Learning the next 500 Chinese characters

Let it be known that I like to take the long and painful way to do something.

I’ve been spending the last 2 days going through the list from a Hong Kong website of the 3000 characters one can learn.  This research website looked at what characters they teach in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, analyzed it to determine word frequency, difficulty level, character components, and radical.  They even sent out a survey to teachers to ask them to gauge difficulty level.  The result are 4 different lists of characters, sorted by difficulty level, grade level, frequency level, and radical.

On the website, you can generate you own list of characters you want to learn by inputting how many characters you want to learn by grade level.  Because the characters are gifs, I’ve been painstakingly typing in each character and its pinyin.  I’m very close to being finished.  I’ve already finished mapping all the Sagebook characters to the list from the website.What I plan to do is to generate the next 500 characters once I’m done, by adding in grammar function and analyzing how Sagebook came up with their list.

If you just tell the website to show you how many characters to learn each grade, it’s actually split up this way:

Grade Characters Total %
1st 508 508 75%
2nd 716 1234 91%
3rd 632 1866 96.4%
4th 558 2424 98.3%+
5th 412 2836 99.0%+
6th 172 3010 99.2%

Quite different from Taiwan, where you would reach 91% by 3rd grade instead.

I noticed a few things while compiling the list:

  • They’re suggesting that you can learn 3000 characters by 6th grade!  This is totally different from the number of characters you will learn in Taiwan by the end of 6th grade.  You learn 2400 characters for reading and 1800 for writing.   But as you can see from my link, a 600 character difference only moves you up 1% point.  Because of this, I’m going to try and stick with 2400 characters.
  • I actually know most of these characters!  Given that I had a 4th grade level education from Taiwan, which equates to 1200 characters for writing and 1600 for reading, that is totally not bad at all.
  • Working with 3000 characters, my eyes started to glaze after awhile and I started getting confused on what the meaning of each character is.  I noticed that the way I am able to type a character out is to type a word that I know which uses the character.  So characters really should not be learned individually, but rather as part of a word.  Thumper has been relying on her knowledge of the spoken language to learn her characters.  But going forward, I will have to introduce words as well.  Of course the genius of Sagebooks is that they do introduce the words in the sentences you read.  But I will probably need supplemental material as the vocabulary gets more hard and abstract.
  • I also noticed that Sage does not teach just the characters that are listed as first grade level.  They have :
    1st 327
    2nd 147
    3rd 23
    4th 3

    In the 3rd and 4th grade level words, many are animal words.  As I type away, I see at each grade level, there are words introduced that are of high frequency and others of low frequency.  But, these low frequency words are often words that you would encounter if your’e studying science.   Also, it’s clear they like to introduce characters with low strokes, though it may not necessarily be used often.  For example, 卜.  

    I’m thinking hard now about this.  What characters do I think Thumper would need as she studies science.  Or do I pick words just from first grade and go up, assuming that she will learn the other characters elsewhere.  It’s evident that the way we ought to learn it is to really teach characters that we will encounter in day to day study and not emphasize too much on the grade level it appears in.  There really is no rhyme and reason to what characters you study first in the first few grades.  And you will do well if you study the characters you encounter during your study, as really those ARE your most frequent characters for you….

Hoepfully I will have a list in the next few days, of the next 500 characters…


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