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scoopneals

The Next Step in Chinese Reading... Reaching for fluency.

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scoopneals

Hey all:

Some background on myself: I've lived in China for about 4 months, can understand basic conversations (basic might even be exaggerating), and before I came here I never seriously studied Chinese.

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After finishing Tuttle's Learning Chinese Characters, and being able to recognize about 1000 characters (not words), I thought diving into reading material was going to be a breeze. Reality has struck me, however, and I've found that my comprehension level is far from what I thought it would be. I've started reading the Bible, some movie scripts, and articles, picking up new characters/words as I go. To be honest, it has been quite difficult, and reading this language is a much greater task than I ever imagined. So great that I've contemplated quitting, as I'm sure most people on this forum have experienced before. I'm not quitting, I'm just expressing honest emotions I've experienced lately.

After digging through these forums, I've been trying to decide the best way to move forward. I've noticed that a lot of people recommend the Chinese Breeze series, combined with SRS. I also noticed Imron (admin) point out gato's (forum user) methods, which included learning 2200 Characters along with 250 idioms.

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After all of my digging, this is how I plan to move forward. I will learn these 2200 most common characters (1000 of which I already know pretty well) as well as the 250 idioms phrases posted by gato on Pleco's website. At the same time, I will continue reading things I'm interested in, rather than go through readers. Basically, I'm going for the the sink or swim method of reading. What I mean is that regardless of the level, I'm just going to dive in.

http://plecoforums.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=516&p=3101#p3101

I am interested to know from others, do you think this is a good method to move forward in reading with the amount of characters/knowledge that I currently have? Any words of cautions? Any success stories with sink or swim reading?

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li3wei1

What have you got against readers? I find them good because a) the words are right there and you don't waste time looking them up and b) they're designed to use a limited vocabulary so you can read them without the frustration. The trick is to find something you can read for as long as possible without giving up/falling asleep etc. Readers are pretty good for that.

You could also try using Perapera kun on the computer, and just browsing around. This gives the instant lookup, and if something is still too hard, just browse on somewhere else.

I'd say don't prioritise learning more characters over learning how to use the ones you've got. A bit of reading every day, and a bit of flashcarding for reviewing your 1000 and adding new ones.

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realmayo

My guess is that if you are extremely extremely gifted at languages, or if you already speak a language very similar to Chinese, then this method might work for you. If not, it will be very inefficient and take you much longer to learn the language than a more structured approach. Are you also having lessons and using a textbook?

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scoopneals

I guess I'm just not so sure about graded readers. They just seem to stop at a certain point. Chinese Breeze, for example, only goes to 750 characters... To me, that seems like its stopping a little early. Maybe they'll make more in the future, I'm not sure... but it seems like after that, I'll have to jump in anyways. Right? Is there another reader you would suggest, or is Chinese Breeze the best?

I guess the real question is... at what point do you jump in and just not worry about how many characters you know/it uses?

Realmayo - I'm not having lessons, but self-studying. I have NPCR 1... but I hate it, haha. I suppose you suggest giving it a chance? I guess I could... but do I have to? :P

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li3wei1

There are other readers besides Chinese Breeze, and between them they cover the whole spectrum. As to what point to jump in, try a bit of 'ungraded' every day, and when you find you're comfortable, go with it.

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peterlkj

Sadly for all of us learning Chinese, I don't think 1000 characters is anywhere near enough to tackle even some of the simplest children's books without a huge amount of frustration. There are a good number of discussions on the forums already about how many words/characters are needed for comfortable reading, but to cut a long story short, I would agree with the others here in suggesting making good use of readers. If you try to take native adult level materials head on, you will probably be overwhelmed with new words within just the first few paragraphs.

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laurenth

In my opinion, readers are really good to get you started, solidify your knowledge of characters and teach you how to combine them into words. I've read all of the Chinese Breeze readers. After that, I recommend the two readers published by Sinolingua (Amazon: here). They contain abridged contemporary short stories which are, as one might expect, more interesting than those of Chinese Breeze.

After that, for the "next step", I haven't found anything that truly allows me to do extensive reading (i.e. without using a dictionary too often): there are no other readers that I know of for a ~2000 character level. In my experience, many children books and comics are still hard at that level. I've had some success with youth magazines (读者). Or I've plunged into "real" literature written for natives, but of course I still need to use my dictionary too often, which doesn't make for "comfortable reading".

li3wei1, what other readers would you recommend?

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character

For Simplified Chinese material, have you considered reading in Pleco? Capture an image of a page and run OCR on it. Turn off the display of recognized characters so you can see the page. Read, and when you run across a word you don't know, tap on it and Pleco will try to tell you what word it is. You can then add the word to flashcards. If you start reading so quickly that this method is slowing you down, just read the page in the book and use live OCR to look up the few words you don't know.

The Graded Chinese Reader books (there are three of them) look good.

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roddy

When I see relatively new learners talking about how many *characters* they know, I get the same feeling I do watching a seven-year old cycle happily towards a cliff. By all means keep a tally of characters, but words are much more important, every time. Sounds like you've discovered this problem, but not yet adjusted your expectations accordingly?

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scoopneals

First thing- Looks like a try a reader out, tell you guys how it goes. Looks like Kindle has been released in China recently, so the readers are looking real cheap on amazon (10yuan!). I just have to figure out how to pay for it...

Character- thank you for the pleco tip. I love it, use it all the time :)

Roddy - I just gave a character count to help you get a feel for where I'm at... I finished that book I mentioned in the first post (which had a total of 800 characters), and I've probably picked up an extra 200 along the way. I've also been actively using these words in texting friends/messaging people online, as well as trying to engage in conversation whenever possible. I'm not really keeping count of my words (or characters for that matter) as I think its a waste of time. Hope that's more clear. I do completely agree that words are more important than characters.

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li3wei1

The Graded Chinese Reader series is good (remember that they're not numbered in order of difficulty: 3 is easiest, then 1, then 2), and they've got audio and pinyin (which isn't to everyone's taste). I've enjoyed Zhou Zhi-ping's Anything Goes and All Things Considered, and he's put out a whole bunch of them through Princeton University Press (disclaimer: I studied under him a long time ago). At a more advanced level, there's Advanced Reader of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories (Wang and Reed, Univ. of Washington Press), and the Capturing Chinese series. But there are many more.

If you're not using a textbook and don't have a tutor, you may find it useful to get a book on grammar. You'll occasionally find a sentence where you can look up every word and still not understand what it's saying, and a grammar book may help you out. Get one with a good index.

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realmayo

The issue isn't just vocabulary, it's patterns, i.e. grammar and usage.

If you dive in using normal Chinese texts like a novel or a newspaper, there'll be so much new stuff that it will take you ages to finish, it will be too much new material to take in, and you won't know which of that new material is common and worth learning, and which can probably wait until you've made more progress. You can't say 'I'll learn the stuff that comes up often' because you won't be seeing stuff often: you won't be seeing stuff often because it will take ages to work through native-level material.

Reading material that's at your level is much more efficient because everything new that you see is definitely worth learning: if there's something you don't understand, it won't be a waste of time spending time to understand it.

But this material can be extremely dull too and if you're getting a kick out of reading proper texts that interest you then doing both definitely makes sense. I think using a textbook makes sense. You could also consider the "Read this way" series of books which I remember I quite liked.

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gato

That method mentioned in OP's first post above is mentioned for Chinese heritage learners who already speak conversational Chinese, I believe.

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OneEye

I agree with realmayo. I don't understand the mindset of wanting to dive right into native material when you're at such a low level. I haven't found anything quite as demotivating as trying to read something when I'm nowhere near where I need to be to understand it. The best way IMO is to work your way through some quality textbooks first, learn as many words (and characters, but only in the context of learning words) as you can, and start dipping your toe into authentic material when it's comfortable to do so. Unfortunately, I can't make any textbook recommendations from firsthand experience, because of course the textbooks in Taiwan are different. But I have looked through the Boya Chinese (博雅汉语) books and they looked quite good. Add some good readers to those if you like, work hard, use SRS, and be patient, and eventually you'll actually be reading authentic material (rather than trying to decipher it like you're doing now).

I personally bought a few books and comics, and would look through them a bit whenever I felt like it to see where I was, and eventually one day I picked up one of them (亂馬1/2, vol. 1) and realized it was fairly easy. I read the whole volume in two afternoons, and then started on some other comics after that. Suddenly I was reading real stuff, and it was enjoyable to do so, so I did it as much as I could. I kept on with my textbooks though, until I was able to read what I really wanted to be reading, namely 武俠 novels and linguistics books. That took a bit over a year of very hard, full-time studying, and I started at a similar level to what it sounds like you're at now.

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imron

I'm going to jump in and say it's important to read something suitable for your level, otherwise it's just too frustrating. That's what makes graded readers so great, because they are much more accessible and you can slowly build up your familiarity with the language. Not all of them will be boring either.

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renzhe

FWIW, I did it without readers. You still need to pick suitable material, though, and progress towards more challenging stuff. I went like this:

Textbooks -> Doraemon -> Ranma -> Jin Yong -> Ba Jin

In retrospect, it would make more sense to swap the last two. Also, note that I did a lot of cramming and word-counting in the beginning to reach a basic vocabulary.

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icebear
FWIW, I did it without readers. You still need to pick suitable material, though, and progress towards more challenging stuff. I went like this:

Textbooks -> Doraemon -> Ranma -> Jin Yong -> Ba Jin

In retrospect, it would make more sense to swap the last two. Also, note that I did a lot of cramming and word-counting in the beginning to reach a basic vocabulary.

I'm not a fan of readers either, although the mid and upper level textbooks admittedly start to resemble them. My perception of reader (at least the Breeze series every refers to) is that is seems artificial - written for foreign consumption, right? In intermediate books they start feeding you short, short essays that were originally for Chinese consumers, which I think is far better. Invest into a good series of textbooks and study it thoroughly. Work on reading outside that also, but not as strictly. For textbooks I recommend 成功之路.

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scoopneals

Ok,

This thread has moved rather quickly, a lot of great feedback!

A quick update: I downloaded some Readers from amazon for kindle with my Bank of China account, which I didn't even know I could use on Amazon. So that's great (20 Yuan for 2, not bad eh?). I'll post back later when I go through a few of them/buy some more of them, let you all know how it goes. The last two posts have given me some inspiration as well :)

Seriously though, this has been tremendously helpful to get this kind of feedback so quickly. Thanks everyone.

I'm getting ready to leave for Yunan (which was recommended for me to visit in another forum post) so I won't be able to respond for awhile. I'll post back during the trip if I can find internet, or when I return.

Cheers!

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xiaolang

Have fun in Yunan then!

As for reading I have found it quite difficult myself and didn't really go for readers as they were a little bit boring. What helped me most was doing flashcards regularly and "specialize" in a field I'm interested first - which was sports for me. If you go to QQ or Sina or any other news sites, you have those I don't know how many sections, and those articles within one section usually use similar characters. It's still quite painful to get started as it takes ages to get through the first article, but I found it to be quite satisfying as you can see your progress much clearer if you stick to articles from that category as those words learned will come up again and again. And this way is free ;-)

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icebear

I also prefer xiaolang's method - I find reading business/economics news articles much more interesting/approachable than a general reader. And, as he mentioned, you tend to see the same vocab pop up over and over.

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