How many characters should the absolute beginner learn and how many years does it take to learn?

I read that number between 3000-4000 characters, but I do not know how everyone with the same number of characters can read different subjects?

  • 1
    Absolute beginners should avoid characters altogether. Unless your only goal is to be a mute-academic. They're a distraction and only detract from focus on proper pronunciation and listening abilities. – user3306356 Oct 12 '17 at 0:11
  • search site using e.g. "how many characters" – user6065 Oct 12 '17 at 6:38
  • It may help if you defined a specific goal in your question. That said, the number of characters is much less important than the number of words you know. The focus on characters in many newcomers to the language is a bit of a red herring. And as user3306356 said, focusing on the spoken language first makes a lot of sense. – Tsundoku Oct 12 '17 at 16:57

From childhood, I was told it's really something if you could know 5000 Chinese characters for daily based usage. I wouldn't think it would take long to grab 5000 characters, probably 1 or 2 years if you work hard.

However, the difficult part of the Chinese language is the collocation of characters, which will form up lots of words or phrases. For example, the character 手 (hand) can have different meanings depending on the characters it is combined with, e.g. 手套 (glove), 手枪 (gun), 手绢 (handkerchief), 手机(cellphone), and many more. It would take you lots of time to practice those collocations, so that you could use them accurately and precisely.

Another difficult part is the structures, syntax, conventions and culture. Those are time-consuming too and might take many years.

This is just my two cents and hope it could help you a bit.

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  1. Don't mind the characters number.Each Chinese does not know how many Chinese characters he knows.As a 27 year old Chinese, I still have a lot of characters that I don't know.
  2. Even if you know 5000 Chinese characters, you probably won't understand it when you read an article.Because there are often two characters in Chinese that make a completely different meaning.So the words are more important than characters.
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