Yun Xian
Professional Teacher
Learning Article : The Commonly Used Chinese Characters & How To Learn Them

Discuss the Article : The Commonly Used Chinese Characters & How To Learn Them

<a href='/article/992/how-to-learn-10-of-commonly-used-chinese-characters-in-10-minutes' target='_blank'>The Commonly Used Chinese Characters & How To Learn Them</a>

How does learning 2500 characters sound? That's how many reaching basic Chinese literacy takes! Fortunately this article can help you strategize to make this high goal completely manageable in less time than you would imagine.

Mar 21, 2017 12:00 AM
Comments · 4
Every now and then I encounter articles similar to this one, which try to impress people with these magical percent numbers.  I really don't understand why people write such articles again and again.  Who do they want to fool?  Isn't that obvious that such "magical" percent numbers are just an illusion?

By the way, I don't doubt that learning the most frequent characters first is the way to go for us learners.  Of course, this is a good idea.  We just shouldn't fool ourselves thinking that after learning 17 most frequent characters we will really be able to understand 20% of written texts.  Or that after learning 140 characters we'll be able to understand 50%.  This is simply not true.

Why?  Suppose you only know the said 17 most frequent characters according to the list given in the article, and you don't know any other characters.  Yes, I don't doubt that they constitute about 20% of all the characters in a given text, but how much would you really understand?  Nothing, right?  0%!  The magical number of 20% doesn't help us at all.

Now suppose you only know the said 140 most frequent characters.  They do constitute about 50% of all the characters in a given text, but I doubt you'll understand more than 1-2% in any real Chinese text.  Just try a simple experiment.  Take any real text in Chinese and replace the characters not in the list with dots (...) and see for yourself how much you will understand.  The result will be sobering!

If you don't know Chinese and are only learning it (like me), you can do a similar experiment with a text in your native language, with words instead of characters.  The result will be similar.  You need to know at least 3000-4000 words in any language to at least get a general idea of what the text is about.
March 23, 2017

>>>>>It's true, you didn't say that explicitly, but that's what most people would understand as implication from the article.......

I am not sure that most  people would understand it as the same way as you do.  It is  just your assumption so far, isn't it?

Italki articles  are  contribution from teachers voluntarily. The opinions in the articles are teacher's personal opinions from their working experience. No italki user is supposed have to agree with these opinions, I suppose.

The articles has been appoved by Italki before they are published. If you think the article has cause some misleading or any other harm, please contact Italki to discuss.

Thanks.

March 24, 2017

Yun Xian, thank you for your reply.

>> I didn't  say that after learning 17 most frequent characters we will really be able to understand 20% of written texts.

It's true, you didn't say that explicitly, but that's what most people would understand as implication from the article.  If 17 most frequent characters account for 20% of all the characters in a given text, but still after knowing these 17 characters I'll be able to understand 0% of the text, then why speak about those 20% at all?  The said 20% is just a technical trick, but it doesn't have any practical meaning.  That's why I say that people reading the article might be fooled.  I'm not saying it was your intention to fool them, but that's what might actually happen.

>> ...the point of the article is that it is important for learners to proficiently master high frequency characters...

I have no objections to that.

>> ...the statistic come from scientific research and published by authorities...

Again, I do not doubt that.  I'm just saying that this statistics is useless for any practical purpose.  To say that 140 most frequent characters account for 50% of all the characters in a text is useless because in fact it will give you understanding of only 1-2% of the text, and it's misleading because it might get the readers to erroneously think that after learning 140 most frequent characters they will actually understand 50% of the text, which is not true.

March 24, 2017

Thank you for your  long comment.

First, I didn't want to fool anyone.

Secondly, I didn't  say that after learning 17 most frequent characters we will really be able to understand 20% of written texts. Don't know how did you get that conlusion?

Thirdly, the point of the article is that It is important for learners to proficiently master  high frequency characters in order to build up their reading and writing fluency, and it is  better to  learn these characters first.

Fourthly, The statistic come from scientific research and published by  authorities in order to reveal the truth of the usage of the language. It is not just a " illusion".


March 24, 2017