How many kanji do Japanese people need to know so they can read, write and speak their own language? One of the biggest concerns and "headaches" of learning Japanese is the Chinese characters that the language uses, known as kanjis.
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How many kanji are there?
Japanese school children must learn 1006 basic characters, the kanji kyōiku, before finishing sixth grade. This list is a subset of a larger list, which was implemented by the Ministry of Education of Japan in 1945.
This list is called common use kanji (常用漢字) which literally means Chinese characters in common use. Currently, this list of required characters has about 2136 kanji for the fluency level of Japanese. This larger list of characters should be mastered by the end of school. Students learn through repetition methods.
Altogether it is believed that there are more than 5000 Chinese characters in the Japanese language. Over the years these ideograms have ceased to be used and have been replaced by other words written in hiragana, with other kanji or even international words written in katakana. Knowing 2000 kanji is more than enough to be fluent in the Japanese language.
Do the Japanese know all the kanji?
It is said that the Japanese do not know all the jōyō kanji, which are the most advanced ones, as some of them are rarely used in everyday life and, as much as they learned in school, the rare use of some kanji makes the Japanese forget these characters. Depending on the profession, Japanese may or may not know all these characters.
- A factory worker, for example, will certainly not know/remember them all;
- A biologist or doctor may know more about these kanji;
Now, someone who works in education, literature or some humanities will know almost all of these kanji due to the fact that they deal with these little used characters.
However, in texts and newspapers, rarely used characters contain furigana to facilitate reading for those who do not know them. A well-literate Japanese person can read 3000 kanji or more. A PhD can probably go up to 5000, especially if it relates to your field of study.
More than 5000 is possible, but many kanji would be extremely rare, which would make them even harder to remember. In fact, we shouldn't worry about the number of ideograms in the Japanese language. We don't even want to tell you how much we've learned. Just focus on learning words and deciphering unfamiliar kanji will become easy with the help of your radicals.
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