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edelweis

When every word is new...

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edelweis

As a kid learning to read and write (French), I remember reading children's book and asking incessant questions to my talking dictionaries (parents) and being fascinated by the words (I still remember a wordplay on "cuisinière", a word which means both stove and cook. A chubby cuisinère was cooking using a shiny one).

Nowadays I don't read in French much, perhaps 2 novels a year (I still live in France).

When I was about 20 I started reading books in English (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Barsoom series...) Especially in the Barsoom series, words like silk, fur, trappings, swordsman, naked, all felt new and rich and filled my mind with images. I even read poetry because I was fascinated with the rhythm of English words. Now I feel quite blasé about English too (and perhaps I have outgrown the Barsoom series?) although I still read 3-4 novels in English every year.

(Also learnt some Spanish at school, but I seldom read Spanish books. Much less etexts and SF and fantasy available, that may be why...)

Now I've bought this Chinese SF book 星际浪子 at a second hand bookstore east of tiantan (can't read a single sentence in it yet) and every word feels new again - because every word IS new. (I'm very excited!)

The first sentence of the first chapter starts with: 他赤裸地... :oops:

I swear it wasn't on purpose :mrgreen: I only found out when I opened a dictionary to try and get an idea of how the story starts.

Edited by edelweis
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taylor04

If you can actually read a book like that.... You will be a hero in my heart. If this method of learning works for you, then by all means do it. I think this method wouldn't be horrible for western languages if you already speak a western language considering the language roots. However, I can't see it possibly working without a foundation in Chinese (unless I misunderstood your post and you do have a foundation). Either way, if this is your method, let me know how it works for you.

For less frustration, you might want to consider reading it online and using an online dictionary. Heres a link to your book. http://www.kehuan.net.cn/book/xingjilangzi/

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chrix

Well, I've been reading more French recently and the language is full of phrases and constructions you wouldn't understand just with a dictionary, but where you'd need to understand the structure behind it, and for that it's best if you have studied the grammar. So I'm skeptical... Maybe it would work for Dutch :mrgreen: but I think the gap to the Romance languages or even Scandinavian languages is already too big for this....

So I agree with taylor04, but of course if it works for you, great!

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imron

I don't speak Spanish except for a few basic phrases, but when I was visiting my sister in Spain I came across a copy of The Hobbit in Spanish, and because it was one of my favourite books I decided to try reading it. It wasn't too hard to follow the basic story and events, and I had a dictionary I'd look up every now and then for words that came up frequently - maybe I'd look up a word every page or two. By the end, although there were large gaps in detail and specifics, my prior knowledge of the story plus 4 years of French in high-school and basic Spanish, allowed me to 'read' the book, and it was quite a fun experience.

Some years later, with a year of Chinese under my belt, I decided to try the same thing with Lord of the Rings in Chinese. It was like slamming into a brick wall, and was a completely different experience. It was basically incomprehensible, and to understand anything I pretty much had to look up every character - which gets tedious really quickly when there are say 1,000 characters per page :help

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edelweis

Thanks for the replies :mrgreen:

I must have given you a wrong idea...

I don't intend to read that book right now or learn Chinese by reading it (way too difficult and slow). However I like to open it now and then as I study Chinese in a more traditional way, and dream about the day when I finally can start reading this book... perhaps many years from now...

When I started reading in English I had already had about 8 years of English classes at the ordinary French education system rate of 2 to 4 hours a week. I also had 6 years of Spanish and 5 years of Latin which certainly helped with both English and Spanish. (but I actually studied software engineering at college - although perhaps part of the attraction there was the programming languages?)

I was just rambling about what motivates me to keep learning languages I guess. I mean, part of my reasons for learning Chinese were practical (I was sent to Beijing and was very anxious about it), but the reasons I want to keep learning it now are not practical, not literary, not communicative. I feel like a whole new world of written words (and their sounds) is opening to me, and each word feels like a new and shiny toy and a Champollionesque discovery.

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daofeishi

I think I understand how you feel. That is one of my motivations too. Every time I learn a new word, I feel like I have somehow conquered new, unknown territory for myself, and every time that I can make an inference about what a word or phrase means based on previous knowledge, I feel in a sense "empowered." I have a shelfful of Chinese books, ranging from simple children's books to 鲁迅, and I am not going to forget the rush I got when I last Christmas could pick up one of the books at the more difficult end of the shelf (《撑起生命的蓝天》) and get through one of the chapters without considerable difficulty.

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Caidanbi

I totally understand how you feel! When I'm learning a new language I buy books that I really can't read yet, just for motivation. I did it with Chinese, and now I am with Korean. It really makes me want to study more so that I can read the book! And when I finally can read them, I feel so good :D

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edelweis

Yes, there is the motivation of understanding what you couldn't understand before, and reading new stories and stuff that is not translated so you would never have an opportunity to read it in another language; or it would lose too much when translated.

And also, (after some reflection), satisfaction on at least two other levels:

- imagination: the words seem new, even if I know the corresponding words in my own language, Chinese words still creates images in my mind much more than the French or English words do. I don't really know why. It is known that words in one's native language generate more emotions, and I use that when I read news in English that I would skip in French (because too violent etc.) But with a "brand new" language there is some other phenomenon in my experience... very mysterious.

- senses: associate a sound with a shape (and Chinese shapes are especially interesting). Chew/taste a word and hear it (especially with sounds that do not exist in French or English...). Associate hand and pen movement (like a dance) with the final shape (hopefully beautiful). Really the only sense that is not involved is smell... (unless calligraphy tools smell of something? haven't tried calligraphy yet).

Edit: perhaps not quite at the same level :shock:, but could be compared to the Wanda character in A Fish Called Wanda :mrgreen:

Edited by edelweis

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