Make a Mind Map for Learning Chinese

It’s been a few years since I last made a mind map, 5 years ago during university to be exact. Though, I do remember it being of use for storing important facts to memory, even if they would be washed away at the student bar shortly after the exam. Interestingly, after learning Chinese for over 4 years, I have not once made a mind map using Chinese characters, until now of course.

Chinese Mind Map

A mind map?

Rather than reinvent the wheel let’s borrow the first paragraph from the Wikipedia article on mind maps, which sums up what a mind map is quite nicely:

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.

Sounds useful! But apart from helping you temporarily store values to memory for an exam, what exactly will we get out of making one with Chinese characters?


Reinforcement is something that is incredibly hard to achieve when learning Chinese, so linking ideas together can help reinforce the relationship between words and ideas and help you to remember words and under what circumstances to use them (see 緊張 -> 發抖 in the image).

Learning new words

In addition to reinforcing the words that you already know, drawing a mind map can also help you to learn new words. You will inevitable follow once path and come to a word that you know in your mother tongue, yet don’t know in Chinese – break out the dictionary and find the meaning for the word you’re hitting a blank on.


This is a great way to organise ideas around a subject that will consequently help you remember related keywords. You could do a mind map of words from the latest chapter of your textbook, or just pick a subject that is of interest to you and see how far you can go. Either way, after mind mapping out a subject you will have a better idea of the words that relate to it and how to structure ideas around the subject.


Slightly different from reinforcement, which is related to learning the meaning of characters, being able to recognise the words involves becoming familiar with them. Which might mean identifying the radicals or constituent parts of the various characters. For instance, while making the mind map in the image I became aware that the character 果 is used in many different words of completely different meanings, and that 冓 is used in both 架構 and 購物. Not that I didn’t know this before, but having the related characters laid out on the paper it’s hard not to see where characters are reused, or how characters are related to each other.

How to make a mind map

Start with one word or phrase in the middle of the page. This could be a new word you have learnt, a word that embodies the main point from an article or book you have read, or even some random word you have found. Begin writing related words that branch out from the original word. The words can be related in many ways, they could be synonyms or antonyms, they could have the same sound as the word, they could have a relation that is personal to you, literally any relation at all that is relevant to you. Each new word that you write will trigger a new relation to a different word that you can then write. Each branch will follow a different idea, category and relation than the other branches.

After you have completed the mind map, go back over it and look at the relations you have created and make notes of any new words that you had to look up. Also note any words that you had trouble writing that you’ll need to spend more time practicing later on.

Make your own

OK! Now you’ve seen my mind map (above), it’s time to make your own! If you make any interesting maps then please post a link in the comments below and I’ll add them to the post!

9 responses to “Make a Mind Map for Learning Chinese

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  2. A semantic map (also called semantic web or word web) looks quite similar to a mind map. The main difference is that a semantic map can contain multiple centers, cycles, arrows, or whatever else is needed to illustrate the connections. A mind map is supposed to organize around a single concept. Mind maps also tend to be more graphical, with drawings and colored lines. The ones Google Images comes up with are downright psychedelic!

  3. Reminds me of that game they play of the TV here in Taiwan. Like, someone says 蘋果, the the next person has to use 果, so like, 果醬, then use 醬, for example 醬油. Whoever can’t think of the next words loses.

    To make the game easier, you can just use words with similar pronunciation instead of the exact hanzi.

    My 8 year old students would 9 times out of 10 demolish me at this!

    1. Haha, stick at it Geoffrey, it gets frustrating at times, I know that all too well. The student bar was in my university years ago, might still be able to sneak in :p

  4. I often try to group flash cards (the paper variety) together in a similar manner;
    Sometimes grouping flashcards together with similar or opposite meanings; all the measure words in one spot or stative verbs…

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