Got to understand the contextTo me a key to learn Chinese (Mandarin) is understanding the context, knowing the background, understand why we say/write this and that, understand where things come from. It's the way I have always been - I (thankfully) never grew out of the "WHY" questions that you ask as a kid; I continue to do it.
(A radical is a building block and this is also where the characters are listed in a dictionary - there has to be some way of sorting even the chinese characters... Many characters can be broken down into radicals. Radicals are rarely used on their own but in the combination they mean something. )
|A sign advertising peanut ice cream|
When it comes to the ice, “bing" － 冰 is is the character for water (shue － 水 ）but the two side lines, on the very left, shows that it is something frosen - and then you get bing. The radical for water is by the way the three lines you see on the character next to "bing" - water on it's own looks like "水" - three streems of water or a river coming together - shue. Water is however one of those things that can stand on its own but also is reflected in many other characters, especially characters that have something to do with some liquid - the three lines on the character after SHUI is the radical for water. When you see these three lines, two pointing up and one down, you can suspect it has to do with some sort of liquid.
See, once you start getting all these little keys it gets easier and easier.