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skylee
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My original idea was to read my first book twice but only did one and half. Four times sounds like a lot but it must be helpful for your reading. I also like the... symmetry of your order. With 三体 I first tried to read it probably half year ago but gave up after laboring through the first chapter. Then I came back to it some time ago and ended up binge listening it in English. I liked the story so much that I began reading it a second time in Chinese and this time it was easier, though I prefer audiobooks, so I thought It would have to exist in Chinese audiobook version too. I finally found it on Ximalaya and I'm now almost through the first book and I have read a couple of chapters from here and there too. It was also interesting to follow the text while listening to it. This actually helped me to pick up what was said on the audio quite nicely and vice versa to some extent!

 

Inspired by your 4x4, 4x3, 4x2 model, maybe I'll make this into a model for myself. First listen to it in English, then in Chinese (preferably following the text, but I mostly listen while hiking or walking so that's difficult) and then finally read the Chinese without the audio. Then peel of the first step after a few books.

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On 9/5/2021 at 4:28 PM, 黄有光 said:

even though I knew all of the words and presumably understood all the grammar

I think this presumption is incorrect.

 

If you understood all of the words, and all of the grammar, then you should understand what the passage is about, so when you encounter passages like this, it should trip a little alarm bell in your mind that something is off and you need to spend some time figuring out what it is.

 

Perhaps you've interpreted word boundaries incorrectly and so the words that you think are in the sentence are not actually the words in the sentence.

 

Perhaps it's a word that has another meaning you don't know yet.

 

Perhaps it's a grammatical expression that you're not familiar with and so you don't recognize it.

 

Perhaps it's some other reason, but there is a reason, and I think it's wise to spend some time going over these passages to figure out why you don't understand them.

 

The is the core principle behind "Train what you want to learn".  You do something, you encounter a problem, you figure out how to solve that problem, then that problem is no longer an issue and you have made progress in whatever it is you are trying to do.  If you are not doing the "figure out how to solve that problem" step, then you'll be missing out on the progress step also.

 

There's a balance to be struck between doing this too much (reading will be a chore) and too little (you won't be making progress), but if you are finding lots of passages like this in a book, it's probably an indication that the book is still a little beyond your current level and you'll make more progress reading something easier first.

 

 

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If you understood all of the words, and all of the grammar, then you should understand what the passage is about, so when you encounter passages like this, it should trip a little alarm bell in your mind that something is off and you need to spend some time figuring out what it is.

 

Perhaps you've interpreted word boundaries incorrectly and so the words that you think are in the sentence are not actually the words in the sentence.

 

Perhaps it's a word that has another meaning you don't know yet.

 

Perhaps it's a grammatical expression that you're not familiar with and so you don't recognize it.

 

Perhaps it's some other reason, but there is a reason, and I think it's wise to spend some time going over these passages to figure out why you don't understand them.

But sometimes, especially in reading literature, when you know all the words and the grammar, you do not understand because you don't comprehend the way the author thinks.  As a native English speaker, I have certainly had this experience reading in my own language!  I remember the first time I read something - in English - by Nietzsche.  The words were not difficult, but I had next to no idea what he was getting at.  I have had this unpleasant experience reading some novels in English as well, especially where there's a lot of interior monologue or dialogue presented without quotation marks and dialogue tags. 

 

I suspect that the farther apart two cultures are in how they think, the more you may have this kind of experience while reading the other culture's literature.  I have an old friend born in China who, even though his English is now perfect, talks and writes (in English) like Lao Zi in Tao De Jing.  I often have trouble understanding him.

 

I have even had this kind of trouble reading some news articles in Chinese, where I know all the words but there is missing information.  A Chinese reader knows the cultural background and can easily connect the dots but I can't.

 

So I have trouble with your conclusion in "If you understood all of the words, and all of the grammar, then you should understand what the passage is about."  It doesn't necessarily follow.  Isn't that one reason why we have literature teachers, after all?  When they understand it and we don't, they can help bridge the gap.

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On 9/7/2021 at 10:55 AM, Moshen said:

But sometimes, especially in reading literature, when you know all the words and the grammar, you do not understand because you don't comprehend the way the author thinks.

That is possible, but you should first exhaust all other possibilities. Novels are usually not that arcane. Sure, you might miss a cultural reference, but you should at least understand the sentence and the paragraph. It's fine if you don't understand what it means that someone dreams of chickenfeathers, or don't even realise that you missed a reference, but that is a matter of not knowing why the author wrote that, not about wondering what he wrote.

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This is an interesting topic for me. I sometimes interpret word boundaries incorrectly (as Imron said above), because as an English reader, I'm accustomed to seeing spaces in between words! Sometimes, I see authors juxtapose two characters that function as a sort of compound word, but that compound word has no entry in the Pleco dictionaries (so I'm truly left to guess what it means on my own). Sometimes, I'm used to seeing a word in compound form, but the author reduces it to a single-character word (a native Chinese friend of mine told me that this happens all the time in classical writings). So much of my time in looking up words in the dictionary is spent on trying to figure out where a word begins and ends. Sometimes, an author uses a chengyu, but the characters are reversed, or one of the characters is swapped out for an alternate character that is similar in sound, meaning, or appearance (and hence does not show up in Pleco).

 

By far, the most surprising cases are phrases--not chengyu, but entire phrases that are 6-12 characters long (like 上梁不正下梁歪 or 此地无银三百两). Pleco has entries for them, but then you have to know to search for the entire phrase, and not the individual words in the phrase. I'm sure I've missed out on learning a few of them, because I didn't realize they're in the dictionary. And those phrases would otherwise be totally opaque to me! "Top beam not straight, bottom beam crooked?" "This place no silver 300...liang?"

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Google translate is suprisingly good at parsing sentences. 

 

Plus you can delete words/phrases and instantly still get its translation, so you play with the sentence, and see what words you can delete or add or re-order, without changing the meaning too much.  As you might expect, deleting words or phrases in the middle of a word boundary or phrase boundary will often result in dramatic changes :)


Also, some dictionaries have wildcard searches.  You may know this already.  E.g. I use https://www.mdbg.net often, and you ask it to search c:*三百两* (all Chinese phrases with 三百两 in it, and it'll tell you

 

: lit. 300 silver taels not hidden here (idiom); fig. to reveal what one intends to hide

 

mdbg will also tell you if you've made a typo sometimes, but it's typo-detection abilities are not as good as Google.

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On 9/7/2021 at 8:13 PM, Woodford said:

By far, the most surprising cases are phrases--not chengyu, but entire phrases that are 6-12 characters long (like 上梁不正下梁歪 or 此地无银三百两). Pleco has entries for them, but then you have to know to search for the entire phrase, and not the individual words in the phrase.

A bit like English sayings ('when the cat's away, the mouse can play'). This is why, when I don't understand a sentence, I sometimes just put the entire part between commas in Pleco. It will parse out the chengyu and set phrases for me and also tell me what they mean. It can also help to google unknown phrases, if they are chengyu with a character swapped, Google will find the more common phrasing for you.

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Just finished 撒哈拉的故事. In quite a few places, I found it to be an exciting page-turner. The beginning of the book seemed really light-hearted and funny, but things got more serious as the book progressed. For the first time ever, I reached the statistic of "less than one unknown word on each page," but I'm not congratulating myself for that quite yet, because I know that this book is comparatively light on vocabulary. Over the course of reading my 296-page edition, I had to look up 244 words. At any rate, this book is a glimpse into the future for me. As reading becomes less vocabulary-intensive, I'm going to struggle more with general reading comprehension. Overall, this book was easy to understand, but there were a few places that just mystified me, and left me thinking, "Am I progressing in my reading ability at all?"

 

Here's one example (among dozens I could have cited). It's about Sanmao looking at her new "Scarecrow" book that was just published:

 

书中唯一三个荷西看得懂的西班牙文字,倒在最后一个字上硬给拿吃掉了个O字。稻草人只管守麦田,送人的礼倒没看好,也可能是排印先生不喜河西血型,开的小玩笑。

 

My best attempt at translating that is: "In the book, there were only three Spanish characters (or writings? articles?) that Jose could understand, but above the last character an "O" character was...taken out??? A scarecrow is only concerned with watching the wheat fields; it isn't a good gift to give people, and it's possible that the print shop man didn't like Jose's blood type, (and) it was a small joke." Or possibly, the "three characters" refer to the phrase "西班牙" itself, which was the only word Jose could understand in Chinese. Not sure. Anyway, sections like this one can be mildly demoralizing! :)

 

My next book will be 从你的全世界路过 by 张嘉佳. I got it because it seems like a really popular book that made waves in Chinese culture. The reviews for it are mixed, and I'm not sure if I'll personally like it! But I like to read from a wide variety of genres and authors to practice my Chinese, so this book will suit me well enough.

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On 9/13/2021 at 11:26 PM, Woodford said:

书中唯一三个荷西看得懂的西班牙文字,倒在最后一个字上硬给拿吃掉了个O字。稻草人只管守麦田,送人的礼倒没看好,也可能是排印先生不喜河西血型,开的小玩笑。

 

FWIW, I don't understand it either.  I can tell it's some kind of wry observation, but I find wry / euphemistic ways of phrasing things are hardest to understand at my current level.  

 

My holistic understanding would be... there was wrong with the book.  She could tell because the only 3 Spanish words that Jose can even recognize were all missing O's at the end [as if stubbornly eaten?].  [She thinks, apparently] "Scarecrows" only guard fields, their eye for gifts are lacking.  Or maybe the printer just doesn't like [her? / his?] kind and is playing a joke on her. 

 

Good guess?

 

I'm reading 《秘书长》 right now, and most of it is quite comfortable.  As you were mentioning, I also find some sentences I can't quite parse or just sound weird to me. Too many to list individually, and it's hard to make a good post about because it would require too much context from the book.

 

I'm saving them down for now, curious to see what the total volume of it would be by the end.  Previously, I would probably just gloss over them, but you guys got me more sensitized to fully understanding what I'm reading :)

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On 9/13/2021 at 11:39 AM, phills said:

FWIW, I don't understand it either.  I can tell it's some kind of wry observation, but I find wry / euphemistic ways of phrasing things are hardest to understand at my current level.  

 

It's interesting, because I have a (very educated) friend who's a Tianjin native, and I don't like to bother him too much, but I'll occasionally send him questions like this one. And way more often than not, he usually says, "I don't understand that, either!" Or, "That's a weird dialect." Or, "That's an old way of talking. People don't talk that way anymore. I wouldn't worry about it if I were you!"

 

I guess that reading books (in any language) can be a laborious task, even for a native speaker. I'm a graduate-level student and love to read all kinds of challenging books in my native language, but, for instance, the works of William Shakespeare are tremendously difficult for me to read. I read Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy 4 years ago, and even though it's much more modern and caters to a popular audience, I often found Tolkien's language to be rather obscure/unclear/ambiguous in some places. I started reading a Charles Dickens novel some years back, and its Victorian language overwhelmed me. If a Chinese person became discouraged while trying to read those books in English, I would probably tell that person, "Don't feel bad! It's hard for me, too!"

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I have now just finished 从你的全世界路过. It was one of my more bizarre reading experiences. The book consists of many different short stories that are indeed very, very, very short. The author doesn't spend a lot of time on descriptions, details, or character development, but he deliberately keeps things simple--he's just trying to leave an impression on the reader, and to get the reader to pause and think. He says that the stories can each be taken independently, but I soon saw the recurrence of certain characters and story arcs later in the book. I often thought, "Oh--those people again! Who are they? I forgot!" I didn't expect any continuity through the book, so my brain wasn't prepared for it. To get the whole coherent story, I would need to read the book again (I'm not going to do that :)).

 

The author's writing style is really quirky. In the preface, he invites you to throw the book in the trash if you don't like it. Later, in what's supposed to be a really serious/dramatic/emotional story, a woman's death is described as, "She got in a fight with a bus and lost all her HP." That's an immortal line, and I will probably never forget it for the rest of my life. Yes, so much of my enjoyment of this book is a sort of ironic, "so bad it's good" dynamic. The stories usually all start with people sitting in a bar and drinking and cursing at each other (this book is quite the crash course on Chinese profanity). The plots usually revolve around break-ups, divorces, and relationship issues, and there's a lot of reminiscing about the old days of university and/or high school. In fact, that's probably 80% of the book, and the theme repeats itself so much that the stories don't stand out that much from each other. Other parts of the book involve the author's stream-of-consciousness thoughts about life, a friendship between a dog and a butterfly, and a war between....uhhh....talking food ingredients. I'm still not sure I understood that one. So this book is a wild ride.

 

Unfortunately, my reading comprehension these days varies from book to book, depending on the style of the author. This book was somewhat harder than average, and I would sometimes be left utterly puzzled by certain sentences and phrases. And because the stories were so short, my understanding of a story would be completely destroyed because of it. The worst part was when a story concluded with a single sentence I couldn't understand. So....I don't know how the story ended, even though I understood 99% of it until that part!

 

And thus continues my reading journey. In the beginning, character recognition was what I cared about. Then I understood all the characters, but not the words. Now I understand almost all the words, but the sentences and paragraphs are the biggest issue. Over the course of this 300-page book, I had to acquire roughly 300 words (1 per page). But I now realize that that number really doesn't tell the full story. This book was a bit on the challenging side.

 

Next up is "Zoo on the Grassland" (动物园草原) by Ma Boyong, my 14th Chinese book overall. It seems to be a fantasy-themed book that's quite different from anything I've read before. So I'm looking forward to that.

 

 

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@Woodford A similar dilemma I have is whether to choose (1) to read more literary / higher-brow books, with more indirect / oblique / artful language, or (2) to stay with easier, more straightforward pot-boiler type books. 

 

(1) would improve my language comprehension, sentence parsing, word choice ability, while (2) would mostly focus on improving speed, and a bit of refining comprehension. 

 

Right now, I'm going mostly with (2) over (1), around 3 potboilers for every higher-brow book.  At least until I get to 200-ish chars per minute, which will probably take a while (~30 books / 5 million characters by my projection).  

 

That also matches natural reading habits in English anyways, as I don't read that much higher-brow fiction in English.  Although, it's always in the back of my mind to expand my reading diet, at some point.

 

-----

 

At my current level of understanding, I have categorized 5 different styles of novels in my mind, with a use for each of them.

 

(1) higher-brow / artistic fiction (written by authors who win literary prizes)

(2) mass market fiction (equivalent of John Grisham novels in English)

(3) web fiction (equivalent of fan-fiction in English)

(4) translated English / western works (they seem to have a different language style from native Chinese works)

(5) classics (equivalent of Shakespeare in English)

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On 9/13/2021 at 5:26 PM, Woodford said:

Here's one example (among dozens I could have cited). It's about Sanmao looking at her new "Scarecrow" book that was just published:

 

书中唯一三个荷西看得懂的西班牙文字,倒在最后一个字上硬给拿吃掉了个O字。稻草人只管守麦田,送人的礼倒没看好,也可能是排印先生不喜河西血型,开的小玩笑。

 

My best attempt at translating that is: "In the book, there were only three Spanish characters (or writings? articles?) that Jose could understand, but above the last character an "O" character was...taken out??? A scarecrow is only concerned with watching the wheat fields; it isn't a good gift to give people, and it's possible that the print shop man didn't like Jose's blood type, (and) it was a small joke." Or possibly, the "three characters" refer to the phrase "西班牙" itself, which was the only word Jose could understand in Chinese. Not sure. Anyway, sections like this one can be mildly demoralizing!

 

The first bit is actually not that difficult once you realise how it works. It helps to start at the end:

西班牙文字 Spanish words

荷西看得懂 José understands/can read

荷西看得懂的西班牙文字 Spanish words that José understands

三个荷西看得懂的西班牙文字 three Spanish words that José understands

唯一三个荷西看得懂的西班牙文字 The only three Spanish words that José understands

书中唯一三个荷西看得懂的西班牙文字 The only three Spanish words in the book that José understands

And then I think the actual meaning is 'There were only three words in the book that José could read, because those words were in Spanish', but I think you get the sentence now.

 

倒在最后一个字上硬给拿吃掉了个O字。In the last of those three Spanish words, the letter o at the end was chopped off, accidentally I assume.

 

稻草人只管守麦田,送人的礼倒没看好, 'A scarecrow only concerns itself with guarding the fields, it doesn't even look at the gifts that people give it.' Or something to that effect? Not sure, perhaps I'd understand if I read the whole story. Does it say who the scarecrow is? Sanmao herself or José?

 

也可能是排印先生不喜河西血型,开的小玩笑。 'or maybe Mr Typesetter didn't like José's blood type and made a little joke.'

Meaning, José's blood type presumably is O, but that last O was taken out, so the guy who typeset the book did that on purpose because he doesn't like José's blood type. Slightly lame joke IMO.

 

I hope this helps!

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On 9/24/2021 at 2:58 AM, Lu said:

And then I think the actual meaning is 'There were only three words in the book that José could read, because those words were in Spanish', but I think you get the sentence now.

 

Thanks for the assistance! 

 

Yeah, that must be what it is! My mind was going through all the possibilities. Did Sanmao manage to write this book in Spanish, rather than Chinese, and out of all the Spanish words in the book, Jose could only understand three of them? Does that mean Jose was mostly illiterate in his own language? Well, that wouldn't make any sense. Another complication is that all my dictionaries translate 文字 as "character, script, or writing," rather than "word," but it does seem that Sanmao meant "word." 

 

It isn't clear to me who the "scarecrow" is in this instance. The story just says that Sanmao was excited to get a copy of her newly-printed book in the mail (which is apparently called 稻草人的微笑). My gut feeling is that she's presenting herself as the scarecrow, and she's saying, "Hey, this book I'm giving you has some defects in it, but what do I know about giving gifts? I'm just a scarecrow." As far as the blood type joke--I do agree that it comes off as slightly lame, and I think that's what confused me the most. Because it seemed lame to me, I thought that maybe I was misunderstanding it. 

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On 9/24/2021 at 2:17 AM, phills said:

A similar dilemma I have is whether to choose (1) to read more literary / higher-brow books, with more indirect / oblique / artful language, or (2) to stay with easier, more straightforward pot-boiler type books. 

 

Whenever I read an academic or literary English book these days and I have a hard time understanding parts of it, I feel a bit better about my struggle with Chinese reading. I think, "Hey, it's sometimes challenging to read in my own native language, so why beat myself up when Chinese books are a bit difficult?" The interesting part of it is that the difficulty level with Chinese is unpredictable for me. The previous book I read was indeed a little difficult, but it wasn't a literary classic. It was a mass-market paperback (originally published on the internet as web fiction) written in the 2010s with a bunch of slang, profanity, and casual talk in it. My current book, on the other hand, though I can tell that it's more ambitious in scope, more literary, and more "exalted" in its storytelling, seems like it's going to be significantly easier to understand.

 

I do find that Chinese translations of non-Chinese books are in a category of their own. I usually discover that they're much easier than native Chinese content. Because Keigo Higashino's books are on the bestseller lists in China, I mistakenly bought one, thinking it was a Chinese book. I don't regret it, however, because that book was wonderful and breezy. Recently, I accidentally bought another book translated from Japanese, and I'm actually looking forward to reading it (I don't think it has an English translation, anyway).

 

I think, at this stage of my journey, I'll take whatever kind of book comes my way. I have 400-600 page behemoths on my bookshelf, but lately, I've grown to appreciate the 250-300 page ones. My reading skills are too laborious and slow, and the bigger books would just drag on for too long. There's more satisfaction in finishing the smaller books, switching rapidly between fiction, non-fiction, history, science, fantasy, philosophy, biography, etc. It keeps things alive.

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