The Chinese language is a fascinating and expansive general rule is that if you recognize around 200 characters, that will allow you to understand around 40% of what you see – from menus, to street signs, through to newspapers and television commercials. That's enough for most tourists to travel around the country quite easily. If you want to get lost in a chunky novel, you're going to need to be familiar with around 1000 different characters. And finally, if you're planning on being an astrophysicist in China, you're going to have to broaden your range to around 20,000 characters.