Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

  • Why you should look around

    Since 2003, Chinese-forums.com has been helping people learn Chinese faster and get to China sooner. Our members can recommend beginner textbooks, help you out with obscure classical vocabulary, and tell you where to get the best street food in Xi'an. And we're friendly about it too. 

    Have a look at what's going on, or search for something specific. We hope you'll join us. 
Mekkalomp

mission impossible: 300-400 characters a month?

Recommended Posts

Mekkalomp

I have read a lot of posts on this forum on how to learn Chinese characters and some established people here said that they can learn this kind of amount in a month by serious study. Which in my opinion it is impossible. This mean you can be fluent in Chinese in 1-2 years

If it is possible what and how do you exactly do? I know that we people do not get the same progressive results but still it cant be such great difference. Of course there are some exceptions.

By the way what do you guys mean by serious studying? 40 hours a week like studying full time at college? I know that these college curriculum aim at 1000-1200 characters in a year and they even study abroad!!!

I am now studying new hsk level 1 for two weeks and I have not even master it completely at all. About 50% written and reading in hsk level 1

My current skill is:

hsk level 1-5 90% oral

hsk level 6 only 30-50% in oral

Confused about these kind of posts:

Quote

Is 9 months or so enough time to learn probably around 400 - 500 characters?

Absolutely. If you're serious, it shouldn't take you longer than a month.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Shelley

This kind of question gets asked pretty regularly on this forum in some form or other.

I would say trying to do that many in one month may be possible but you may suffer from burnout and become completely fed up with it.

Unless you have some very good reason for learning this much per month, I would say slow down, take time to savour the chinese language and really learn the characters.

It is different for everyone as to how fast and how much you can/want to learn.

As to studing seriously, I study about 2 hours or so a day and have done that for about the last 25 years and i am still learning and practicing, you might say I should be very good but I am only doing it for pleasure and so i don't push myself to accomplish any set amount of characters, lessons or exams in any time frame, but I consider myself to be studting seriously because i do put time and effort in to it.

What i think you mean is what is considered working hard and I would consider that to be going to China and living there for a few years and attending classes, university and other things. Complete immersion.

Any structured learning 40 hours a week would also count IMHO. With at least 2 hours a day homework, watching chinese films, tv etc.

If i understand correctly you have only done 2 weeks studying, if this is true, your question is a bit like starting out on a journey of 10,000 miles and after the first 2 miles asking "Are we there yet" :)

One thing you will learn is that learning chinese takes time and hard work. But it is worth it, so keep at it.

Good luck.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Strael

Well, I've always been pretty amazed at the pace that some people go at. If someone had a reason to learn the characters I'd be shocked if they did anything less than 300 characters a month. To each their own, but 10 a day is a slow pace, if you're not motivated I could see someone doing that amount or less. However, if you're serious about it I would expect ~1k per month.

I was at first in the line of thinking that it'd be impossible to learn anything near 1k a month. I had been working so hard on characters and that just seemed impossible. I felt like the fat guy comparing himself to marathon runners, it was soul crushing trying to wrap my head around how these people do this. I figured what the hell why can't I?

I'm on day 51 today and currently at 2145 characters with another 50 to go today. If you do the math you'll realize that I don't have discipline of steel and got distracted a few times. I'm about 350 short as if I don't do it in the morning I get distracted and never get around to it. It's not that it's hard, I'm just lazy, it takes 30 minutes to 1.5 hours depending how focused I am that day. This isn't all in one go, I do it in 5-8 minute bursts and go through 60-80. When I get to the new cards of the day, it is of course at a slower pace.

I should point out that the only characters I knew before I started were the ones in New Practical Chinese Reader 1 up until lesson 10. I haven't counted them, but I think it's safe to assume that's under 300. I knew how to write those characters, but I haven't kept up. I decided to not force myself to go over how to write, because to be honest I haven't had a need to write yet. I learn the tone, meaning, pinyin, and how to read the character. If I had to learn to write I have no idea how long that would take me. If I ever stop someone needing help because I'm lost or something and they don't understand me I type it on my phone, I don't have paper nor pencils on me.

I also wouldn't say that what I'm learning is passive knowledge. I make up sentences all the time and try them out. I can recall near anything I've learned and use it in a conversation. Reading characters is no problem if I've studied them before. Of course, if I was asked to write out a sentence on paper I'd have a hell of a time. I'd probably mess it up and make a very difficult if not impossible sentence to read. My speaking is of course still pretty bad, but as I'm working on sentence structure I'm able to express myself and what I see a lot easier. It has been near 4 months since I started learning Mandarin.

I'm not magical either, nor am I that interested in Mandarin or have the motivation to go crazy with studying. I'm quite proficient in procrastinating and I keep telling myself I'll study more next week. I'd say at most I'm studying 15 hours a week. My memory is terrible and I don't have a knack for languages. I failed Spanish in high school and could induce a cringe on the teacher with my attempt at speaking. I'm doing much better with Mandarin, if I wasn't in China I wouldn't be studying at all or have given up. Living in China has only caused me to continue studying, it's not necessary. I mean if you can then that's great, but everything I've done I could have done anywhere in the world with an internet connection and some motivation to keep at it.

Just try learning the characters at a brisker pace. It'll feel really weird and the next day you'll beat yourself up a bit as you can't recognize 60% of them. If you're anything like me you're going to question yourself if you're actually learning these things or just wasting your time. If you keep going you'll realize how fast you're learning. I've gotten a lot better and recognize 80% of yesterdays new words. The remaining % I pick up really fast as I already "kinda" remember them.

I use Anki with a just over 5k HSK list of words. I'm not learning sentences and I'm sure this will bother a lot of people as I should be learning them in context. I just couldn't care less, I'd have to find a new deck and actually think about it again. I'm in my happy comfortable rut and I'll stay here until I've plowed through all 5k. All the more power to you if you can find a good sentence deck and make use of it or create your own. I skipped NPCR 2 and am also nearing the end of NPCR 3 and have 4 lined up for myself. I rarely come across new words and only really use the book because it makes me feel like I'm actually doing something.

I don't feel like I'm a good source to answer your question about serious study. Those guys are insane and have my complete admiration if they can truck along at 40 hours a week. If it's a college course it's probably more of just sitting in class and doing busy work assignments, no idea how viable or amazing those are. If they only work on ~1k characters a year I don't know.. I'd assume that their focus isn't characters then and is speaking not so much reading. If it is characters and reading then I hope that they know them damn well and can recite them in the order that they learned them and tell me the history of how the character came to be or something amusing like that. A year is a long time.. what else could you possibly do with that amount of characters? If they're reading it would be mind numbing drivel that utilizes so few characters, I would probably fail that course because I couldn't will myself out of bed to go to class.

Unfortunately I also can not really speak about the HSK. I don't have any plan to take it and know very little about it. I like their word list though, that's been helpful.

If you're not as lazy as me or actually have a reason to learn Mandarin other than my "meh, I'll give it a shot just because it exists", I wouldn't be surprised if you could know near double what I know in the period of time I've been working on it. If you have difficulty with motivation then consider why you started learning Chinese. If it's just for fun then there's no rush especially if you enjoy studying it. If there is someone or a reason breathing down your neck then motivation is probably the least of your concern and you'll be on your way without a hitch. Now, if you're learning it just because, you'll need motivation and a lot of it if you don't enjoy studying.

Best of luck.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
AdamD

I tend to sprint-learn hundreds of characters over a few weeks, then slow to a trickle (20–30 characters per week) for another few weeks/months while it all sinks in. That gives me time to shift it all into long-term memory and get the feel of grammatical contexts. It works well.

Mekkalomp, at your level you don't want to beat yourself up. It's hard going. When you really start to develop reading abilities, your progress will gradually pick up momentum. Right now, just focus on the HSK level 1 word list, and go at a speed that works for you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
nawor

I have learnt over 600 characters in one month doing 60-90 hours of SRS. That wasn't difficult but remembering them three months later was difficult.

After learning so many characters at once I had over 1 hour a day of just reviews. After about a month I got bored of doing the reviews and forgot many characters.

I learnt my lesson, It's better to go slower. It will take a few months of reviews for the characters get into your long term memory.

Additionally, to have context behind the characters/words you are learning you will need to spend considerably more time reading/speaking/etc than the time you spend just learning characters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Olle Linge

I have done several learn-as-much-as-I-can-in-a-short-time experiments. It's possible to learn awful lot of words/characters/idioms quickly. The problem is, as nawor points out, that after you've learnt 1000 something, you need to review that. I once learnt around 2500 words in five days just to see if it was possible. It was, but I had so much reviewing to do after that that I almost collapsed. The thing is, you might feel very motivated now to learn very fast, but will you feel as motivated in a month? If not, you will lose what you've learnt and the effort is wasted.

If there's anything I've learnt about vocabulary, it's that the average acquisition of characters is what matters. It doesn't mean anything to cram in several thousands words in a short time. What matters is how many words you learnt this YEAR. Now, one way of raising that number is of course to add lots of words quickly, but it's far better to add steady stream of new words. I'd much rather do 100 new words per week than 2600 words once in February and once in August.

So, to answer your question. It's defenitiely possible. I doubt that it's the best way, though.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
creamyhorror
I have read a lot of posts on this forum on how to learn Chinese characters and some established people here said that they can learn this kind of amount in a month by serious study. Which in my opinion it is impossible. This mean you can be fluent in Chinese in 1-2 years

Not really. Learning individual characters is only giving yourself a base to learn the language proper. You may know thousands of characters, but you still won't be able to read or have a conversation without learning words, grammar and phrases. (Words are not the same as characters.)

The biggest problem, as the previous posters have stated, is maintaining and solidifying your grasp of characters. It's a very challenging task if you do so many characters so quickly. If you fail to keep up, you'll end up forgetting most of them. And that why you should stay in school, kids. :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
edelweis

I'd guess people who learn 400 characters a month are very much in the minority.

Perhaps an admin can add a poll to this thread (or another thread). Probably it has been done before...

Personally I'm interested in questions such as:

What amount of characters are you learning this month? (if not actively learning anymore, estimate an average month from your study years)

Single choice

* 30 / month (1/day) or less

* 60 / month (2/day) or less

* 90 / month (3/day) or less

* 120 / month (4/day) or less

* 150 / month (5/day) or less

* 180 / month (6/day) or less

* 240 / month (8/day) or less

* 300 / month (10/day) or less

* more than 300 / month (more than 10/day)

If you can/could study Chinese (not only characters, or only characters, according to your preferred learning method) full-time, what do you know or imagine would be a sustainable pace for you?

Same as above

When learning a character, what do you learn (or attempt to retain)?

multiple choice:

* one reading (pinyin)

* all readings (pinyin)

* one meaning

* all meanings

* both traditional and simplified forms

* only the simplified form

* only the traditional form

* words which contain this character

If you had to restart learning Chinese from scratch, which would you chose?

single choice

* learn say 2000 characters first before learning any grammar, conversation etc.

* keep a sustainable pace while keeping roughly balanced skills (i.e. learning conversation, grammar, listening, reading, etc together with characters)

* learn to speak fluently first, characters and reading only later.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
laurenth

I would definitely go for "keep a sustainable pace while keeping roughly balanced skills".

Almost 1 year ago, I tried a method similar to that suggested by the OP. I wanted to achieve a "quantum leap" in my reading ability by cramming lots of characters over a short period. My objective was: leap from 1100 chars to 2000 in two months. That's 15 chars/day. I wanted to know the main meaning(s) + the main pronunciation(s). Just recognition, no active output.

I could sustain the effort for two months - just barely (that's on top of a normal life with an 8 hour/day job, a family and 3 kids). Of course, as several people noted, the first pass of cramming is only just the beginning. A piece of cake. It's harder afterwards, when you have to *digest* that fatty piece of cake.

Your SRS will throw hundreds of reviews at you. Daily. You will spend too much time reviewing the same chars, over and over, and not doing anything funny with your Chinese.

Did my Chinese improve after that experiment? The stats computed by Anki are somewhat depressing. I'm supposed to "know" ("mature cards") about 1500 characters. There are also about 150 "young" cards. No less than 500 cards are suspended as leeches. I "only" learnt 500-400 chars in 10 months. Not even 2/day. Now I'm fairly confident that many leeches, could be considered as "somewhat" known (I often know the meaning, but not the pronunciation).

More importantly, I've started reading interesting Chinese literature. Maybe that would not have been possible without the initial "hop" (a far cry from a "leap") in my knowledge of characters.

I did learn a lot about my preferred learning style and methods. I now try to avoid learning characters in isolation. I used several methods for memorization (writing char repeatedly, inventing mnemonics, visualising parts, using colours...) they all worked, somewhat, but none of them was a silver bullet in my case. I tend to choose a method according to the problem at hand.

Conclusion: in my experience, there is no shortcut. So Take your time, try not to think too much about a definite objective (being "fluent" - WTF is that anyway?) and enjoy the process.

So, if I had to start over again, I'd do, what, 3 chars a day. Maybe even 2. Not more. Not less. 3 chars / day and you will know everything you need in less than 3 years while enjoying life and other aspects of learning Chinese in the process.

PS:

OP says "learn Chinese characters … you can be fluent in Chinese in 1-2 years". These are two vastly different things. Knowing characters will not make you fluent (whatever that means).

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mekkalomp
OP says "learn Chinese characters … you can be fluent in Chinese in 1-2 years". These are two vastly different things. Knowing characters will not make you fluent (whatever that means).
Yes: the myth that [ recognising characters = fluency ] needs to be smashed!

By learning I mean mastering a character. So you can write, pronounce, read and utilize the character at any time.

BTW I would be very happy if I averaged 2 words/day. That means 60 characters a month. About 720 characters a year. At start I might even progress more because the characters are easier and more common.

If i understand correctly you have only done 2 weeks studying, if this is true, your question is a bit like starting out on a journey of 10,000 miles and after the first 2 miles asking "Are we there yet" :)

In the past I have studied 1 year at a Chinese school. So I do recognize some words in HSK(about 30%). And my listening level is about hsk 5 to low hsk 6.

Not really. Learning individual characters is only giving yourself a base to learn the language proper. You may know thousands of characters, but you still won't be able to read or have a conversation without learning words, grammar and phrases. (Words are not the same as characters.)

The HSK list teaches words. And by characters I mean words, sorry.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
edelweis
And by characters I mean words, sorry.

ok... so your first post and those quotes you found in other threads are mismatched... because when other people write character they mean character.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mekkalomp

How am I mismatching quotes? Only onto quote from another topic. I think most people learn from hsk list. So they learn words and the character!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
realmayo

So: when you say "300-400 characters a month" do you mean:

a) 300-400 characters

b) 300-400 characters plus all the words in the HSK list that use these characters?

Anyway, you already speak reasonably good Chinese right? So: your experiences with learning the characters will be different to many, but certainly not all, people here. EDIT: which is of course no reason not to ask for advice here, but suggests that sometimes where you've seen this topic discussed elsewhere it mightn't be completely relevant to your situation.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mekkalomp
So: when you say "300-400 characters a month" do you mean:

a) 300-400 characters

b) 300-400 characters plus all the words in the HSK list that use these characters?

I just follow the HSK list so its B. And no I have not mastered 300-400 characters in 1 month.

In the end it doesnt really matter. :) Words can be just 1 character. So 300 characters can be 300 words. It even can be less or more.

Its not about this particular number I am questioning but I am just imagining how some of you are able to manage 1k(!) characters a month?!! Look at Strael post number 3 in this topic.

I'm on day 51 today and currently at 2145 characters with another 50 to go today.

There are many users on this forum claiming to have mastered high volume vocab in very short time.

Are they exaggerating ? Or am I just jealous ? :)

Anyway, you already speak reasonably good Chinese right? So: your experiences with learning the characters will be different to many, but certainly not all, people here.

Yes. So it should be easier for me but I progressive less than most absolute beginners.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
realmayo
Look at Strael post number 3 in this topic

You can safely ignore Strael for now. If he comes back in six months and can remember most of what he's learning at the moment, and is glad that he took the learning route that he took, then it's time to start thinking a bit more seriously about his approach. But he's only been studying like this for 50 days!

Words can be just 1 character

Although this is of course true, I have to disagree with your wider point that talking about learning characters and talking about learning vocab are the same thing. This is because learning a word which has two characters, both of which you already know, is easier than learning a word which has two characters, neither of which you know.

So: normally, when people talk about learning characters, they're not talking about learning the associated vocabulary (i.e. the two-character, three-character words that are made up of the characters they've learned).

There are many users on this forum claiming to have mastered high volume vocab in very short time.

Are they exaggerating ? Or am I just jealous ?

For most people here talking about vocab, they are talking about words which they completely didn't know beforehand: I mean, they had never heard the word, didn't know the pronunciation, didn't know how to write it. But if you already know some Chinese, in many cases you'll know the word and the pronunciation and the usage, you just won't know how it's written.

Either way, I don't remember many people claiming to have mastered a high volume of vocab in a short time. So stop worrying! I've never regretted the times when I've gone at a slow, steady, consistent pace. I have always regretted the times when I overdid it, learned too many character too quickly, and realised a month or two later that I had forgotten too many of them.

Out of interest, when you're looking through the HSK lists, are you looking at all levels 1-6? And if so, roughly what % of words do you already know (I mean, do you already understand, even if you can't read or write them)?

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mekkalomp

@realmayo

Out of interest, when you're looking through the HSK lists, are you looking at all levels 1-6? And if so, roughly what % of words do you already know (I mean, do you already understand, even if you can't read or write them)?

Well I just checked at all the words in the new hk list and it seems I know 98% of the words from level 1 too 4 and about 80% of level 5. Last level about 30% or more.

But when learning words I have not learned all the charcters in one word yet. For example the characters 电视 combined I know it means television but when it is seperate I only know 电 is electricity and for 视 I have no idea. It might be yes or the first charcter in the word master or anything else.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WestTexas

10 characters a day is nothing. When I first moved to China I did 20/day M-F, Saturday off, Sunday review. This was before I started using SRS. Every few weeks I'd review everything from the past few weeks.

You can do 10 characters a day in SRS with little difficulty. If you have one card for pronunciation and one for meaning, you're doing 20 new cards a day, which is totally doable. You will eventually have somewhere between 150-200 reviews per day, depending on how good your memory is, and that shouldn't take more than half an hour.

Oh, I don't write, as it's kind of an obsolete skill, but if you write it will take 2-3 times as long. Which is still less than 2 hours a day, and totally doable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Strael
There are many users on this forum claiming to have mastered high volume vocab in very short time.

Are they exaggerating ? Or am I just jealous ? :)

If you're asking if I'm just making up a number, then no. I've finished my reviews and new words today, I'm currently at 1493 mature cards, 752 young cards, and 2808 new cards in my anki deck. There are still over 700 cards that I have yet to see many times, but I don't lack much confidence in them. My deck has a total of 79.8 hours put into it. You could say "that's just over 1.5 hours!" but I'm not always distraction free while doing these things. I have studying countless times in the middle of a movie, on the subway, anywhere. I have sat for over 3 or so minutes on a single card that I could answer in 2 seconds because someone starts speaking to me. So take it at worst though, it takes me ~1.5 hours to do my stuff.

However, if you're speaking about "mastery" over the words, then that's subjective. I'll give my interpretation of that, if I can read it, know the tone, the meaning, and have the ability to use it on command I consider that "mastered". You'll notice I can't write, and I also don't know if I'm using it properly when I speak. I get corrected all the time while speaking, but mainly over grammar or pronunciation not incorrect word usage.

However, Realmayo is right, take what I say with a grain of salt. I'm new as hell at this thing and language learning in general, I probably shouldn't have even said a thing in this thread. I was giving my opinion about what I saw and experienced. I wish that someone had have told me to just go at it guns blazing because it's not as scary as people make it out to be. I still feel like I was deceived, reading and learning words isn't bad, you just have to do it every day. I'm having a hell of a time with tones on the other hand and if you can speak pretty well it appears that you're doing much better than I.

At the end of the day, I think you should go at whatever pace you think is best. If you're feeling adventurous try going fast for a week and see if you can remember anything. Worst case you can rest easy knowing that I must be full of it.

If you're interested I'll let you know come 6 months time how I'm faring and if the words have just gotten up and left my mind.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
realmayo

20 a day, so, 100 a week, so, you learned 3000 in 30 weeks? Or did you keep going for a whole year and get to 5000!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...