To Know My Chinese Level: Should I Count How Many Characters I Learnt?

By Sujanti Djuanda – LingoLearn Chinese Teacher

One student asked me, “I would like to know my Chinese level. Can you count for me how many characters I have learnt before? “

I don’t use this method to getting know my students’ level. For me, it’s difficult to count how many characters the students have learnt because Chinese has many characters with similar form, they can forget the characters they learnt, especially if they don’t use them as often.

Let’s say, the students can always remember the characters they learnt, counting the characters still can only be used for their proficiencies in reading and pronunciation. However, learning Chinese doesn’t just talk about stand alone characters but also grammar, how to use those characters in the sentence. You cannot just pick up the characters then put it in the sentence.

As my experience, beginner students usually do literal or direct translations from their mother tongues or second language to Chinese sentences, make the sentences sounds strange.

Example 1:

I don’t want to take a risk.

A. 我(wǒ)不要(bùyào)取(qǔ)险(xiǎn)。(literal translation)

B. 我(wǒ)不要(bùyào)冒险(màoxiǎn)。 (right sentence)


The A sentence is the literal translation. Here the student just picks up the character 取(qǔ) that means “take”. The B sentence is the right sentence; “take a risk” in Chinese uses two characters as one word i.e. “冒险(màoxiǎn)”.

Example 2:

Why they don’t approve my idea?

A. 为什么(wèishénme)他们(tāmen)把(bǎ)我的(de)意见(yìjiàn)不赞成(bùzànchéng)?

B. 为什么(wèishénme)他们(tāmen)不赞成(bùzànchéng)我的(wǒde)意见(yìjiàn)?


The A sentence shows the student know the character把(bǎ) but doesn’t fully understand how to use it. The B sentence is the right sentence. You don’t need to use 把(bǎ) here.

Example 3:

The cat grabs the mouse.

A. 猫(māo)抓住(zhuāzhù=to grab)老鼠(lǎoshǔ)。

B. 猫(māo)捉(zhuō=to grab)着(zhe)老鼠(lǎoshǔ)。


Here the students have to know the difference between the same meaning characters 抓住(zhuāzhù=to grab) and捉(zhuō=to grab).

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