Learning tips: Chinese characters (Size of Vocabulary)

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slhtn

Member
Turkish
Hello there ,
I recently wanted to learn Chinese._But what is bothering me is that it has so many characters. I heard it is around 50.000._Is that true? Do I have to learn that much to be able to read and write Chinese?
Thanks in advance for replies.
 
  • Dragonseed

    Senior Member
    France - French
    How many words in the English language?
    Do I need to know them all to be able to read a newspaper?... ^_^

    It is (roughly) the same for Chinese, even though characters are not really words (what we call "words" in European languages are most of the time written with 1 to 3 Chinese characters.
    You'll probably need to memorise several hundreds of characters if you want to be able to read and write, but don't let it put you off.
    Learning to speak Chinese is not that difficult, really, and is it a very interesting (and useful!) language.
    It is true that reading is a bit tougher, and writing even more, but every language has its difficulties.

    Good luck!
     

    Kwunlam

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Mandarin, English
    hello there ,
    i recently wanted to learn Chinese.but what is bothering me is that it has so many characters. i heard it is around 50.000 .is that true? do i have to learn that much to be able to read and write chinese?
    thanks in advance for replies.
    It is said that Chinese people typically use around 3000-4000 characters for most communication. But Chinese characters are just building blocks. You can virtually form over hundreds of thousand possible words from those blocks according to word-formation-conventions. BUt of course, not every combination is possible and reasonable.

    For your information, the 現代漢語詞典, authoritative in Mainland China, contains only 65000 entries in their Fifth Version (2005).
    http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/现代汉语词典
    Entries does not mean characters, but WORDS.

    In other words, those 3000-4000 characters can mix with each other and give 65000 words which are common for general purposes. But of course, every profession, every field of research, every science, every business got their own huge sets of terms and jargons. And the long 5000 years of history of civilisation would of course means that many words would have been passed down to us and thus that we do have a hugh reserviours of words.

    So, of course we the Chinese people are not merely using the so-called 65000 words. But knowing them fairly well would provide us a good basis and good access to further resources written in Chinese.




    In fact, many characters are only archaic, existed in the past dynasties, and no longer currently used. You would meet them only when you study Chinese literature, or Chinese poems, philological researches, or any similar kinds of high-level literary activities.
     

    slhtn

    Member
    Turkish
    Thank you both for replies.
    So you're saying 3000 characters are enough for an intermediate speaker.
    I felt relieved now. ^_^
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,

    An extra note on "50,000".
    E. Wilkinson, in his tremendously interesting manual "Chinese History", discusses the "60,000 - 100,000 characters" in a chapter called 'misleading statistics'.
    The number itself is not wrong, but it should be interpreted in a correct way.
    The high number includes 'dead' characters, graphic variants, Japanese characters, what he calls 'dialect characters' and any number of other types of character long since forgotten.

    "Translated" into English, this would mean that we could expand the number of English words by including, for example, long forgotten Old English words (and graphemic variants), which means that we don't only count 'night', but also niht, neaht, næht, and neht.

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    Thank you both for replies.
    So you're saying 3000 characters are enough for an intermediate speaker.
    I felt relieved now. ^_^
    Slhtn, if you can read 3000 characters - and you know the character combinations they make - you can read practically anything written in the last 100 years. I'd say it's beyond intermediate.

    The problem isn't really so much the number of characters; it's that words in Chinese are made up for the most part of two (or more) characters, and the same characters are used for various words, e.g., 發汗 - to sweat, 發展 - development,自發 - spontaneous. The same character (發) occurs in all three words.

    Consider learning Chinese writing as an artistic exercise. It makes it much more enjoyable.
     

    noopz

    New Member
    Indonesia, B. Indonesia
    Practice makes perfect.

    Learning Chinese is similar to learning any other language that is in this world. It is impossible to know all Chinese characters by heart, there are just too many. Learning the basics will enable you to converse quite smoothly, as long as you keep on learning and improving. Read Chinese books, sing Chinese songs and get a Chinese penpals will put you on a fast track to perfection (well, near to perfection as there is nothing perfect in this world).

    加油!
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    Hi,

    An extra note on "50,000".
    E. Wilkinson, in his tremendously interesting manual "Chinese History", discusses the "60,000 - 100,000 characters" in a chapter called 'misleading statistics'.
    The number itself is not wrong, but it should be interpreted in a correct way.
    The high number includes 'dead' characters, graphic variants, Japanese characters, what he calls 'dialect characters' and any number of other types of character long since forgotten.
    Additionally, a sizeable portion is characters only used in obscure names which you might encounter at the very most once in a lifetime.
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    The high number includes 'dead' characters, graphic variants, Japanese characters, what he calls 'dialect characters' (...)
    Some examples are;
    graphic variants: 羣・群 (swarm), 隣・鄰 (neighbour), 岩・巌 (rock)
    dialect characters: southern script (Vietnam), 働 (work, as in 労働; Japanese)

    As for dead characters, well, they are so dead that there is no character code to support them. Some of them are proper names or hapax legomena of which both the meaning and pronunciation are unknown.
     

    Dragonseed

    Senior Member
    France - French
    Practice makes perfect.

    Learning Chinese is similar to learning any other language that is in this world. It is impossible to know all Chinese characters by heart, there are just too many. Learning the basics will enable you to converse quite smoothly, as long as you keep on learning and improving. Read Chinese books, sing Chinese songs and get a Chinese penpals will put you on a fast track to perfection (well, near to perfection as there is nothing perfect in this world).

    加油!
    A trick, see if it helps: I find that going to Karaoke with my Chinese friends has improved a lot my reading: even though I still can't sing for the life of me, I am now able to read about 60 to 70% of the songs' subtitles.

    And if this may reassure you: many of my Chinese friends sometimes hesitate about the proper "spelling" of a word, and it is often a subject of discussion between people for whom it is their native language.
    If it happens to the best of them, it should be OK if it also happens to us! :)
     

    kareno999

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Hello there ,
    I recently wanted to learn Chinese._But what is bothering me is that it has so many characters. I heard it is around 50.000._Is that true? Do I have to learn that much to be able to read and write Chinese?
    Thanks in advance for replies.
    First, just like everyone else has put it, you don't have to learn this many.
    Second, you may find it extremely difficult when you just begin. But it'll be easier and easier as time wears on. Eg, if you know 一 means 1, you will certainly know that 二 means 2 and 三 means 3. if you know 人 means "person", 木 means "wood, tree", you don't need even one minute to memorize that 众 means "many people" and 森林 means "forest".
    Well, you'll have to memorize the pronunciation and tone anyway. But also there're some tricks to help you. Most chinese characters are made of two parts, one indicating the meaning and the other the sound. OK, example.
    Few guys know the character 鲽. Some may never come across with it in his entire life. But everyone familiar with Chinese or Japanese will know that it refers to a fish since it has a "鱼"(fish). And almost everyone knows it is pronouced something like (die2 in Mandarin, ちょう in Japanese)[well, I don't think this character exists in Japanese, but you can have a little test with native speakers], because everyone knows 碟(meaning: plate; pronunciation:die2. 石 means stone) and 蝶(meaning:butterfly; pronunciation:die2. 虫 means worm,larva)


    My advice, if you wanna give it a try, just kick it off. You may find more interesting things.
     

    Kwunlam

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Mandarin, English
    First, just like everyone else has put it, you don't have to learn this many.
    Second, you may find it extremely difficult when you just begin. But it'll be easier and easier as time wears on. Eg, if you know 一 means 1, you will certainly know that 二 means 2 and 三 means 3. if you know 人 means "person", 木 means "wood, tree", you don't need even one minute to memorize that 众 means "many people" and 森林 means "forest".
    Well, you'll have to memorize the pronunciation and tone anyway. But also there're some tricks to help you.

    Most chinese characters are made of two parts, one indicating the meaning and the other the sound. OK, example.
    Few guys know the character 鲽. Some may never come across with it in his entire life. But everyone familiar with Chinese or Japanese will know that it refers to a fish since it has a "鱼"(fish). And almost everyone knows it is pronouced something like (die2 in Mandarin, ちょう in Japanese)[well, I don't think this character exists in Japanese, but you can have a little test with native speakers], because everyone knows 碟(meaning: plate; pronunciation:die2. 石 means stone) and 蝶(meaning:butterfly; pronunciation:die2. 虫 means worm,larva)


    My advice, if you wanna give it a try, just kick it off. You may find more interesting things.
    There is a saying called "有邊讀邊". "When there is a radical, read the radical. It can get us right or close to right for many cases. But it is just not necessarily so. Some words just have other pronunciations for no apparent reason.

    As for "Most chinese characters are made of two parts, one indicating the meaning and the other the sound", we call it in Chinese as "形聲" ("form"+"sound"). It is one of the most productive way of forming Chinese characters.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_character_classification

    Oh, they render "形聲" as "phono-semantic compound".
     

    Polak2008

    Banned
    Polish
    I read that there is 50 000 characters..
    but is it posible to learn every?
    or some are "unlearnable" (historical).

    Of coruse I don't wanna learn them all...
    just I wonder if there is a person who knows it all...
     
    Last edited:

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    For the sake of comprehensibility, it's possible to list more than 50.000 characters in a dictionary but I don't think even specialists in the language can remember half of that number. Specialists are better than ordinary users only in that they know where to look up the words they need, or can even work out the meanings/ usage of words unfamiliar to them. Therefore, in practice, it's absolutely not necessary for ordinary users to learn even a half of that number.
     

    charlie L

    New Member
    Chinese
    It's absolutely not possible and necessary to learn all.
    In fact, only 2400 characters are frequently-used, they cover 99% of the characters which appear in books, magazines, and conversations, and son on.....
     

    koinbouffier

    Senior Member
    Mandarin-Beijing (北京官话)
    I read that there is 50 000 characters..
    but is it posible to learn every?
    or some are "unlearnable" (historical).

    Of coruse I don't wanna learn them all...
    just I wonder if there is a person who knows it all...
    Many Chinese words are compound words. it means that they are not characters. I've learnt chinese for 20 years. still there are some words that I dont know........so, you'll be all right.
     

    Polak2008

    Banned
    Polish
    Thanks!
    I know...
    I know already maybe 2 000 characters...
    since I am learnign for long time..
    but I wondered if there is a person who knows all these 50 000...
     

    aaron792

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thanks!
    I know...
    I know already maybe 2 000 characters...
    since I am learnign for long time..
    but I wondered if there is a person who knows all these 50 000...
    Often less than 5000 Chinese characters are regularly used for the majority Chinese.
    Linguists know more characters than the average people. Some of them even understand Indian languages quite well.
     
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