How many Chinese characters do you need to learn And how to learn them.
1. Introduction of Chinese characters
We all know that learning Chinese now is getting more and more important since China has been growing very rapidly, the influence of China is becoming huge around the world. Chinese has many dialects, like Cantonese, Hakka, Shanghainese and many many others, among them, Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in China, or even Hong Kong or Macau, many Hong Kong people and foreigners are learning Mandarin in Hong Kong.
Chinese characters have more than 5000 years history, Chinese people back in thousands years ago used pictures to express themselves, simple words and characters were used to describe their daily lifes.
Most of the Chinese characters have two parts, three parts or one as a whole, for example the character ni which means you have left side and right side, zuo means to do has three parts left, middle and right, ren which means people has one part as a whole.
It is said there are over 30,000 Chinese characters there, but of course a lot of them are ancient Chinese, not using in modern life, maybe you can find them in Chinese idioms or Chinese poems.
2. Why learn Chinese characters
Learning Chinese character is more fun than just learning the Chinese language! Yes it is so true, if you are a Mandarin learner, you must find out that Mandarin tones are very difficult to recognize and speak, Mandarin as a tonal language has 4 tones which can drive learners crazy. The difference between these tones can be subtle, very hard for a foreigner to learn Mandarin especially who are from European countries, since they don’t have tones in their languages.
On the other hand, Chinese characters are very distinctive, especially if you are a visual person, you will find that you can learn Chinese characters very quickly, therefore we also recommend learning Mandarin Chinese characters for children and or adult, you will find learning Chinese characters very fun since all Chinese characters have meaning which shows the history or a story behind the character.
If you could read Chinese characters, you will gain a lot of advantages, you will learn Mandarin 3 times faster than people who don’t recognize Chinese characters, plus you understand more Chinese culture, art and history than all others who can’t read Chinese characters.
Another thing is if you are planning to take HSK exams, you must learn Chinese characters in order to get a seat for HSK level 3 or above (there are six levels in HSK exam).
Additionally, if you are traveling to China, all the menus in any restaurants will be written in Chinese characters, it brings you tons of convenience if you know how to read Chinese, same situation in road signs and other public facilities including transportation and stores.
3. Is Chinese character difficult to learn?
The answer is no. I am not lying, Chinese character is not difficult to learn at least learn how to read! They might be different from what you usually read and write in Europe or other countries, but once you understand the logic, it won’t be too hard to learn.
Because Chinese characters are symbolized, like a picture, everybody likes or recognizes better pictures more than words, right? So Chinese characters can be fun learning, at the beginning, when you learn how to read and write Chinese, you might find it harder than learning to speak Mandarin, but after a while learning Mandarin, the tones will kill you since they are so similar to each other, without learning Chinese characters, learning Chinese speaking can be a nightmare.
Although there are over 30,000 Chinese characters in total, what you really need to learn is about 3000 to 4000 in order to read books and newspapers, by learning 10 Chinese characters a day, you are expected to be able to read in a year or year and half, is that too difficult to achieve?
Moreover, Chinese characters are everywhere, on the bus, metro, restaurants, washroom, airport and everywhere else! This is very convenient for you to learn how to read them, you can basically read them anytime, but you will not see Pin Yin written anywhere in your life.
4. How to learn Chinese characters
First step of learning Chinese characters is to learn the radicals, there are around 50 commonly used Chinese radicals, they are symbols of the characters, they tell you the meaning of the characters, mostly of them are easy to remember and write.
Secondly, learn Chinese characters from really words, most commonly used Chinese characters are around 300 to 500, learn 10 of them each day, you will be able to grasp basic Chinese characters in approximately 1 months or 2.
After you get 500 Chinese characters on your list, you will need to make sentences with those words to make sure you know them well, bear in mind that making sentences with those words is a completely different thing than just trying to read the characters. Since one Chinese character might mean differently in different context, different combination changes the meaning of the word or sentence. Making sentences in Chinese character is a great way to improve your reading and writing proficiency.
5. What Chinese character should you learn?
There are over 30,000 Chinese characters in Chinese dictionary, but of course you don’t have to learn that much, if your target is to get around comfortably in China, you should learn about 1000 to 1500 Chinese characters, HSK exam level 4 required you to master 1200 Chinese characters, while HSK level 5 is expecting you to know 2400 Chinese words.
For someone who wants to read Chinese books or newspapers, you must understand around 3000 to 4000 Chinese characters.
If you need to travel to China, you must first learn survival Chinese characters, menu, road sign etc, this will be good for short time traveling to China, for a long term Chinese learner, we would suggest learn the most common Chinese characters for daily uses.
As you might realized that Chinese has simplified and traditional characters, if you are in Mainland China, you should definitely learn simplified characters, if your location is in Hong Kong or Tai Wan, you might consider to learn traditional Chinese characters.
6. When do you need to learn Chinese character
It is suggested to learn Chinese character at the very beginning when you start to learn Chinese, I have never seen anyone who can speak Chinese fluently without knowing any Chinese characters,
Therefore I believe learning Chinese characters is very important upon learning Chines language, so grasp the Chinese character at the start will be very good time to start learning Mandarin or learning Cantonese language.
When you are planning to learn Chinese characters, you might start with 5 characters a day, each character can be written at least 5 times or more, after 50 words, you may start learning 7 characters or even 10 characters a day, try to write them repeat them as many times as possible, try to write down the Chinese characters without look them, or read your Mandarin course material without looking at the pinyin and see if you can read them.
7. Should I learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters.
Simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China, while traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong and Tai Wan, obviously there are more people using simplified characters, but on the other hand traditional Chinese characters are more beautiful to read and write, and they are also more meaningful.
If you are trying to get a easier way to learn Chinese characters, learning simplified Chinese characters can be a good option, if you are trying to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong, maybe you should consider learning traditional Chinese characters, since you will see them everywhere including in the newspaper and books.
One thing has to be mentioned is that you may have to learn more traditional Chinese character than simplified ones, because there are unique Chinese characters only in Cantonese dialect but not in Mandarin, there are 50% more characters in Cantonese than in Mandarin.
8. Can I learn Chinese without learning the characters?
It is not impossible but it is also not recommended, since the Chinese characters are the soul of the Chinese language, without learning the Chinese character you will miss a lot of beauty part of Chinese, learning Chinese characters is also good for you to fully understand Chinese language, culture, history and art, if your purpose of learning Chinese is just to speak it without understanding it, you may go ahead without leaning the Chinese characters, but in that case, what is the point of learning a language but not understand it?!
Another reason for us to encourage you to learn Chinese character is because it will be too difficult for a person to master Chinese language from only learning how to listen and speak Chinese language, since the tone is killing the learners, it gets so confused after you have a lot of vocabularies, since for you they sound all the same! But Chinese character is quite distinctive in many ways, it will definitely help you to learn Chinese easier and more simple.
At the beginning, you might find it hard to remember not to say to write it. But later when you get uses to it, you will find it much easier than learning the pronunciation, since you can always practice Chinese characters at home by your own, but speaking Chinese is difficult to practice alone, you never know if you are pronouncing it correctly or not.
9. How long does it take for me to be able to read Chinese books and newspaper?
It is suggested you take Mandarin class or Cantonese classes at least twice a week or three times a week in order to get a better learning result, each lesson you can learn 10 Chinese characters, if everything goes smoothly, you will be able to read simply story within 6 months, children books about 9 months, newspaper around 2 years, books about 2 years, maybe it takes a bit longer if you are learning Chinese characters when you learn Cantonese in Hong Kong.
Remember one thing that Rome was not built in one day, you must enjoy learning Chinese character in order to get a better learning experience and result, if you are feeling frustrated learning it, you must went to the wrong way and you may consider finding another better way.
Learning Chinese character is not painful but it is fun to do and you will definitely gain more than you give.
In conclusion, learning Chinese character is always a must if one is trying to learn Chinese language, different from learning English or other European languages like French, German or Spanish, Chinese characters might be a bit hard to learn at the beginning, but I believe difficult things are more meaningful and they stick in your mind longer, the more efforts you put in, the more you gain in the future.
Let’s enjoy learning Chinese characters!