Learning to Read

How many characters should my child know?

I admit I’m a little bit obsessed with numbers. Must be an occupational hazard of being an educator because I feel a NEED to know reading levels. What level my son is at. What level he should be. How he compares to kids in Singapore and China.

#tigermom

Here’s what I’ve found so far in my research:

Anyway I’m really glad I did all that googling because I found out that kids in China know A LOT more characters than their Taiwanese counterparts in the early years. I assume that eventually in middle and high school they end up the same, knowing about 3500 to 4000 characters.

Kids in Taiwan use zhuyin (bopomofo) to aid reading from preschool all the way to about 4th grade. (Read Mandarin Mama’s informative article about this) Not so for pinyin. In China pinyin is used only for a very short period in 1st-2nd grade. There is a stronger emphasis on character acquisition and I read that kids learn 7 characters a day!

Traditional Chinese books, from picture books (e.g. Mr. Men) to beginning readers (e.g. Elephant & Piggie, Little Bear) to chapter books (Reading 123, Magic Tree House, Roald Dahl) are all accompanied by zhuyin.

In contrast, the same Simplified Chinese books DO NOT have pinyin. A quick browse on Taobao will show you that only 1st-2nd grade books like 笨狼的故事 and 米小圈 come with pinyin. Picture books? No pinyin. Early readers? No pinyin. Anything beyond 2nd grade? No pinyin! 😬

I guess what this tells me is… if I want my child reading Simplified Chinese books, he’s going to need to know A LOT of characters. Heck of a lot. Otherwise he will find himself unable to read the books he’d be interested in (age wise) at the elementary level.

My #tigermomgoal is to get my son to the level that is around Singapore Higher Chinese and maybe a little bit more. Because can I really expect my American child to compare to China/Taiwan children who eat and breathe Chinese every waking moment of every day? NOPE. Singapore Higher Chinese, for English/Chinese bilingual children, is a much more realistic and attainable goal.

FYI I’m from Singapore and took regular Chinese, not Higher Chinese. I think that Higher Chinese at the secondary level is much more rigorous than primary level but I have not found that data yet.

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