They say (yes, yes - whoever "they" is) that you need 1500-2000 hanzi to be able to read a newspaper, and that children leave school knowing 3000-4000. So in that light, 500 doesn't sound like much, does it?
And yet, reading my new "Adventures of Tin Tin" in Chinese, I'm aware that I can actually follow quite a lot - so I thought I'd do a visual experiment to see how much 500 really was.
Because fiction & non-fiction are so different, I separately printed out one page from the book 小王子 (The Little Prince), and a page from the BBC's Chinese website. Then I highlighted all the characters which I had learned in the first 500 from Heisig's Remembering the Simplified Hanzi - and this is the result. (You will have to click on the image to get the full size version ...)
Even without looking at the larger image, you can see that a large proportion of the page has been highlighted. This shows you that even at only 500, you're able to understand a large proportion of the characters.
(And don't get too detailed, pleeeeease. I might have highlighted words that were after the first 500, or missed out words that should have been highlighted. Overall, the highlighting is very close to reality.)
Note however that Heisig introduces characters by building up patterns - and doesn't necessarily include the most common characters first. (That's OK - if you only want to learn the most common 200, for example, then Heisig isn't for you.)
So I then used my green highlighter to include words that, if you're learning with an open mind, you can't not learn these characters. This includes ‘I’ (我), ‘you’ (你), ‘not’ (不), ‘person’ (人), etc. As you can see from the image below, this adds quite a chunk to the proportion of the text you can read.
So if you haven't worked out the conclusion for yourself, at 500 characters (which only took me about 3 weeks to learn) - you can follow a massive proportion of the characters on the page.
But don't be mislead! This is not to say that you can understand at least half the article - because you won't be able to. Chinese uses lots of compound words - so that even if you know the two characters which make up the word, you still won't get the word.
For example, on the second line of the Xiao Wang Zi text, you will see the word 地方 (dì fang). You will know from Heisig that 地=ground and 方=direction - "ground direction"? What? Actually, 'dì fang' means 'place' - but you wouldn't know that if you had only learned individual hanzi from Heisig.
Actions for you ...
- Subscribe to the Mandarin Segments blog here
- Here's an affiliated link to the Heisig book on Amazon:Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters
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- Leave me a comment - let me know if your experiences are the same. Or different.