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murrayjames

Extensive Reading and Vocabulary Range (video)

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LaoJian

very enlightened, for my English learning. Thanks

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creamyhorror

I'm already mostly nodding in agreement at your summary of the video. I'll be watching it later.

An interesting fact is that Chinese actually uses more low-frequency words than English, i.e. you have to know more words to read easily in Chinese than in English. This could be due to words being more easily related by language users to each other because they're composed of a smaller set of characters, allowing higher use of low-frequency words. Or it could be because Chinese writing is just more demanding than English to read, pure and simple. Or both.

Also, as some people said in previous threads, learning from a word/character frequency list is no shortcut to success, either, since different types of words show up in different contexts. The Oliver Twist versus Origin of Species example is a good one. You learn different types of low-frequency words from different types of books.

Cheers to vocab acquisition through reading!

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carlo

Makes a lot of sense. The trouble with learning the remaining 2% through reading only is that while a word's meaning may be easy to guess from context, you often don't know exactly how to pronounce it. Native speakers are less likely to mispronounce these words because they have actually heard them spoken.

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googed

I have to agree with your summary. As someone who learned English as a second language, I wouldn't have been able to acquire near-native vocabulary (or even better, since I score higher than most natives in English language tests) without reading the great English classics, encyclopedias, non-fiction and the rest. My current inability to read Chinese literature is mostly due to my limited knowledge of Hanzi, which I am still working hard to master.

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jkhsu

An interesting fact is that Chinese actually uses more low-frequency words than English, i.e. you have to know more words to read easily in Chinese than in English.

I find this to be true as well. The thing that really bothers me is when I hear people say you only need some "x" number of characters to be able to read some "98%" of a Chinese newspaper. For some reason, those few words/characters you don't understand makes you miss the main points of the story.

Native speakers are less likely to mispronounce these words because they have actually heard them spoken.

This is correct. However, with the Internet and the availability of Chinese media online, you can actually get your hands on a lot of native-Mandarin media such as movies, tv shows, news broadcasts, etc. The problem is (especialy for those of us studying outside of China) having the opportunity to actually say those words and having native speakers correct us.

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murrayjames
An interesting fact is that Chinese actually uses more low-frequency words than English, i.e. you have to know more words to read easily in Chinese than in English. This could be due to words being more easily related by language users to each other because they're composed of a smaller set of characters, allowing higher use of low-frequency words. Or it could be because Chinese writing is just more demanding than English to read, pure and simple. Or both.

That is interesting. My wife and I had a conversation about it. She said, based on her experience learning English, that with English you can get by knowing less than a person could in Chinese. She agreed that Chinese is harder for me (vocabulary-wise) than English was for her--in the short term. The difficulty of English, she said, is in the endgame. English's last 2% is harder than Mandarin's because of the sheer number of low-frequency words to learn.

I could relate to this. I'm a native-English speaker who reads a lot. I come across words I'm not sure about all the time (words like 'apophatic' and 'obsequies', which I read in the last two days). My wife says she rarely comes across a Chinese word she doesn't know. When she does see an unfamiliar word, she can usually figure out the meaning from the characters it contains. My wife doesn't read as much as I do, but still I find that odd.

I wonder of our Chinese friends here who are in academics, read literature, etc.: How often do you come across new words in Chinese?

I also wonder of our European friends (whose native languages aren't English): Can you speak to the difference of learning new words in English versus Chinese?

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creamyhorror

Watched the video. Actually, there wasn't much new information there that hasn't been talked about in this forum, but it's a good introduction to word frequency and unassisted reading. We actually had a discussion thread about this - here's a quote from songlei's first post:

when i read a novel or a news article that talks about some specific event (e.g. a fire, not politics or economics), i am still confronted with massive amounts of new vocabulary, but only of the sort that you rarely see. the type of vocabulary you will find used only once in an entire novel, and probably not at all in the next you will read. but the vocabulary of this type does still take up about say 2-5% of the texts you will encounter. it appears that the road to tackling this 2-5% is the longest and most difficult, since the reservoir of rare and advanced vocabulary is the biggest, and the chances of each individual word or expression returning the smallest. because of the low frequency of encounters with these words, combined with their complexity (they are mostly words and expressions that we don't use in our own languages) as well as the vast amount of new ones you will encounter during a reading session, that is if you read at a relatively fast pace, it makes it almost impossible to master them, even with tools such as srs.

Sounds quite like what Prof Arguelles was saying in his video, huh?

About this:

That is interesting. My wife and I had a conversation about it. She said, based on her experience learning English, that with English you can get by knowing less than a person could in Chinese. She agreed that Chinese is harder for me (vocabulary-wise) than English was for her--in the short term. The difficulty of English, she said, is in the endgame. English's last 2% is harder than Mandarin's because of the sheer number of low-frequency words to learn.

I could relate to this. I'm a native-English speaker who reads a lot. I come across words I'm not sure about all the time (words like 'apophatic' and 'obsequies', which I read in the last two days). My wife says she rarely comes across a Chinese word she doesn't know. When she does see an unfamiliar word, she can usually figure out the meaning from the characters it contains. My wife doesn't read as much as I do, but still I find that odd.

Yeah, what your wife said would be anecdotal evidence for the view that character-based composition actually makes it possible for a greater number of low-frequency words to be used in Chinese without increasing the learning load of users of Chinese.

Here's the stat for word coverage for English vs Chinese, courtesy of c_redman:

Ah, I see it now. If you knew the top 5,000 English words (lemmas are a better comparison to Chinese, but the list I have only goes to 6,300), you would know 89.5% of the BNC, but you would need to know 9,010 of the top Chinese words to know the same amount!

And this very large difference is probably attributable to the "numerous cross-links between words with overlapping characters that make Chinese word learning easier (to a greater extent than English word families simplify English learning)." I know this is true for me when I see a word like 比拟 for the first time and immediately infer its meaning to be "compare" + "imitate" = "to match/compare [to]". I wouldn't be able to do the same for "apophatic" (or "tergiversate", "eleemosynary", "gelid", "kismet", etc.).

P.S. That discussion thread is really good - lots of insight and advice from regulars here about learning advanced vocabulary - I recommend it to all interested folks. Linking it again: Memorizing vocabulary at the advanced level

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edelweis

@murrayjames: since a lot of English words (especially those considered advanced vocabulary) are derived from Latin and French words, I really can't compare learning English words with learning Chinese words... plus I'd need to be much more advanced in Chinese to make any useful comparison.

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Silent

I can pretty much relate to the video however I think it's not the complete story unless you're really advanced. I think it's not only the number of words you don't understand, but also the ability, the stamina to go on without properly understanding what you read. I remember reading my first books in English and German. I didn't properly understand. Partly a vocabulary issue, but also a grammar issue. If you take time to lookup every word, analyze every sentence you loose the story line. Now I experience the same with Chinese. I've started reading lvl 1 Chinees Breeze. Vocabulary wise I find them easy. When I read however I need quite a bit of time to properly analyse and understand. That way ain't going to work, it will take so much time I loose the storyline (and interest). So I just read it with a lower comprehension rate. Much of what i loose in comprehension will sink in later and/or be filled in by what follows. Every once in a while I go back a page to re-read it as the quick and dirty interpretation seems to conflict. After finishing the book you can read it again to get a better understanding. I probably will reread them, if only to read along with the audio track as my understanding of spoken Chinese severely lags.

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imron

The other great point I think the video makes is the importance of making a steady progression to more and more difficult texts, with the words you pick up from the earlier books providing the extra coverage to make it easier to read more advanced books later on. This is definitely something I have found to be true, and it's great to see it validated elsewhere and for a completely different language at that!

The book I'm reading at the moment is in Traditional Chinese characters and so my reading comprehension is slightly lower than what it would be for the same text in Simplified, but it's been interesting to see how my comprehesion has increased solely through reading and guessing and not through dictionary lookup. For example there have been a number of characters where I maybe won't be able to guess it the first time I see it, but later on I'll see it used next to another word, or perhaps as a radical in part of another character that I can guess, and then suddenly once I know what the simplification is, a whole chunk of other characters become clearer. 糹言糹simplifying to the top part of 变, and 韋 simplifying to 韦 are two examples of the top of my head.

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roddy

Imron, I know you've posted a lot about what you've read - have you ever posted an in-order list of the stuff you've progressed through?

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imron

Here is what I read last year, including indicators showing what I thought were easier novels, and that is arranged by the order in which I read them. Here is the list I'm going through currently. Once I've finished with my current book 《色戒》I'll have read everything on that list except for the 4 volumes of 《神雕侠侣》(plus I've also read《狼图腾》which was not on that list). Although I didn't quite read things in the order listed there, it's close enough.

I've also been posting in the "What are you reading thread" each time I start and finish a book, beginning from 《圈子圈套》 . So if you start from that post and keep reading through that thread, you'll see my brief thoughts on the books I've read so far.

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c_redman

I personally feel that needing 98% knowledge is an overly high estimate. In actual language you can generally make a rough guess at the etymology of the unknown word. But with the black bars in the example used in the video (and the nonsense words used in the original study), there is no hope of knowing it, except by the surrounding words. In my own experience, I could read and have a basic understanding of Chinese fiction at around 90%.

The referenced study is Unknown Vocabulary Density and Reading Comprehension, Marcella Hu Hsueh-chao and Paul Nation, and is interesting reading. There is a clear correlation between known words and comprehension between 80% and 100%. If you scroll to the end you can try out the actual test yourself, and see that 80% knowledge isn't sufficient for good comprehension. On the other hand, from their plotted results, the difference between 90% and 95% is quite hard to discern.

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WestTexas

I think 98% is a bit high too... does anyone have a link to the video not on youtube for those of us in PRC with no proxy?

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imron

I think his point is not that you can't read at lower than 98% comprehension, just that at that point you can basically start to acquire new vocabulary just by reading and without needing to resort to a dictionary. Chinese is slightly different in this regard in that if a word contains new characters you still need to look up the pronunciation, but even so you can still pick up a lot of vocab that way (I've definitely found this in my reading). The other point is that even though at 90-95% you can still have general comprehension, it has a significant impact on your ability to enjoy the reading process. This is also definitely something I have found to be true in my own reading and I also mentioned a specific example in the thread creamyhorror linked to above.

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creamyhorror
Chinese is slightly different in this regard in that if a word contains new characters you still need to look up the pronunciation, but even so you can still pick up a lot of vocab that way

Speaking of pronunciation, I find it irritating when I come across an unfamiliar character, try to guess at a reading for it, keep reading, and encounter the character again (and again). It's troublesome to look up, but if I don't I probably won't learn it (or remember it the next time I see it) - or I'll cement an incorrect pronunciation. Ugh, I can't stand that kind of thing. That's why reading with Chinesepera-kun is more pleasant.

I guess if I read enough I would eventually learn the actual meanings of these characters/words, but that would take forever considering how little I read. I'd rather check the dictionary and put the words in Anki. (I wish I could be more like imron!)

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Ludens

So, did anyone take the www.vocabularysize.com test? I did, and the results seem to confirm the extensive reading theory. I'm not a native speaker of English, and got a score of "at least 10,800 word families".

I've never studied English, never touched an English textbook, but do have (10+) years of exposure through reading (books, online) and listening (movies, music). I occasionally look words up in a dictionary, but I roughly estimate that of those 10,800 words, I've acquired 8000 through exposure. This means that it's possible to gain vocabulary through "extensive reading" even if you don't have 98% comprehension yet.

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abcdefg

... does anyone have a link to the video not on youtube for those of us in PRC with no proxy?

I watched the video and then looked for a text version. Couldn't find one, but did come across some of the same author's relevant comments here:

My main goal in studying foreign languages is to develop the ability to read the Great Books that have been written in them. The following scale shows how close I have come to my target of being able to access the classic literature and thought that has been expressed in each language listed. For this scale, I assume a base of 100% in my native English and derive the other percentage scores relative to this.

Scores in the 90's mean that I have truly attained my goal: I can read Great Books texts written in the language with approximately the same levels of understanding and appreciation of style that I have for texts written in English. Furthermore, my reading speed is not markedly slower, and I do not have to exert any conscious energy to remain focused for long periods of time. When listening to recorded books, a single take of the narrative suffices. With scores in the higher 90's I can dispense with a dictionary altogether, while with those in the lower 90's I still need to use one on occasion if I want to catch all minor descriptive details.

Scores in the 80's mean that I have attained my goal: I can read Great Books texts with high levels of appreciation and understanding. However, my reading speed is slower than it is for the above category, and it requires some conscious energy to remain focused for longer periods of time. When listening to recorded books, a second take of the narrative helps me to catch things I may miss the first time. While I can follow the development of the plot or the argument without using a dictionary, I risk getting only the gist and missing the nuances, so I prefer to have one at hand. Nonetheless, when I can muster the time and mental dedication required to commit myself to a period of exclusive focus on a language in this range, simply reading extensively and intensively and thus seeing words in their context enables me to markedly increase my range of vocabulary more rapidly than if I were to stop repeatedly to look them all up.

http://foreignlangua.../about.html#lrt

Personally, I am still much, much less advanced. One (of several) stumbling block to high-grade literacy for me has been chengyus. They turn up everywhere and I sometimes don't even recognize them as such -- I try to take them apart and understand them literally.

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