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ChristopherB

Why don't more people use John DeFrancis' Chinese Reader series?

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Flickserve

I picked up these books a long time ago. Although I didn't get very far, I learnt enough characters to help get by in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I lost the books in a move.

 

Are there any digital versions of the books available?

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character

I'm not aware of any.  It's a shame, as there is a huge amount of great content in the series, but it's an big investment to get started and the presentation could be updated to be more modern.  The character textbooks and supplementary readers have handwritten characters, making them problematic to turn into good ebooks.

 

The latest versions of the readers are produced by print on demand.  This is slightly lower quality than the traditionally-printed earlier editions.  If you re-buy the books, I suggest trying to get an older version of the Advanced Chinese Reader as a few of the most complex characters can be harder to make out in the print on demand version.  The Beginning and Intermediate Chinese Readers have big enough characters that print on demand quality isn't a problem.

 

Here's a list of all the books in the series, including the supplementary readers:

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/44336-graded-readers-by-the-numbers-characterswords-page-count/

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Elizabeth_rb

HI!  Glad to see this topic has got going again as it made me get our book off the shelf and have a look at it.

 

Basically, we have 'Beginning' Part 1 and no others.  The reason I've never studied it is mainly that it was my hubby's and, by the time we got married and merged our book collections, I was already way past this kind of level.  Having said that, I've put in quite some hours over recent years working through beginners' texts for a number of reasons (mopping up anything I'd missed, thorough revision, bad habit correction/prevention and also reviewing for teaching resources) and will get to this book sooner or later.

 

I'm one of the 'old school' as far as certain learning methods go.  I think that technology has its place (if you want to use it.  I don't much), but it seems to me that the old fashioned methods were pretty thorough for all the contemporary disdain for them and, frankly, disinclination of many present day learners for the actual work they required.  Take drills for instance.  These are an extremely effective way of committing structures etc to memory and have enjoyed an enormous renaissance in the language learning world of late - take any McGraw Hill 'Practice Makes Perfect' title as an example.  I'm a huge fan of this kind of book and am glad to see them beginning to appear for Chinese.  There's no real substitute for thorough teaching and repeated practice.  That's how I learned much Chinese and also French and German in school - much of which I can still remember 25 years on!

 

So, I'd be happy to see more courses like the DeFrancis ones and PMPs.  I've even been tempted to write one myself.... ;)

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character

 

I think that technology has its place (if you want to use it.  I don't much), but it seems to me that the old fashioned methods were pretty thorough for all the contemporary disdain for them and, frankly, disinclination of many present day learners for the actual work they required.

The thing with the complete DeFrancis set is that it seems to require less work than other methods to make progress toward literacy because of the volume of material and the logical layout.  The textbooks provide a large amount of reading material, mostly with English translations.  The readers and supplementary readers provide even more reading material.  If someone is learning Chinese and finding their existing course materials hard to follow or feel they move too fast and leave them with a lot of questions, try the DeFrancis textbooks.  If you find them helpful, get the readers as well.

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Yadang

I've started to go through these two or three times, but keep stopping for some reason... But I'm going to start again, and we'll see what happens... For those of you who have used it quite a bit - did you use any flashcards to reinforce the material? If so, were they just English-Chinese translations of words, or did you do cloze or something else? Or is the spaced repetition in the reading enough to remember everything? Or do you go though the review chapters every once in a while?

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Flickserve

When I used the books (which was many, many moons ago), I just went straight to intermediate reader and copied out all the words repetitively by hand. The translations were pretty easy once you knew the characters. However, I didn't get past intermediate book 2 and here I am 20 years later trying again (but not with the DeFrancis books)

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character

 

For those of you who have used it quite a bit - did you use any flashcards to reinforce the material? If so, were they just English-Chinese translations of words, or did you do cloze or something else? Or is the spaced repetition in the reading enough to remember everything? Or do you go though the review chapters every once in a while?

Yes, I use flashcards for the material when I have time.  Sometimes I will translate the few English sentence translations in the reader back into Chinese after I finish reading a chapter.

 

Personally, I don't view the series as something to be used on its own.  Instead I see it all (textbooks and readers) as a gently-graded, well-structured reader from 0-1200 characters to be used in addition to more modern textbooks and standard learning techniques such as flashcards.

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hedwards

I think the lack of digital versions is a serious problem.

 

I've been working with beginner ebooks and it just makes it so much easier to take the words run them through CTA and then take those words and import them into Pleco for quizzing. You do get some benefit out of physically looking the words up and then manually typing them into the flash card program, but from personal experience that tends to get old rather quickly. And once you've grasp the basics of breaking characters up into components there's not much to be gained like that. Certainly not enough to justify having that additional reason to not do any study on a given day.

 

Then there's the issue of physical books being rather inconvenient if you're travelling and rather expensive to ship back home if you decide to do so.

 

As far as flash cards go, I generally choose 1 meaning to focus on as I've found it to be easier to attach additional meanings once I've learned one rather than trying to learn all of the common meanings at once. It also makes it a lot easier to say whether or not I got it correct. Do I need all 7 meanings of that character or is 6 sufficient and such. I don't generally bother with cloze exercises right now because I'm getting most of my vocabulary either as words I've looked up to use or from a reader. In both cases I don't see much point in using cloze exercises for that.

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character

 

I think the lack of digital versions is a serious problem.

It's not ideal that it's not digital, but I don't think there's any digital resource that offers the volume of graded material in general, and the amount of practice reading handwriting, of DeFrancis. 

 

 

I've been working with beginner ebooks and it just makes it so much easier to take the words run them through CTA and then take those words and import them into Pleco for quizzing. You do get some benefit out of physically looking the words up and then manually typing them into the flash card program, but from personal experience that tends to get old rather quickly.

Another nice thing with DeFrancis is that the new vocabulary is listed at or near the beginning of each chapter, so it is easy to use Pleco's OCR flashcard mode to add them.  The ratio of reading material to vocabulary is also impressive, so even adding vocabulary "by hand" is a comparatively small investment of time.

 

If you live near a university with a decent library, it's worth seeing if they have the DeFrancis books and taking a look for yourself.  When I compare DeFrancis to the (embarrassingly large amount of) other graded reading material I have, I find DeFrancis is the best for my needs, and worth recommending to others.

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hedwards

I think you're greatly underestimating the amount of unnecessary work that goes into digitizing those sorts of things for personal use. Having them there for pleco to scan is fine, but the reality is that even with a well done listing, it still takes a considerable amount of time to have Pleco go through and add things to the flashcards. And there might well not be anything that's comparable to DeFrancis' series, it doesn't much matter when you consider just how time consuming it is to take those books and run them through the OCR.

 

Sure, you can do that, but personally, I don't think it's a worthwhile use of my time when I could be using it for things that actually improve my language ability.

 

Also keep in mind that all of that work is done upfront so you don't actually get to benefit from it until after you've done it. Personally, I'll take the currently available readers and resources and work with those. It just isn't worth my time to OCR vocabulary lists when I have other options.

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character

 

I think you're greatly underestimating the amount of unnecessary work that goes into digitizing those sorts of things for personal use.

Nope, having entered flashcards for many different books over the years, either 'by hand' or with OCR.

 

 

And there might well not be anything that's comparable to DeFrancis' series, it doesn't much matter when you consider just how time consuming it is to take those books and run them through the OCR.

No one is talking about OCR'ing the books themselves, just using the Pleco OCR function to add vocabulary.

 

 

Sure, you can do that, but personally, I don't think it's a worthwhile use of my time when I could be using it for things that actually improve my language ability.

Instead of writing your message, you could have entered several chapters' vocabulary as flashcards. :D

 

I'm happy to agree to disagree, since it seems you're not willing to try the series before passing judgement.

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hedwards

You say that you're not overestimating the ease of doing this, but then in the last part of your post you suggest that the process takes less than a minute to do the all the vocab. Pleco is good, but it's not going to pick up the book, turn to the appropriate pages and scan it for me. I've done a ton of scanning and even in cases where I'm using the same settings on every page, it still takes about a minute a page tops, and that's not for things like this which are rather more complicated to scan.

 

I'm not passing judgment on the series, I'm observing the fact that there's a huge investment of time and energy that goes into using OCR software and verifying that it's correct before getting to use it. For people who have large amounts of time on their hands, that might be fine, but I personally see no reason to invest that sort of time and energy when there are contemporary readers that can be used.

 

It would be nice to have ones that are as extensive as DeFrancis' books, but I'm not going to spend time OCRing the vocab section when I can get entire books that are already digitized and where I can work on reading them on the go. I just don't see sufficient benefit to the books in order to put up with those kind of headaches and then have something that I have to remember to bring with me.

 

And people aren't suggesting that we OCR the entire book, but most of the alternatives don't require that and you can get the entire book already digitized for use on the go.

 

The subject is about why more people don't use the books and this is part of the reason. It's just not a convenient format compared with the books being produced now.

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Angelina

Unfortunately, many people don't even know the series exists. People would rather promote their own projects (flashcards and so on); institutions (BLCU Press) would promote their own publications. 

 

I have nothing but respect for John DeFrancis. 

 

http://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp171_chinese_writing_reform.pdf

 

Him and Victor H. Mair  :clap

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889

"For those of you who have used it quite a bit - did you use any flashcards to reinforce the material?"

I bought that fine set of flashcards in the big orange box published in China, but didn't use it too much. I found writing characters out over and over and then reading them in context more valuable than viewing isolated characters on flashcards.

Not sure if keyboard-happy students these days want to write characters by the hundreds at a time, though. Indeed, not sure they can. Not sure I could, either.

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Meng Lelan

Heh. Yes I had those flashcards in an orange box too. Can't believe I'm strolling down memory lane like this. 

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McKennon

Somewhat over thirty years ago I spent about a year and a half working through the two parts of DeFrancis' Beginning Chinese Reader and the first part of the Intermediate Chinese Reader. I lost them over the years but ordered used copies of all five readers at the beginning of last week with the aim of seriously getting back into the study of the Chinese language.

 

BCR part II arrived in yesterday's mail and I plunged into it last night. I had forgotten about how well they had been written, how the different parts of learning the language had been integrated into the presentation and how much of Chinese culture and thinking patterns are worked into the readings.

 

My determination has been reinforced with elation.

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Shelley

I still have those flashcards in the orange box, they accompanied the Elementary Chinese Reader, they came out about the time the first version of Practical chinese reader did.

 

The vocabulary between the 2 textbooks were very similar and I used them then and I use them for studying with the New Practical Chinese Reader textbook that I am now using.

 

Oh and I have Beginning Chinese Reader and would love to use it but its traditional and I feel its too early in my learning to confuse myself with both. I do plan on trying this book later in my studies.

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McKennon

I understand your hesitation regarding the traditional characters. I feel somewhat the same way about the simplified ones, even though these latter would be of more use should I visit China.

 

The Chinese things I am most interested in however have their roots in antiquity and I suspect the old characters may have clues to fundamental or essential meaning which may be lacking in the new ones.

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Shelley
I suspect the old characters may have clues to fundamental or essential meaning which may be lacking in the new ones.

 

 

I agree, but feel simplified will be more useful to me. What I have taken to doing is exploring the traditional form when I first encounter a new character to glean as much information as I can but revert to learning and using the simplified. All my learning materials show me the traditional when introducing a new character so its not difficult.

 

As I have geared my entire learning world around simplified I feel some trepidation and possible waste of time changing.

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McKennon

Likely you are right: as they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

 

I'm impressed that you respect the characters enough to investigate their etymology. My problem with just using your method is that my brain probably wouldn't retain the information.

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