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sangajtam

Can human being read in Chinese as fast as in latin Aa-Zz alphabet?

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sangajtam

I am too old to remember how it was when i did not know language good.

But now when i see a page in my native language or in English, i can immediately tell what it is about or find what i am looking for.

Is this also possible for a person who knows well Chinese?

Cause now when i know some characters, words and trying to read a web page full of text, i have to go slowly. Very slowly.

When i will know more, better and be with language longer - will it be automatic and as fast as in languages i already know?

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tysond

Yes, over time.  You actually train your brain to read automatically.  Chinese people talk about "reading ten lines at a glance" which is considered to be like speed reading.  They can do what you say - quickly scanning for keywords, understanding sentences almost immediately, etc.

 

Check out: http://www.hackingchinese.com/learning-how-to-read-ten-lines-at-a-glance/

 

Once you know how to read in one Latin alphabet based language, it's pretty easy to transfer the skill to a new one and you pick up reading speed pretty quickly (was my experience learning Dutch and Malay) and you feel like you are just learning vocab (new word "spellings") and grammar (the order of words and endings etc).  

 

But Chinese requires learning new reading skills - recognizing the characters, grouping them correctly into words (no spaces), and then recognizing vocabulary, grammar, etc.   It's really really slow going at first because you are doing all of them at once.  You get better at it but it takes a quite a long time to build automatic reading skill - because your existing skills aren't transferable.  

 

Lots of reading is the best way to practice.  I recommend using graded readers that have a limited set of characters.  Then you are training one skill (automatic reading) independently of vocabulary and characters that you know.  Over time this builds up a skill of being able to read the familiar parts of a sentence quickly, then slow down and focus on the unfamiliar bits.  Random web pages are not great as a beginner, because they can have a huge range of characters and vocabulary.  So you end up being slowed down on every second word, and don't even get to build a skill of reading the easy words fast.

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renzhe

EDIT: lost the post.

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hedwards

It's clearly faster to read Chinese, assuming that you know the characters and don't have to look them up. If you can get your hands on a Chinese movie with Chinese subtitles you'll see what I mean. The lines come and go too quickly for me to even count the number of characters there. I definitely couldn't read English that quickly.

 

Keep in mind that these are movies that are meant to appeal to typical Chinese people, not to people that are necessarily especially fast readers.

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Lanchong

The lines come and go too quickly for me to even count the number of characters there. I definitely couldn't read English that quickly.

But you can read English that quickly, if we're talking about the amount of information received. After all, you can easily read an English-subtitled Chinese movie, right?
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prophecy

I suspect Chinese would be much faster to read. There seems to be a lot more information packed into the characters for the space vs English. I remember reading in Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers the argument that Chinese people were better at math because the pronunciation of their number system was shorter and also more logical.

 

Anyway in short I think the answer to your question would be emphatically yes. I remember having the same idea briefly before whilst struggling and challenging one of my native Chinese friends to read aloud an article really really fast, which she did no problem whatsoever.

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Lanchong

There seems to be a lot more information packed into the characters for the space vs English.

The problem isn't physical, though. I can move my eyes across a page much faster than I can read. The limit is the speed at which we comprehend language.

Have a read of this article: http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2091477,00.html The more "data-dense" a language is, the slower it is spoken. The less dense it is, the faster it's spoken. The overall result is the same. It seems to reasonable to assume the same is true of reading.

Despite that, what's surprising is how similar English and Chinese are. A lot of two-syllable words, a few three-syllable words, with one-syllable connectives. The information from syllables in English and syllables in Chinese are very close.

A final supporting observation: when educated Chinese people read classical Chinese aloud - which is far more dense than modern Chinese or English - it's very obvious how they slow down their reading speed.

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hedwards

Lanchang, I can read English at about 650 words per minute before I start losing information, but that requires the words to be presented to me in a way that doesn't rely upon peripheral vision.

 

You're assuming that the subtitles contain the same number of words and are on screen for the same period of time, and in my experience that's not true. Perhaps I've been watching movies that aren't normal, but the ones I've seen those subtitles aren't up there for anywhere near as long as the English equivalent would be. By the time I realize that the characters are there, they're just about gone.

 

And this really makes sense. English has 26 letters, you could treat that as 52 if you wanted to consider upper case separately, then there's probably a dozen or so punctuation marks and the like that show up. So, in order to read a word, you have to recognize the entire outline of the word and move your eyes much further. With Chinese, you've got a much larger number of possible outlines which helps a person to recognize the word a bit further out and with somewhat less effort.

 

As far as data density and speed, I'm skeptical. All languages are spoken at approximately the same rate of utterance. The limits there are primarily physical, the brain has to coordinate some pretty complex movements between the lips, jaw, tongue, larynx and such. Consequently it's impossible to speak Chinese any faster than Russian, English, Flemish or any other language because the muscles and nerves being used are the same. You do get more communication per unit of time when you're using a data-dense language, but it's not because the rate of speech is any faster, it's because each utterance communicates more.

 

As far as Classical Chinese goes, of course they take longer to read that. When I'm reading Shakespeare that takes me longer, and if I want to read something like Chaucer that's going to take me still longer. Part of that is that I'm choosing to read something that's hard and part of it has to do with the fact that I don't get to use the shortcuts that I would normally use when reading. I probably even have to look a ton of words up because they're spelled oddly or don't even exist in English any longer. I would assume that Classical Chinese would be similar in that regard.

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prophecy

I'm also skeptical of the data-density versus speed line of thought.

 

I suspect with sufficient familiarity of the subject matter the physical limitations would indeed be the barrier. You can see some speed-reading computer programs out there which try to eliminate the physical limitations by presenting text to you one word at a time in the center of your vision. They claim to allow you to read much faster using this method.

 

If my brain already has the right schemata I have no problem parsing information as fast as I can read it.

 

Classical Chinese of course people will have to slow down to read, because they need to take time to comprehend it. I think it's not so much because the information is denser, but just that people don't speak that way anymore. Perhaps, there's also a cultural element involved too. If you have information that is dense but in common use, e.g.  骑驴找马 you don't need to parse it, your brain already knows what that means so you don't have to think too much the concept is just activated in your mind.

 

So if you can instantly understand these concepts you are familiar with, the time it takes to input the idea is probably the limit.

 

Anyway this is probably a bit theoretical and of little interest to OP. No doubt most people who work at it will be able to read/comprehend Chinese very quickly indeed. Although for an older person it might be very hard indeed to retrain your brain to get to that point.

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Lanchong

hedwards, the article I linked to described an academic paper which did experiments and found that readers of different languages do NOT read aloud at the same speed. Languages where syllables carry more information are read more slowly.

I'm afraid I really can't relate to your subtitle experiences. Many shows on Sohu, like Modern Family, have dual subtitles in Chinese and English. You can also get dual subtitles for shows like Game of Thrones. I can read both sets of subtitles in the time they're up on the screen, and neither my Chinese nor English reading speeds are anything special.

I had a check of three Chinese movies and tv shows, and the subtitles pretty consistently appear when someone starts a phrase, and disappear just when they finish speaking the phrase. So as long as you can read as fast as the people speak - while the study above suggested was about 310char/minute, then there's no problem. Whatever way you look at it, that's far slower than your 650words/min in English.

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MPhillips

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Edited by MPhillips

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hedwards

@Lanchang, the study itself isn't valid as they don't seem to have controlled for other cultural issues not directly related to the rate of speech. Reading a text is also going to be dominated by the intent of the reader. I tend to read more slowly than I speak, even when you normalize for the gaps between the words, I read at a more relaxed rate than I would speak. Cultures where the language is less concise also tend to be cultures where most other things are done at a more relaxed pace. Within the US you see that with Southern dialects being more flowery and relaxed than in the North where things tend to move more quickly.

 

That 310 characters per minute is not something that I would personally trust as they weren't measuring reading speed, they were measuring the rate at which natives could take written language and produce spoken language. I can read 650 wpm, but not if I have to say it our loud. If I have to say it out loud I'd be surprised if I could hit 300 wpm

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Lanchong

@hedwards: I think you misunderstood my point about the 310char/minute. I'm talking about how fast people speak. Subtitles appeared exactly when the person began speaking, and disappeared just when they finished the final syllable. So if you can read at 310char/ minute - perhaps call it 400char/min to account for small delays - then you can follow Chinese subtitles. My point was that 400char/min isn't all that fast, if you compare it to the rate at which you're happy to read English. You're saying Chinese subtitles move fast; I'm trying to show otherwise.

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Pingfa

I agree with Lanchong about the link between higher density and reading speed. I came to the same conclusion in this thread: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/40303-is-it-me-or-is-scanning-chinese-characters-a-big-problem/

 

"I do recall reading something once about tests showing that Chinese people fixate their eyes on one spot for longer when reading Chinese than English people do when reading English. So I suppose Partner is right in that reading 漢字 is physically different to reading English. I personally find I read Chinese better when I read it at a slower pace than English (the compactness of Chinese makes up for the slower pace). "

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