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Learn Chinese in China

How did you get to 3000 characters?


3000 characters  

24 members have voted

  1. 1. Did you basically learn a small number of new characters every day for 2-3 years?

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People talk a lot about diminishing returns as you learn more and more characters/words but what they never mention is that once you're at that level in a language, you will be reading those lower frequency words at such a high speed that they don't really matter as much. By that I mean that if you are reading a page of 500-600 characters, those HSK1-5 words that you know by heart which cover 60%-70% of the text (or whatever) will only take up 20%-30% of the reading time. The remaining 70%-80% of the time will go into dealing with the low percenters - time spent wracking your brains, re-reading, guessing, looking up the word, etc.

 I read native materials pretty smoothly, I have grown tired of looking up new words, because since it's a long time before I see them again I forget them in the meantime. 90% of the time I feel like I can guess from context anyway, but yeah 2000 is probably not enough to breeze through a novel or magazine article, but you can do quite a lot with that. I just feel like it's a less formidable goal than 3000. I just very naturally accumulated 3000+ by reading over the years.  I didn't do it ahead of time to prepare myself to read. 

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I think there's a big difference between a native speaker (or someone immersed in the language) and a non-native reading native materials in their home country. I think a lot of vocabulary learning happens like this: you hear the word in conversation (or audio material), and gradually start to use it in speech. Then, at some point, you run across it on the page. Up in the 2000-3000 range, the vast majority of characters are phonetic-semantic compounds, so between the context in which you see it, and the phonetic and semantic clues, you're able to match the word you're looking at with the one that you know by sound. Maybe you already know one of the characters, and it's just the other one you're learning. Presto, your known character count bumps up, and you're not even especially conscious of making any effort.

But that massive amount of listening and speaking is crucial, and if you're not immersed, just ploughing through novels in your spare time, you're going to have to learn things the hard way.

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