One of the anxieties for me is wondering if the kids are hitting “grade level” in their Chinese characters knowledge.  In the past teachers have refused to tell me, citing reasons like, “They may know it today during the assessment but not know it tomorrow.”  Or, “They may recognize a character but not know how to write it or use it.”  While this is very true, and in fact it’s a problem I see daily with Astroboy, I generally hate it when people don’t want to give me estimates.  THERE IS ALWAYS A RANGE!  Seriously.  Because obviously my child doesn’t know 10000 characters (is there even that many in Chinese?), nor do they know 1000 (it would take longer than 2 years for most children).  To me, it also illustrates the distrust between parents and teachers.  Somehow I’m going to take this info and try to whip my kids into learning more characters faster or accuse them for not knowing enough.  Okay, I will stop ranting now. There is a list published in a research paper of number of characters children will be presented for reading and writing by each grade level in Taiwan.  This is expected number of characters to be introduced.  It does not mean your child will know this many.  But it gives you a good general idea of where your child is vs a child in Taiwan.  Or plan your curriculum.

 Grade Level  Reading (characters / words)  Writing (characters / words)
 1st grade  400 / 600   300 / 400
 2nd grade  800 / 1200   600 / 800
 3rd grade  1200 / 1800   900 / 1200
 4th grade   1600 / 2400  1200 / 1600
 5th grade   2000 / 3000  1500 / 2400
 6th grade   2400 / 3600   1800 / 3000

There is a character vs word component because knowing a character is only half way, since characters are usually used to compose words; e.g. two characters combined.  For each writing level, you’re expected to be able to make a sentence with said character, know when this character should be used.  The same knowledge applies to words you can write. I hear the standards are different in China.  You know a lot more characters by the end of first grade.  But no time to research that right now.  For me, it’s difficult enough in the U.S. to learn this many for each grade level.  No need to feel even more anxious by comparing to China. This website lists frequency character coverage.  I don’t know if it’s based on Traditional or Simplified Chinese though.  Anyways, using this chart we have:

  • 400 = 70%
  • 800 = 85%
  • 1200 = 91%
  • 1600 = 95%
  • 2000 = 97%
  • 2400 = 98%

Looking at this table, it seems that you should be able to read pretty well after 3rd grade.  I’m assuming after 4th or 5th grade, you’ve seen enough characters to really be able to guess at the meaning and pronunciation of new characters you don’t know. For the Sagebooks, this means that it only takes you to 1st grade level and we really need another 500-700 to reach 3rd grade level.  For us, IF we get through the Sagebooks by the end of May like I planned, we’re on track for first grade level.  I guess I better get started on planning what to do with the second 500 characters!   If I want to reach 300 character writing proficiency, we also need to cover up to the Orange Series in Sagebooks.  This means about 20 characters a week.  I’m not sure it is doable.  Though technically Thumper already knows how to write a lot of these characters already.  I just want her to be able to write it properly.

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