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How do you keep track of the number of characters you know?


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I've never kept track. The number of characters you know is only helpful in the beginning when your focus is mostly on learning vocabulary. At the intermediate, advanced levels and beyond, actually knowing how to use the characters you know is of greater importance than the character count.


I am almost native-level in Chinese.

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Agree with @yueni. No merit badges are awarded for specific word levels and worrying too much about them leads to a distortion of focus. What really matters is ability to communicate, to converse with your friends or with strangers out on the street, to read native material, to watch Chinese TV, to be able to buy stuff in a store, to order a meal in a restaurant. Ah yes, especially the latter. (I admit that is a personal bias.)



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So I agree with the idea that attention to characters is a distortion of focus the more advanced you get... But I happen to really be in love with Chinese characters themselves :lol: I remember literally reading my Chinese dictionary for fun on the bus home from school. The more 生僻 the better. Omg, even characters that are only used in dialects. It's gotten bad, to the point where I know the pronunciation and meaning of the weirdest characters without necessarily knowing how to use them (many of them aren't even in use anymore).


So yes, I think I know around 6,000 characters (there was some flashcard-ish app I used to test myself), but that isn't really an indication of how fluent I am orally.


It's a good icebreaker though.

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Another "Me too!" here.


As said, you know what you need to know. Or use a dictionary. Or maybe even just skip over it.


And on the fringes there are a lot of characters you sort of know, especially in context, but not too firmly. Then there are the characters you certainly know. Until one day you spot one in a dictionary and realize you've been reading it wrong for years.


So how can anyone really quantify the inventory in their character warehouse.

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In the good old days when I was actively (or anal retentively) studying characters, I would spend 15' per day "learning characters", in character frequency order. I would learn the pinyin and meaning, hand write the character a few times, practice the wubi code, look up words that use those characters, review characters learned in the previous days etc.

So I had an indication of the number of characters I had "learned" this way. (I think I kept it up until about 2100 characters or so).


At random intervals I would test myself to get a number of characters I knew as opposed to number of characters I had learned (and a list of failed characters for review). I would still use the character frequency list to do this. Of course it wasn't exactly accurate - some characters that I had learned by other means (textbook or reading) were of lower frequency that the point I had reached in the frequency list.

It can get very time consuming to test yourself exhaustively, sometimes I used an online estimator that tests only a few characters in each frequency band (Chinese to Pinyin + English only) and estimates the total number of characters you know. I haven't tried it in a while, maybe it's this link or a similar one: http://www.zhtoolkit.com/apps/wordtest/


If you're not interested in learning characters in frequency order, I guess you could keep track of the characters you have learned in some other way.

For instance build an SRS deck with each character as you encounter it. You can use it for practice/review, or just for keeping track of the total number of character studied and testing your knowledge.

If your SRS program has a "test in random order" mode (meaning each card is presented only once and you get a tally of pass/fail) you can test yourself (again, either exhaustively or just stop when you're bored and estimate the amount of characters you "know" from your pass/fail rate multiplied by the total number of cards).

If your SRS program only has a "drill in random order" mode, you'd have to keep track of pass/fail using a pen and paper as you mark each card "passed" in the program (so that you don't see it again).

Of course the same could be achieved with physical flash cards.

And you may also want to test writing characters.


In any case: it's useful to have a few words that contain the character on the backside of the card.

But if you want to test your knowledge of writing the character, the backside should not contain the character itself.

So use a blank "_" instead when you create the card. Like in HSK3 tests, bai2 + "明_" as a prompt for 白.

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First off, words known, not characters, is the useful measure. But anyway:


Count them.


It depends on how you're learning. If you're using textbooks they might say how many characters are covered. If not, it's not actually that much effort to go through and tot them up, and it's a potentially useful exercise anyway (oooh, I'd forgotten that one.... hang on, didn't I see that yesterday... HA! that's the one I couldn't remember). If you're making use of vocab lists, same principle applies. If you're free-styling it and making your way through whatever random resources you've chosen, I'd argue it's important to keep track of vocab items somehow - written notes, a flashcard app - and again, you can tot them up.


It might sound daunting, but even if it takes you an average of 15 seconds per character and we assume 3,000 characters to keep track of, that's 12 hours - spread over the entire course of your Chinese learning career. In context, it's trivial.


I admire those who don't need to keep count. I'm not one of them.* Quantification means you can keep track of the size of the overall task and your progress through it. This textbook looks terrifying, I'll never finish it. Oh, but at 10 new words a day, it's only three months work. This past paper is impossible - although, I do already know a quarter of the vocab. 


You can't divide your tasks into manageable chunks if your tasks are one large amorphous uncounted lump.


Don't, however, become preoccupied with how many words you know, and definitely not how many characters. Learning how to use 爸 is a very different proposition to learning how to use 把, and all the vocab in the world won't help you understand a rapid-fire train station announcement.


*I will sometimes, when starting a new book, look at the total number of pages, work out how many I can read in a nightly hour, then work out how many days it'll take me to finish the book. I feel this shows the book who's boss.

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