I am currently learning three new Chinese characters per day using Heisig's Remembering the Simplified Hanzi (1 and 2) combined with Anki. This leisurely pace suits me because Chinese is not my top priority language, and I'm simply planning for the long term when I should be able to focus more on Chinese in a few years from now. But it still made me wonder about how quickly all the Heisig characters could theoretically be learned.

In the introduction of the book (page 14), Heisig says that there is no reason that all 1500 characters from Book 1 couldn't be learned in four weeks with full-time study (I assume that is eight hours per day). That comes out to 1500 characters/28 days = 54 characters per day.

Is there evidence that Heisig's suggested pace is attainable? Is anyone known to have done this? Is an even faster pace thought to be possible?

2 Answers 2


Claims about how many characters you can learn in a day, a week or a year vary widely. In The Chinese Language: Its History and Current Usage (2006), professor Daniel Kane wrote (page 55, my emphasis),

The maximum rate for the absorption of characters, especially at the beginning, is about 30 a week.

Professor Kane makes no reference to Heisig's method; as far as I can remember, his estimate is based on what his students managed to learn.

On the Web, you can find many other estimates, some singificantly lower, some signficantly higher. An element of bragging cannot be exluded.

On Quora, Vanessa Pacheco claimed,

I used Heisig's method with Japanese Kanji and memorized the 2100 in 2 1/2 months. It took me a few months after that to bring my reading up to speed as well.

If we assume that 2.5 months is 75 days, 2100 in 75 days corresponds to 28 characters per day.

The blog post The Chinese ABCs are not as easy as one, two, three on Impossible Chinese from January 2016 contains the following quote:

It’s been around 25 days since I started learned Chinese again, and I have fallen short of my original plan to learn 50 characters each day from Heisig’s list of the 3000 most common characters. If I had adhered to that schedule, I would currently “know” 1250 characters. Instead, I only know around 1115. While I have continued learning 50 new characters per day, not all of those characters are a part of Heisig’s 3000 most common ones. (...) As a result, I am not going to get through all 1500 characters in 30 days. It will take more like 35. Or 38. Or 40.

1500 characters in 40 days (assuming the author's "pessimistic" estimate) gives an average of 37.5 characters per day. Even though this is lower than Heisig's 54 characters per day, it is still at least seven times higher than professor Kane's average.

In a follow-up post written in February 2016, the author of the above quote wrote,

My original goal for the first three months was to learn the 3000 most common Chinese characters. I learned 1500 in just over 30 days and there are now 50 days and 1500 characters remaining. That means I need to learn at least 30 new characters per day to reach my initial goal.

However, he also adds, "I nearly burned out learning the first 1500 [characters]" and therefore plans to continue learning using Anki at a less intensive rate, possibly reviewing a maximum 30 characters per day. (This does not imply that he plans to learn 30 new characters per day but that 30 new characters will be added to his review queue; these characters are repeated later at increasing intervals until you know them.)

The blog post from Impossible Chinese is the most extreme claim I could find for using Heisig's method. There is a blog post on Sensible Chinese that claims there is a method to learn 100 characters per day, but in view other testimonies from learners of Chinese (not just the ones I quoted), I am skeptical about this claim.


There's a reason the books are called e.g. Remembering Simplified Hanzi and not Learning Simplified Hanzi, and these books themselves sometimes make this distinction:

...it is important to note that the best order for learning the characters is by no means the best order for remembering them.
Remembering Simplified Hanzi 1

Heisig's method entails memorizing character shapes via mnemonics along with one English meaning per character. Some entries give a mnemonic directly:

Heisig entry for 过

whereas for most characters, you're meant to come up with your own mnemonic:

Heisig entry for 痛

(I made a post about this on Reddit.)

Importantly, when someone is "learning" characters using the Heisig method, they're excluding the time needed to learn (a) pronunciation, (b) additional character meanings, (c) Chinese/English differences, (d) the relevant grammar, and (e) the words it belongs to. Moreover, students using the Heisig method are spending time learning the books' mnemonics, and ignoring the mnemonics (semantic and phonetic components) built into Chinese characters.

Indeed, the incompleteness of this method is acknowledged by the authors:

Similarly, we are aware that one-word definitions are of limited use; however, we agree with those who see them as a solid starting point for developing a richer and more nuanced understanding. The study of individual characters, each with distinct meaning, is only a first step towards literacy in Chinese.
Remembering Simplified Hanzi 1

All in all, by lowering our standards of what it means to "learn" a character, we can inflate the "characters learned per day" to whatever we like, and this is likely why Tsundoku's answer has a professor who says that students can merely learn at most ~5 characters per day while students are claiming they are "learning" 50+ characters per day.

  • 'by lowering our standards of what it means to "learn" a character': that's an interesting point.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 17:55

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