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How many characters do you know?

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Go to http://www.winvue.com/ and download the software. You can download a 14-day trial version for free. You can then do a test that will estimate how many characters you know. The test has three levels -- beginner, intermediate and advanced. You can also set the characters to simplified traditional. The test shows you a character and you must enter the correct Hanyu pinyin (use a number for the tone e.g. ling2)

I scored a bit over 500 on the beginner test although I only did about 60 of the 200 characters in the test. I will try the intermediate test later.

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I've calculated that I've studied somewhere upwards of a thousand characters. However, I couldn't correctly tell you the tone for more than a fractions of them, and as I'm working mainly on reading now I'm finding I'm learning the meaning of characters without actually learning the pronunciation - which is just plain stupid.

I'm always a bit dubious about trying to measure your knowledge of Chinese by looking at single characters - I think the knowledge of the words that these characters make up is much more important.


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Roddy, I agree with you. The test only tests one aspect of your character knowledge--pronunciation. The ideal test would assess your knowledge of characters meaning in context (reading comprehension), pronunciation (perhaps giving half points for knowing the sound but not the tone) and the individual meaning of characters. Then you could come up with a score like this:

You know the meaning of XXX characters in context.

You know the pronunciation of YYY characters.

You know the individual meaning of ZZZ characters.

Unfortunately Chinese Language Teaching (CLT) pedagogy remains in the dark ages. The logic of it says that you either know a character or you don't. In reality there are degrees of knowing. But maybe this is a topic for another thread...

Personally I have never spent much time learning to read and write characters. My knowledge of characters is mostly from learning place names, reading street signs and restaurant menus. When I was in Taiwan I taught myself the names of most of the towns and cities in Taiwan and all the roads in Taipei. I can read about 90% af a restaurant menu. Unfortunately I have never applied myself to learning how to read books/newspapers.

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Guest mirela_violeta

I haven't made the test yet, but I'm pretty sure I can recognize more than 3500 characters. The problem is that I forget them all the time, so that I wouldn't be able to remember the same number of characters. Though I learn them with pronunciation at the same time. I guess I've tried learning too many a week, we have to learn about 200 characters a week, so I can recognize more than I can reproduce. The hardest thing though is to speak. At first though I knew the tones I couldn't say them right. This year I've improved my ability to speak quite a lot. At the beginning of the year I wasn't able to speak much, but now I can carry on a conversation just fine, and my chinese teacher who only speaks chinese seems to understand me. But it's still hard to say things as the chinese would say them. I just realised this is about reading and writing and here I am talking about speaking...the problem with reading is that I don't know exactly where to pause. That makes it more difficult to understand for me and for others as well.

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I scored 536 +/-118 on the beginner level and 1000 +/- 301 on the intermediate test, so I guess my intermediate Chinese is better than my beginner's Chinese :lol:

I have alway wondered how many characters I know and while the test is flawed in various ways it is good to get some idea. I have guessed that I can read at least 1,000 characters and this seems to confirm my guess.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Guest ckeone

I agreed with Roddy that you cannot measure what you know by Characters, but more on words (词). And Roddy, learning to read the tone for Chinese character is very important, I think you know very well, a character or word with same spelling sometimes consist of different word and different meaning. 阴阳上去~ C'mon guys, it's only 4 tones, u can get over it!

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Eagerly awaiting my end of year Chinese exam result and praying I knew enough characters then. I think I know around 350 or so which I can pronounce too, so not too long before I can read a newspaper....aghh!!

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

"I'm finding I'm learning the meaning of characters without actually learning the pronunciation" - isn't this the strangest thing about learning Chinese, roddy? Same as you, I don't know how to pronounce a lot of words but this doesn't stop me from understanding their meanings.

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  • 5 years later...

I have noticed there are only a little over 1000 standard Mandarin pronunciations , but there are tens of thousands of characters.

I have also found well-educated native Chinese know only 5000 to 6000 characters.

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Around 7000 are considered to be in common use today. This refers to Mandarin and simplified characters, could be higher for traditional characters and/or dialects like Cantonese.

5000-6000 is considered really good, AFAIK. With 2000 you can survive, and with 3500, you're basically fine for most purposes.

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I use the learning software anki to learn words (written in hanzi).There is an add-on which counts individual hanzi:

Hanzi (simplified) statistics

This deck contains 773 unique Hanzi.

HSK statistics (characters):

HSK Level


Seen %

Basic (甲)

575 of 805


Elementary (乙)

148 of 798


Intermediate (丙)

25 of 589


Advanced (丁)

13 of 669


Most frequent characters:

Freq chars


Seen %

1 - 500

386 of 500


501 - 1000

189 of 500


1001 - 1500

108 of 500


1501 - 2000

51 of 500


2001 - 2500

26 of 500


2501 - 3000

5 of 500


3001 - 3500

1 of 500


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I only know a little over 100 characters at the moment, but I've only been studying for Chinese for about a month. It's hard for me to imagine knowing more than a few hundred! I want to eventually be able to read a newspaper and to get to that level, I use a spaced repetition system for tracking my progress, but that many characters is mind-boggling for a young grasshopper like me. Anki was mentioned earlier in the thread, having just started, is that software worth it, or are there better methods?

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Anki was mentioned earlier in the thread, having just started, is that software worth it, or are there better methods?

It is definitely worth it! Its the best method for retaining a large amount of Hanzi (as far as I know). I use Anki and think its the best SRS software out of the ones I have tried.

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Anki is a good program.

Keep in mind that learning a sufficient number of characters (and "sufficient" will depend on your goals) will probably take years, so don't despair. 100 characters is a good start. As long as you keep making steady progress, you'll do fine. Remember, steady is more important than fast in this case.

It gets easier after 1000 characters, then again easier after 2000. After 3000, it's much easier to learn new characters than to stop forgetting old ones, in my experience :mrgreen:

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