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Jan Finster

Learning vocabulary after knowing 3000-4000 characters

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Jan Finster

For beginners or intermediates the seemingly endless number of new characters makes learning vocabulary quite challenging: new characters, new tone-pinyin combination, new meaning....  

 

I wonder how much easier vocabulary acquisition gets once you solidly know 3000-4000 characters. 

I would imagine it must get much easier since you only need to combine existing characters and more often than not you probably can guess the meaning of the word from the combination of the 2 characters (?)

 

  

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somethingfunny

Depends what you mean by “learn”.  The problem is that frequency of use is going to plummet so opportunities for retrieval will be significantly reduced, making it harder to remember when you actually need to use it.

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Jan Finster
4 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

 The problem is that frequency of use is going to plummet so opportunities for retrieval will be significantly reduced, making it harder to remember when you actually need to use it.

 

Sure, but to me this is a problem with any language. Words that are less frequently used are harder to remember in any language.

I guess I wonder if once you know 3000-4000 characters, then learning Chinese becomes as easy or as hard as any other language (?)

Edited by Jan Finster
grammar

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Weyland

Learning Chinese by first learning 4000 of the most common characters is probably a lot more difficult than going about it the traditional way. Even the Putonghua Shuiping Ceshi, which tests 18,000 words only has 3500 characters it tests. Plus within those 18,000 words are only a very limited amount of idioms.

You can learn characters all you'd like, but if you don't learn them in context together with the words they're used for, well how are you ever going to remember them? Especially listening skills are often less about what number your vocabulary tallies up to and more about how often you've head certain phrases and combination before. Just look at all the character words that start with "shi", how would you ever know which "shi" they're talking about (knowing the intonation doesn't help, as there are just too many)?

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anonymoose
3 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

I wonder how much easier vocabulary acquisition gets once you solidly know 3000-4000 characters. 

 

I think the problem with phrasing the question like this is that you're assuming some change that occurs at the 3000-4000 character mark.

 

The thing is, even at the 1000 or 2000 character level, many if not most of new words learned will be a combination of characters already known. Obviously the more characters you know, the higher the proportion will be, but it is a phenomenon which will gradually increase right from the beginning of your Chinese studies.

 

I'm sure that the effect you describe exists, but there are many confounding factors that would make it difficult to measure. As another poster mentioned, at that level, a lot of new words will be harder to memorize because they are infrequently used, even if the individual characters are already known.

 

Besides this, it also depends a lot on what kind of new vocabulary you are learning when you reach that stage. If you are interested in geography or history for example,  a lot of your new vocabulary will contain characters outside of your known set of 3000-4000. And if it is the characters that interest you in Chinese, it might even be easier to memorize words with obscure characters just because you pay more attention to them.

 

Personally, I don't think Chinese becomes as easy to learn as other languages at that level, but this is of course very subjective.

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