Chinese Reading and Writing

A small number of Chinese characters comes with a gigantic impact.

Start small, strike big

One of the obstacles of learning Chinese is the sheer number of Chinese characters. According to studies, commonly used characters are around 2,500 - 3,000. Start to tackle 1000 characters straight away is overwhelming for beginner students.

However, as some characters are used more often than others, it is possible for students to start with a small number of characters (The first Chinese Reading and Writing textbook contains only 70 characters). This approach requires treating each character as a building block, with each new character built upon the previous ones. For beginner students, especially those with no Chinese background, learning a small number of characters and using them well are really confidence boosters.

Due credit is given to John DeFrancis and his Chinese Reader series. However, all his books are as thick as a brick, and they look daunting and intimidating. Also, after passing a threshold, this way of learning becomes increasingly inefficient. The top 500 characters count for 72.1% - 79.2% of the characters occurring, while the next 500 characters for only 11.9% - 14.1%. Yet students have to spend considerably longer time and more energy to study the 2nd 500 characters.

At MSL Master, 320 characters are carefully selected and split into six Chinese Reading and Writing books. All books look manageable, and each lesson presents around 10 characters. Students learn the most frequently used characters, and most importantly, learn how to use them through many illustrations, such as combinations, sentences and narratives. We also make sure the content is interesting, so that the reading exercise is engaging. Great attention is paid to: (1) all the illustrations are strictly confined to the characters already presented; (2) illustrations are not above students’ level.

With each book completed, students gain a deeper understanding on Chinese language, and develop necessary skills in writing Chinese text. Thus, this Chinese Reading and Writing series prepares the students for the next stage of learning.

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