24 May
2006
Posted in: Education   
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900 Chinese Characters Enough to Survive

The Chinese Character 'Peace'

People whose native language is alphabetical often find Chinese language difficult to learn. As far as I can understand, it is because in Chinese language, the pronunciation, writing/spelling and meaning of the word are ‘separated’. In other words, not like the alphabetical languages, speaking (pronunciation) in Chinese language does little help to the writing (spelling), and in most cases the meaning of a character has little to do with its pronunciation and with how it is written.In speaking, the four tones can be tricky. Words with the same vowels and consonants but with a different tone can mean totally different things, which may make one feel nervous to speak. There are characters that have exactly the same pronunciation but means different things.

Most phrases are two-characters phrases, and phrases carries a meaning that is far profound than the simple plus of the meanings of the two characters.

Some say that to learn this language means you have to ‘hard-code’ the tonal pronunciation, the pictorial written form and sometimes confusing meaning of every character into one’s mind, memorize them and link them together. I think it is right to say that basically it is a language relying heavily on memorization.

And, this interesting website might help to get to know more about all these things: Learn Chinese Characters.

Then, how many characters you need to memorize? How many in total in this language? Here is a recent research report.

Chinese is not difficult to learn, for people could understand 90 percent of the content in Chinese publications, so long as they learn only about 900 Chinese characters and 11,000 phrases, a new survey shows.

Though 1.65 million words are found in use in the files, only 110,000, or seven percent, are frequently used. The rest are mainly names of people, places and organizations, according to the survey made by the Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission on the current situation of Chinese language.

The survey is based on 900 million characters in more than 8.9 million text files chosen from newspapers, magazines, TV stations and the Internet.

“That means Chinese is not that difficult to learn,” said Li Yuming, director of the language information administration department of the Ministry of Education.

The survey report, the first of its kind issued in China, also shows that a large number of characters, which were rarely used in the past, now appear more often in publications.

Among the first 7,000 characters ranked according to frequency of usage in the research, about 615 are not in the existing 7,000-character table of the standard Chinese that were made nearly 20 years ago.

Among the words used on Internet, more than 55 percent are symbols or letters, exceeding Chinese characters, according to the survey.

Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and DictionaryThe survey also shows that many of the 100 languages used by various ethnic minorities of China are at the brink of extinction.Because of rapid social development and the emergence of new media formats, such as the Internet, the Chinese language is witnessing a fast development, maybe faster than it has ever had, Li said.

Obviously, the current character table has lagged behind the development, and the ministry is drafting a new one, Li said, adding that the research may serve as an important reference to the revision. (Source:Frequently used Chinese characters decreasing)

I found this piece of report very interesting. And I hope it will help to build confidence for people who want to learn the language. We have touched upon the major ‘issues’ in learning the language, and I think once got over with these things, one will find that it is a language that is actually not as difficult as it is thought to be. One will find less confusing and there are rules and patterns to follow, the grammar is easy to master, and there are actually not that many characters needed to be memorized…

1 Comment

  • […] While popularity of internet lingos is increasing, the number of frequently used Chinese characters are decreasing; while the netizens are enthusiastic about using symbols, numbers and letters over the normal words and characters, people outside the internet sphere found it more and more like somthing astray from the normal language. The fast evolving internet lingos is widening the ‘digital gaps’ between the netizens and non-netizens. […]

So, what do you think?

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