Chinese characters, or hànzi, are pictoral representations of words. Each character represents both a sound and a meaning. To be able to read modern Chinese texts, you'll need to be able to recognize between four and five thousand characters. This will give you a good foundation for learning new characters and increasing your vocabulary. Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world for English speakers to learn, especially as it does not use letters to build its words.

Learn to recognize the different parts of each character, which stand for abstract concepts or tangible objects. Create mental pictures of what the components represent to help you remember them when you see them in new characters.

Learn how to properly write the various components of characters, formed by strokes. There are several resources available to learn how to write Chinese characters, including websites with free material such as that found at www.chineselearner.com/writing or http://sonicnovel.com/kanji.html. You can also watch animated lessons on how to form Chinese characters on YouTube. Search for "learn Chinese characters" or "learn Chinese writing."

Join an online language exchange such as ITalki or My Language Exchange, where you can meet with a Chinese speaker online by exchanging voice/chat lessons in Chinese. You will teach your conversation partner English in your exchanges, too. Exchange e-mails or chat in Chinese so that you can improve your reading and writing abilities in Chinese. Ask your language partner to correct your writing. You can scan in pictures of your handwriting in Chinese and e-mail them to your language partner. If you have a friend who is fluent in Chinese, ask the same of him or her.

Also read Chinese news online as much as possible. Several newspapers are available through http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/china.htm.