number of characters need to know to read a newspaper
I was wondering if anyone knew how many characters/words, on average, one would need to know to competently read a Chinese newspaper. It's something I was curious about and I've heard a wide range of answers from 1000 to 2000 characters.
bodaweiOctober 31, 2012, 02:39 PM
I've heard this often myself and I think that it is a fairly poor way of expressing the standard of Chinese required. 'Knowing the characters' does not necessarily give you the ability to interpret sentences and stories. Even 'knowing' means different things to different people. So I'd treat it as a very rough guide.
An intermediate learner should be able to get the gist of many articles, particularly if there is context such as a photo, or you are familiar with the topic.
A tip, if you like, is to try first to read text, and then have a go later at reading headlines - headlines are often a lot more difficult to read because they employ abbreviation, aspects of written grammar that you may not have learnt, characters that you don't often come across, and even chengyu. Even advertisements are difficult to interpret to their fullest - again abbreviations, and slang and contemporary references make it hard.
A final tip (from experience) is that lifestyle magazines are easier to read than newspapers, and a little less boring. Topics about for example restaurants, cuisine, movies, fashion, travel, personalities.
markNovember 01, 2012, 05:37 AM
I think knowing 2000-3000 characters will get you to a point where you recognize the majority of characters in a newspaper. I have a less clear idea how many words, grammar patterns, and phrases you will need to know, but suspect it is an order of magnitude greater, ~20000, maybe. But, you can struggle through with the aid of a dictionary and a lot of effort and get by with much less.
richNovember 01, 2012, 06:42 AM
Yeah, as Mark said, it is hard to know what you need to know. I just picked up a newspaper and it had the word "了得" in the title of an article. Of course those are two characters we learn pretty early on, but for one you need to know 了hear is the "liao" pronunciation. I couldn't even get what it meant from context, but looked it upin my 有道 dictionary app and it said "terribly" and I knew it couldn't mean bad, so I assume it meant something like "very" as in "terribly good". But even that didn't make much sense, and a Chinese friend couldn't give me a good answer, so even nowI still don't know...
RJNovember 01, 2012, 02:56 PM
This is a loaded question but you might find these articles interesting. Read the comments on the second article as well. One comment made by a Chinese native gets to the gist of your question:
As for Chinese, I think if you really know the meaning of 2500 most frequently used characters, and you know the most commonly used words (a combination of 1-3 characters to form words) formed by these 2500 characters, you can read very well in Chinese.
I somewhat distrust native speaker's estimates of what one needs to know. They known a lot that they aren't aware they know. A few people have told me that the Taiwan constitution only uses 2200 characters. I think I know that many, but I still encounter ones I don't know in a Newspaper. Many are names of people, places and businesses, or related to specialized topics.
darkstar94November 01, 2012, 11:24 PM
I agree with the above comments. You can be familiar with almost all the characters, but you will get words that you already know in different combinations and used with more formal structures. Another thing I found is that sometimes knowing the meanings of individual characters can help towards reading a newspaper because if you don't know the whole word, it will be easier to get the gist.
PurrfecdizzoNovember 03, 2012, 11:01 AM
I am not sure if asking about the number of characters is the correct question to ask. Sure, it seems to make sense, and one can use that number to evaluate Chinese ability, but I feel that it has limitations.
The thinking I have today is that it is important to focus on many aspects of language learning. Memorizing characters is one aspect. It is important, but so are other things. It also helps to have a basic understanding of Chinese geography, culture, and idioms. This type of understanding can further a persons ability to understand what they read when they read a newspaper.
Don't get me wrong, I dont mean to proclaim myself an expert on Chinese learning. If anything, I find that I am quite the opposite. Any knowledge about Chinese learning I have gained is through the process of error... I have made far too many of them, and I have wasted lots of time.
I haven't tried to read a newspaper yet, not sure if I am able to yet or not. I am sure that I may be able to follow some of it, but there will probably be limitations. I can watch a news broadcast, and understand most with the aid of the visual ques. I hope to reach this milestone soon.
Well, I hope these insights are somewhat useful. That is all I have to say on the matter. Most kindly,
Guolan, I use the flashcard at http://www.mandarintools.com/ to review the Chinese characters. Two thousand five hundred, more or less, is just about right for newspaper reading . By the waym I just visited the website and I am afraid that the Java program is outdate and the flashcard does not work. I hope they will upgrade it!
I agree that's probably about right. I just couldn't resist adding to the fun!
Is there a test anyone knows of to find out how many characters one recognizes? I think I know lots of characters, but I definitely can't read a newspaper without help. Often, I know all the characters involved in a word or phrase, but don't know what the meaning is when they are arranged in a given manner.
I've checked out mandarin tools, but I get tired of the flashcard approach, so I didn't stick with it. (But I do think I ought to be using it - I often struggle to recognize characters just because they are out of the context I am used to seeing them in.)
For the record... My post about the number was a total fabrication out of my head and at the time had no semblence with anything I have seen or heard in reality. I guess this is just my way of saying that when I wrote that post, I was just being an ass... :)
And I was just being nice about 2492...it sounds to me more like a winning number for a lotto ticket or raffle. :) I read somewhere that 2,000 is for reading simple local newspaper and perhaps 2,500 is for something like the New York Times.
DaveCraginDecember 27, 2012, 03:04 AM
A prof of Chinese language posted this article that includes a discussion about the 2000 character myth. He points out that just knowing the character doesn't mean you know the word, i.e., he gives the English example of "up" and "tight". Knowing these words doesn't mean one knows the meaning of "uptight."
(Moser is obviously very strong in his opinions. Even if you don't agree, he still offers insights).
A well-educated native Chinese friend asked me a question that also gives insight to this question. He asked "When you read an English newspaper, do you usually know all the words?" I said "usually." He said Chinese newspapers often have characters he doesn't know.
thats true, Chinese students learning English get so hung up on how many words they know which seems to be the emphasis in China's English education. Just because they "know" the words individually doesn't mean they know how to use them or understand them in different contexts. I've found that out through my teaching experiences here.