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JimmySeal

How many characters is enough?

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DrZero

"Perhaps the more interesting question is how many characters does it take to understand the radio news in real time."

This is not to sound flip, but it actually doesn't take ANY characters. To back up your earlier point, people don't speak in characters, they speak in words -- which is a drawback of a study approach that is character-centric. Illiterate Chinese people can most likely understand radio news. At the end of the day, Chinese is a language like any other, and should be studied as such. It just happens to have a weird writing system.

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furyou_gaijin
Clearly, I had way, way over emphasized the role that individual character recognition plays in the reading process. <...> On the other hand, I think that the solid foundation that I built in characters did serve me well once I adjusted my learning strategy.

Very true. And I am very aware of this through my previous experience with Japanese. Hence I've specifically mentioned that I pay a lot of attention to bisyllabics and chengyu, and do research on the web into the actual usage. Reading is by far my biggest priority so the process is adjusted to that. Listening and speaking are 'nice to have' and hence are subordinated to reading: I cannot imagine saying something that I cannot read or write down. The same goes for listening: I am one of those people that sort of 'visualise' characters as they hear the speech. This is just a matter of personal preference, by the way.

However, those 4 or 5 characters I can perfectly pronounce, and use in a variety of grammatical situations. I just don't see any point in vacant, brute memorization. <...> I was under the impression that you guys were actually LEARNING the characters. But you're just committing an image to memory.

Let's see... the process I've outlined covers:

- 'perfectly pronouncing', i.e., the syllable and the correct tone

- visual recognition

- ability to write it from memory

- understanding the concept expressed by the character (I hate to use the word 'translation')

- awareness of its usage in most common words and chengyu - through the ample examples given in the book (up to 60-80 examples in some cases) and additional research

So what aspect is still missing before the above can be qualified as 'Learning'? And which situations exactly can be called 'grammatical'?

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david1978

I looked up Stuart Jay Ray on Youtube. Nothing comes up.

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furyou_gaijin
Illiterate Chinese people can most likely understand radio news.

Actually, it's a good question whether they can or not. I'm not so sure. Japanese news on television rely on massive amounts of written text that appears on the screen together with the speech: it would still be possible to understand the speech due to a lot of context yet the written captions make understanding more 'comfortable', so to speak. But than again, that country is highly litterate.

I believe that Chinese has an even greater issue with homonyms than Japanese: it would be interesting to take a reasonably complicated broadcast that deals with politics or economy and check how much of it is accessible to an under-educated native speaker of Chinese - on the purely linguistic level, that is...

Moi, politically correct?!.. That'll be the day... :roll:

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david1978

Fascinating stuff. I'll checkout the book you mentioned and get back to you, but a preliminary goggle search shows it's out of print. :cry:

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JimmySeal

As furyou_gaijin points out, there is probably a lot of radio that illiterate people can't understand, because illiterate people tend to have small vocabularies. At some point it becomes hard to pick up new words if you can't read.

David and wushijiao, I feel that both of you subscribe to old-fashioned attitudes on language learning and that is why you feel that my approach will not work (I know wushijiao did not specifically refer to me, but said that character-based learning is not enough).

It is my contention that with enough reading and listening practice, a person can learn a language without ever touching a dictionary. However, since I cannot pronounce Chinese characters merely by looking at them, the way I could in many other languages, I have no choice but to memorize their pronunciations one at a time. This also allows me to read Chinese subtitles on DVDs with mandarin audio tracks, so that I can more easily decipher my aural input (essentially like watching a movie with a script in hand).

So what I am doing right now is really just the lengthy process of learning to pronounce an "alphabet" with ~6000 "letters." If I were learning any language with a simple phonetic script, I would be done with this part of the process in a week, and would from then on spend all my study time reading, watching, and listening. And I am already reading, watching, and listening in Chinese, and understanding a lot of it, but it will still be a while before I can pronounce most of the characters, and understand most of what I encounter.

For more on the reason I believe this is possible, I refer you to the following page:

Vocabulary Learning 2

which refers back to the following page, yet can be read independently of it

Vocabulary Learning 1

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Mugi

furyou_gaijin, perhaps you could post here again the next time you use, or indeed ever read, any of the following characters you have gone to the effort of memorizing: 騅, 雈, 隹, 醮, 蟭, 潐, 膲, 僬, 燋, 趭, 噍. If you speak 閩南語, you might come across 燋. And if you are studying classical Chinese or some specialty subject (ornithology, Taoism), then I'm sure you'll come across some of these characters, but other than that they're obsolete. I assume you also go to the trouble of learning obscure, obsolete, archaic and highly specialized words in English too...:wink:

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furyou_gaijin
furyou_gaijin, perhaps you could post here again the next time you use, or indeed ever read, any of the following characters you have gone to the effort of memorizing: 騅, 雈, 隹, 醮, 蟭, 潐, 膲, 僬, 燋, 趭, 噍. If you speak 閩南語, you might come across 燋. And if you are studying classical Chinese or some specialty subject (ornithology, Taoism), then I'm sure you'll come across some of these characters, but other than that they're obsolete. I assume you also go to the trouble of learning obscure, obsolete, archaic and highly specialized words in English too...

I'm truly touched that you have dug up this old post but I have to disappoint you - I haven't learnt any of the above characters, they were examples chosen to illustrate the general approach, chosen in haste and without consideration for their meaning/frequency.

En outre, I am more interested in classical Chinese than in modern-day speech, for reasons far too irrelevant to this thread.

And I will gladly learn any obscure or obsolete word in English if I happen to encounter it... But I'm unlikely to go to the trouble you've put yourself through by looking up whole lists of them... :roll:

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heifeng

here's the answer: when you can throw away your dictionary and you don't miss it...

are we there yet?:mrgreen:

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Mikael

A bit related to this topic. I've read that the New Practical Chinese Reader you only learn 2400 words and over 1200 characters after finishing the first 4 books. I got the impression it's one book per semester. The most widely used book in US (or so I'm told) is Integrated Chinese where you also learnt 1300 characters after two years. This seems to be a very low amount, not remotely close to what you would need to actually read a book in Chinese without having to look up a lot of words/characters. So are they at least passively learning a lot more than what these books covers since they (I assume) read real Chinese texts with the dictionary or are people after two full years of University studies (ok not all is language learning but still) not able to read Chinese newspaper without a lot of difficulty?

I've read that here in Sweden they are expected to know 2000 characters after 2 years and 3000 after 3 which seems a bit more reasonable. I have no intention to study Chinese at a University, just curious.

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gato
The most widely used book in US (or so I'm told) is Integrated Chinese where you also learnt 1300 characters after two years. So are they at least passively learning a lot more than what these books covers

Most people using these books probably learn less than what these books cover because they might not read everything and they forget what they read.

since they (I assume) read real Chinese texts with the dictionary or are people after two full years of University studies (ok not all is language learning but still) not able to read Chinese newspaper without a lot of difficulty?

Many people cannot read a Chinese newspaper without great difficulty after getting a four-year B.A. in Chinese in a western university, let alone after just two years.

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Mugi
But I'm unlikely to go to the trouble you've put yourself through by looking up whole lists of them

Trouble? Yes, all of 5 seconds worth on Google. Lists? 1.

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trien27

furyou_gaijin:

Heisig's method isn't good, but Cracking the Chinese puzzle isn't much better: It teaches you how to write characters with a similar semantic part, but does it teach you the pronunciation or other information? Why do you need 5 volumes of work to teach you a language. I believe that's too much for a beginner. 誰, 焦, 錐, 椎,騅, 雈, 鵻, 隹, 蕉, 醮, 蟭, 礁, 潐, 膲, 僬, 燋, 趭, 蘸, 噍 and 瞧.

Since all of them have varying degrees of similarities, you might be confused by using 隹 or 焦 as "primitives"? They might or might not be the same pronunciation as the two characters used as "primitives"

Example:誰[shei2 or shuei2] sounds like neither 焦[jiao1] or 隹 [zhui1]

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yonglin
I've read that here in Sweden they are expected to know 2000 characters after 2 years and 3000 after 3 which seems a bit more reasonable. I have no intention to study Chinese at a University, just curious.

As far as I'm aware, you usually take one subject at a time at a Swedish university.

At an American university, you usually take five different courses simultaneously. Thus, you are supposed to complete 4 volumes of NPCR using 1/5 of the time you put in your studies during two years, i.e., in a little less than one semester had you been studying Chinese full-time. I think that this seems quite reasonable, although I know that many universities do not teach at this pace.

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roddy
Why do you need 5 volumes of work to teach you a language. I believe that's too much for a beginner

Presumably the idea is that by the fifth book, you aren't a beginner any more? :conf

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flameproof
Heisig's method isn't good,

Why his method isn't good? I think his his method is really good and the only way you can really learn large amounts of characters fast - and actually remember them. What he tries to teach is a advance brain memorization method - similar to the method people us to remember the first 1000 or so digits of Pi.

But you can argue that his method doesn't really get clear from his book - but the method as such is perfectly working and very powerful. One part of it is, that it's actually for Kanji. Another part is, that you should get the idea and make your own stories around characters. Own stories work better then other people stories.

"Learning Chinese Characters" also uses brain programming methods, is for Hanzi, and incorporates the sound and tone in the story. I believe that learners with high learning efficiency have always used such methods. If you learn and don't remember, there's your key.

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leosmith
Since all of them have varying degrees of similarities, you might be confused by using 隹 or 焦 as "primitives"?

How? If you were familiar with either book, you'd know that it would be just about impossible to confuse them.

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