michael: Instead of learning individual characters, one at a time, by learning just a few of the most common radicals, you will be able to read and understand several of the most frequently used characters in Cantonese. By simply studying character radicals, you'll be able to quickly identify the root of any character that you encounter. This may jog your memory when trying to recall a character that you've previously studied, or, at least, give you a general sense of the meaning or pronunciation of a new word.
Siuling: For example, let’s look at the character 時 (si4), the radical for this character is 日 (jat6), which means "sun," "day," or "time." Using this information, we can deduce that the meaning of the character 時 (si4) is related to "time."
Michael: Can you give us another example?
Siuling: Of course, let’s look at the character 推 (teoi1), “to push”. This character has the 手 (sau2) radical, which means "hand." You can see it on the left side of the character, 扌(sau2), also known as 剔手邊 (tik1 sau2 bin1).
Michael: Therefore, it’s not a surprise that the overall meaning of the character involves using the hand "to push."
Siuling: Right, you can find the “hand” radical, or 剔手邊 (tik1 sau2 bin1), in almost all the characters that involve an action using the hands.
Michael: As a Cantonese language learner, a great place to start is by mastering the most common character radicals. These appear often in the Chinese characters used in texts and everyday life in Hong Kong. Even if you cannot identify every character in a word or phrase, knowing the radicals will give you a head start. Here are six of the most common character radicals:
Michael: First, we have
Siuling: 口 (hau2),
Michael: which means "mouth." Next, we have
Siuling: 氵 (seoi2), or 三點水(saam1 dim2 seoi2),
Michael: meaning "water" or “three dots of water.” Third, we have
Siuling: 女 (neoi5), as seen in our lesson dialogue,
Michael: it means “woman” or "female.” Following that, we have
Siuling: 亻 (jan4), or 企人邊 (kei5 jan2 bin1),
Michael: which means "person." Fifth, we have
Siuling: 扌 (sau2), or 剔手邊 (tik1 sau2 bin1),
Michael: which as we have seen, means "hand." And, lastly, we have
Siuling: 忄(sam1), or 豎心邊 (syu6 sam1 bin1),
Michael: which means "heart," and is usually found in characters that involve emotions.
Michael: Start with these simple radicals when learning the Chinese characters, and you'll soon build up your vocabulary faster than you thought possible!
Practice Section
Michael: Let's review. Respond to the prompts by speaking aloud. Then, repeat after Siuling focusing on pronunciation.
Do you remember how Mark says "How do you write 'hou2'?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 個「好」字點寫? (go3 hou2 zi6 dim2 se2?)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Siuling: 個「好」字點寫? (go3 hou2 zi6 dim2 se2?)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 個「好」字點寫? (go3 hou2 zi6 dim2 se2?)
Michael: And do you remember how Snow says "The 'woman' radical with the 'child' character on its right?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 女字邊,加個子字喺右邊。 (neoi5 zi6 bin1, gaa1 go3 zi2 zi6 hai2 jau6 bin1.)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Siuling: 女字邊,加個子字喺右邊。 (neoi5 zi6 bin1, gaa1 go3 zi2 zi6 hai2 jau6 bin1.)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 女字邊,加個子字喺右邊。 (neoi5 zi6 bin1, gaa1 go3 zi2 zi6 hai2 jau6 bin1.)
Michael: Most characters represent an idea, and therefore contain a wealth of information. The radicals used in these characters give us tremendous clues as to the given meaning behind these characters. By memorizing character as a combination of parts, you can greatly simplify the learning process and thus see the importance of learning each character radical, as well as its meaning.
Michael: Some radicals can be characters on their own. For example, the radical from our lesson dialogue,
Siuling: 女 (neoi5),
Michael: by itself, means “female.”
Siuling: Another example is 手 (sau2).
Michael: The meaning behind this character is "hand." When written on its own, it occupies the entire imaginary square where the character is supposed to be included. However, when the radical appears as a part of another character, as in
Siuling: 推 (teoi1),
Michael: the appearance slightly changes (扌), as it occupies only a portion of the square. Other examples of radicals that are their own character but appear slightly different when used as radicals include
Siuling: 人 (jan4)
Michael: meaning "human” or “person,"
Siuling: 水 (seoi2)
Michael: meaning "water," and
Siuling: 心 (sam1)
Michael: meaning "heart."
Michael: For more information about radicals, please check out our Chinese Radical Table under free Cantonese Resources.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Siuling: 拜拜! (baai1 baai3!)
Michael: See you soon!

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