Imagine that you’ve been studying hard for a couple of years and have finally passed HSK 6. Going by the HSK wordlists, you’d know about 2,600 characters and around 5,000 words.
The Chinese government defines literacy for urban, white collar workers as knowing more than 2,000 characters (source), so congratulations, you’re no longer illiterate.
Unfortunately, you may still feel illiterate because if you try to read native level newspapers and novels, you’ll be overwhelmed by new words and characters.
How overwhelmed you ask?
It’s quite common for people starting out with Chinese to want to know how long it will take to learn the language.
The answer to this depends a lot on what you consider it means to have “learnt” Chinese, after all, Chinese is deep enough that there will always be something more to learn if you want to, even after decades, so really, the learning will only stop once you decide you’ve had enough and are happy with your level.
What you really need to ask is at what point will you be happy with your Chinese such that you feel you have “learnt” it, and then you can consider how long will it take to reach this target.
For me, if someone says they know Chinese, then at a minimum I would expect them to be able to do the following things:
Reading speed is an important, but often overlooked part of learning a language.
Why is it important you ask? Well, imagine that it takes you 1 month to read a book. If you could double your reading speed, you could read the same book in 2 weeks. Or perhaps you’re taking an exam and it takes you 20 minutes to read a long passage of text. If you could double your reading speed, you could read the same passage in 10 minutes, giving you more time to answer the questions.
Maybe you usually try to spend 30 minutes per day reading newspapers or other Chinese material. If you could double your reading speed, you’d be able to read twice as much in the same time, which means greater exposure to the language and greater reinforcement of vocabulary and grammar structures, ultimately leading to better Chinese. The benefits of increasing your reading speed will flow on to almost every other aspect of your Chinese.