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笨笨德

How many new characters in your first year?

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笨笨德

Hi guys,

I was just wondering approximately how many characters you could

a) write

B) read

after your first year of learning chinese?

what about 2nd, 3rd years and after that?

Cheers

p.s. maybe this would be better posted as a poll? admins?

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Shadowdh

Hi there, just started a fulltime course at uni in London and they suggest 600-800 for the first year... I gather thats writing and reading (although perhaps with a few more characters that you can read)... not so sure about the 2nd or 3rd year but will ask my teacher tomorrow after our oral test... yay...

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Song You Shen

Through school I learnt how to read about 1000-1200 words, and I was able to consistently write somewhere between 600-800 words. But you can do better than this if you work harder than I did.

Youshen

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笨笨德

just to clarify, im referring to individual characters 字, not words 詞

cheers

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Desmond

I counted once, part way though my first year, and when taking into consideration now many characters I had learnt, I think I had learnt about 200 half way though? So that may be 400 for the first year? This was trying to take into consideration that a lot of new words contained old characters.

This is just an estimate, I can't remember very well now.

Oddly enough though, I did an online test (that people on this forum were using) to test how many characters I knew. After doing my first year here, then going to China for a summer course (and learning a ton) and then coming back here and cramming way more in my brain, this test said I knew a little over 600 characters. Somehow I doubt that.... I'm sure I know way more by now if I learnt 400 in my first year.

Furthermore, after my first year I could read/write the same number of characters. After going to China, I found that those figures have drifted, and I can recognize way more than write. I guess in this test I did, it was testing how many I could recognize, which should be even more.

Or maybe I really don't know very many? They say 3000 covers about 99% of the characters you see in daily life. Some day I'll be there...

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David Hallgren
They say 3000 covers about 99% of the characters you see in daily life

I've read this (or similar numbers) in many places now and would like to know what it means. If it actually only is 99% of the characters it would mean that statistically I would not now a character even in a 100 characters short message on my phone which obviously isn't the case. I've sometimes seen it stated as 99% understanding but that must be really hard to measure. I get the general idea that you might make a curve like this (obviously assuming that you learn characters with high frequency first):

stat1000.gif

But I'm just curious on how these numbers should be interpreted. I'm more interested to hear from someone who knows around a 1000 and from someone who knows about 2500 what they feel that they can handle. Newspapers, subtitles in movies, novels, various websites etc. I really like to have a general goaol in my studies but also a lot of smaller goals (like 500 chars, 1000 chars, etc.) along the way. It makes it feel like I make a lot more progress and encourages me to keep going. The main thing with a goal is that one has to set a new one once the first one is reached :wink:

I really like to read and will keep studying until I can read novels. I'm well on my way to that goal in Japanese and but since I just started Chinese I'm glad enough when I can understand MSN-chat messages from Chinese friends...

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necroflux

I know approx. 750-1000 characters after a year of study, and I can read dialog pretty well but any kind of descriptive storytelling or dialog with a lot of nouns/proper names kills me (though I am finally starting to recognize names). Web sites generally kill me. I haven't tried newspapers but I would assume they would be just as difficult as web sites. I am currently focusing on learning characters first and semantic meaning second (though I usually try to get both at once, at the very least I want to just know the reading for the character), so I would say that my ability to read a sentence phonetically far exceeds my ability to understand what is actually being said. Again, this is by design, for better or worse.

BTW Desmond the site you are referring to, if it is the Clavis Sinica site, I believe does underestimate the number of characters you know. If you are in the same range I am of character knowledge, make sure to use the "upper intermediate" level, do 48 characters, and take it a few times - the average of that might be closer to reality.

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Desmond

When I mentioned the 3000 characters equalling 99% of daily characters, what I actually meant (if I recall correctly) was that it was 99% of the characters you would encounter in a newspaper. Therefore, in a simple text message you would probably know all 100 characters, as they usually use much simpler text than newspapers.

Then of course it comes down to the words you know. Even if you know the characters, maybe you don't know the words that are made up of them, or the grammar, etc, all which impede reading newspapers fluidly. I find that I'm quickly reaching that point, where I'm often able to read every character in a sentence, yet still have no idea what it's talking about!

As for that website necroflux mentioned, I noticed that when I tested at different levels, it gave me different answers.... but all of the levels seemed to underestimate. Of course it's all guesswork in the end, so I didn't put much validity into it.

----

Check out this thread: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/47-colloquial-chinese15

A guy put up a program to test the number of characters you know at www.cugbwaiyu.com/hanzi

I did it and got about 900. That's sounds about right to me. I said "yes" to a character when I knew the pronunciation and/or meaning, as to me, that's when I feel like I 'know' the character to some degree. The grey area for me was small, as I usually fully know the character, or not at all, so by this I should know 900 +/- 100

Take the test, check it out!

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Mai Kairong
Oddly enough though, I did an online test (that people on this forum were using) to test how many characters I knew. After doing my first year here, then going to China for a summer course (and learning a ton) and then coming back here and cramming way more in my brain, this test said I knew a little over 600 characters. Somehow I doubt that.... I'm sure I know way more by now if I learnt 400 in my first year.

I've taken that test multiple times. After three years of college Chinese classes, it tells me I know a little over 500 characters (I don't remember which level I was taking, the result also changed for me on different levels). It told me I knew the same amount of characters when I took the test a year ago, and believe me I've done a lot of vocab cramming since then. So whatever.

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klortho

I use Wenlin to drill on characters, and my flashcards file is up to 1150. Of those, I think I know about 80% very well -- I've been able to keep that number pretty consistent. I just tried the character test here at http://www.cugbwaiyu.com/hanzi/ and after about ten minutes the number was hovering around 900 -- about right, I guess. (Does that test ever end?)

I'm getting to where I can read most short messages I get from friends, and can read about half of restaurant street signs, but any kind of actual real-life writing is still beyond my reach. It takes me an hour or so to read a single page of a cute little story book I got about chengyu, meant for probably about 3rd graders.

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Shadowdh

Well I have just found out that in the second year they get about 40-50 characters a week to learn (at least at first).. So I guess they REALLY ramp it up the 2nd year... yay..

Good thread here...

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cjbaker

Here's what I have been doing periodically during my 3 years studying chinese. I have a numbered, frequency-ordered list of characters from an online source (though obviously there's no "absolute" measure of frequency). I browse the list from #1 to #2000 or more, which really shouldn't take too long, and mark in a spreadsheet the number for each character I know the exact pinyin for, including tone (I know this leaves out the meaning part). It should be easy to see a logarithmic trend when graphing these numbers, and to make a very reasonable estimate of how many characters you "know". Would anyone like to post your results, how long you've been studying, how you feel about your reading level, etc.? I'm testing myself again right now.

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deterius

1000 = 90%?,

Man, I must be studing the wrong characters. I've been studing chinese (intesively) for 8 months. I know can read about, almost 2000 characters, write maybe 1000 or so. But i still have trouble reading advanced school books.

Newspapers, forgetaboutit! i have a real hard time with them!

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dporter1465

You can use the web-based Chinese Character Test to get a reasonable estimate of the number of characters you know, and compare this with other students at the same level. To get the most accurate results, be sure to take the 72-item test, and choose the test-type that best corresponds to your level of study. If you've been studying Chinese for two or three years and take the beginner-level test, you'll get an inaccurate score, as the program won't test you on characters you're likely to have learned beyond your first year. At three years and beyond, you'll get the most accurate results on the 72-item test at the advanced level.

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Shadowdh

Ummm I would just like to correct a mistake in my above post... I was led to believe it would be 50 characters a week... wrong...!!!! more like 100.... and probably more with all the new vocab in one of my classes... talk about intense work... yayyy....

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self-taught-mba
Hi there, just started a fulltime course at uni in London and they suggest 600-800 for the first year... I gather thats writing and reading (although perhaps with a few more characters that you can read
I think I had learnt about 200 half way though? So that may be 400 for the first year? This was trying to take into consideration that a lot of new words contained old characters.

Answering the original question of the thread

The most common textbooks used in the US is the PCR series (practical Chinese reader)

Most courses cover book 1 in the first year.

At the end of this book, students will have learned 603 words

I get this figure from taking the data I already have and eliminating duplicate entries (although I believe a few remain)

There's also overlap because these are based on words not necessarily characters (as also noted by the previous poster).

However, this also includes all supplementary words (which depending on the strictness of the program / teacher are either required or not).

So if you want to know a pretty good metric this would be it. This is the metric that I personally use. (considering that my Chinese language course in Beijing website claims to offer you a "years worth of knowledge", it is my job to have something to backup my claim:mrgreen: )

However, realize that not everyone will have 100% retention after the first year. In fact, you can bet almost no one does. I think 80% retention immediately concluding the course is quite common. So you can think of probably about 480 or so. And that's not even counting them being able to reproduce all the characters by hand.

After that... Use it or lose it.

Of course there is a range to this kind of thing and I think 400 to 1000 is a broad range although 400 to 800 seems much more common from people I have polled, my sources and research.

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self-taught-mba
1000 = 90%?,

Man, I must be studing the wrong characters. I've been studing chinese (intesively) for 8 months. I know can read about, almost 2000 characters, write maybe 1000 or so. But i still have trouble reading advanced school books.

Newspapers, forgetaboutit! i have a real hard time with them!

----------

Web sites generally kill me. I haven't tried newspapers but I would assume they would be just as difficult as web sites.----------

This is a common problem: that people equate character frequency to their ability to read. Dr. David Moser clarifies this very well:

Everyone has heard that Chinese is hard because of the huge number of characters one has to learn, and this is absolutely true. There are a lot of popular books and articles that downplay this difficulty, saying things like "Despite the fact that Chinese has [10,000, 25,000, 50,000, take your pick] separate characters you really only need 2,000 or so to read a newspaper". Poppycock. I couldn't comfortably read a newspaper when I had 2,000 characters under my belt. I often had to look up several characters per line, and even after that I had trouble pulling the meaning out of the article. (I take it as a given that what is meant by "read" in this context is "read and basically comprehend the text without having to look up dozens of characters"; otherwise the claim is rather empty.)

This fairy tale is promulgated because of the fact that, when you look at the character frequencies, over 95% of the characters in any newspaper are easily among the first 2,000 most common ones.4 But what such accounts don't tell you is that there will still be plenty of unfamiliar words made up of those familiar characters. (To illustrate this problem, note that in English, knowing the words "up" and "tight" doesn't mean you know the word "uptight".) Plus, as anyone who has studied any language knows, you can often be familiar with every single word in a text and still not be able to grasp the meaning. Reading comprehension is not simply a matter of knowing a lot of words; one has to get a feeling for how those words combine with other words in a multitude of different contexts.5 In addition, there is the obvious fact that even though you may know 95% of the characters in a given text, the remaining 5% are often the very characters that are crucial for understanding the main point of the text. A non-native speaker of English reading an article with the headline "JACUZZIS FOUND EFFECTIVE IN TREATING PHLEBITIS" is not going to get very far if they don't know the words "jacuzzi" or "phlebitis".

The problem of reading is often a touchy one for those in the China field. How many of us would dare stand up in front of a group of colleagues and read a randomly-selected passage out loud? Yet inferiority complexes or fear of losing face causes many teachers and students to become unwitting cooperators in a kind of conspiracy of silence wherein everyone pretends that after four years of Chinese the diligent student should be whizzing through anything from Confucius to Lu Xun, pausing only occasionally to look up some pesky low-frequency character (in their Chinese-Chinese dictionary, of course)

From the article:

"Why Learning Chinese Is so Damn Hard" posted on my chinese articles site with his permission. (I added the emphasis for this discussion)

I particularly wanted to call attention to the second point that I highlighted about the word "uptight". The Chinese style of writing in terms of spacing and grouping, or lack there of, also compounds this problem, with the student unable to comprehend where the word starts or ends.

A few examples from characters the most people after a year will certainly know:

中子 zhōngzǐ n. 〈phy.〉 neutron

中年 ¹zhōngnián n. middle age | Wǒmen dōu yǐjīng dàole ∼. We've all reached middle age.

高中 gāozhōng* p.w. senior middle school; high school

I tried to pick some of the easiest examples with the everyone will know "zhong". For added emphasis I even picked one matched with the "zi".

Everyone knows these characters individually but together who would know that it would mean "neutron"? Or that the second one doesn't mean the middle of the year? Or the third one, you would never know unless you have specifically learned that.

There's a lengthy discussion about breaking Chinese out between the ci and the zi level (Word versus character)

So a what people are mentioning is a common problem.

Hopefully, this doesn't discourage you on your Chinese learning journey. However, I hope people will realize the myth about character frequencies as related to "I can understand 90% of the newspaper" or whatever.

Part three coming up tomorrow (here's a hint those character frequency lists might not be best thing to be looking at anyway) I need to sleep.

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wrbt

In the little "congratulations" blurb at the end of New Practical Chinese Reader book 4 they say one should now know about 2400 words and 1200 characters. Assuming one book per semester this seems pretty much inline with what above posts have mentioned in characters/year.

I think a nod should definitely be given to the "use it or lose it" reference though, although to the credit of that series they do tend to bang away on previously learned vocabulary thruout the series... I just picked up book 5 and it appears to have about 50-60 ci per chapter which is a heavier than the earlier books.

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klortho

I last posted on this thread (above) a little over a year ago, so it was entertaining for me to go back and read my post. At that time, I said I knew around 900 characters. I'm still living in China, and studying my ass off every day. Since the last post, I've also started using Supermemo to memorize the characters, and it has made a world of difference. Since I'm using that software, I can keep a very accurate count of the characters I know.

I just past the 2300 mark. Since I'm using Supermemo, when I say I "know" a character, I really know it -- the pronunciation(s), definitions(s), and how to write it. Supermemo keeps my retention level at around 95%. So, I guess I can provide a good reference point at this stage.

I definitely want to echo the exclamation in the post above: poppycock! There's no way, even now, that I can comfortably read a newspaper. I mean, I can tease the general concept out of an article, but I can't really read it and understand it. This can also be said of stories in, for example, any of the storybook-magazines you can buy at a newstand (which are aimed at junior-high school kids). Those are easier, and I can often read a whole line or two without encountering a character (or word) I don't know, but that's not really good enough, is it?

I'm getting pretty good at street signs: more often than not, now, I know every character. But, as mentioned above, that doesn't mean I know what the sign says. Just yesterday I came across a sign that had the word "批发". I knew that "批" means "slap" and "发" means "emit", but that didn't go a long way toward telling me that "批发" means "wholesale".

It's kind of cool now though, I have to say. It's not the pure, unadulterated drudgery that it was a year ago -- now that I'm just starting to be able to read things more easily. And, I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (and hope it's not New Jersey). I love science, so one thing I did was went out and bought myself an intro to chemistry book, and I've been slogging through that. So (I have to brag) I knew that "中子" meant neutron!

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