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Melanie1989

Knowing Characters, but not understanding sentences

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Melanie1989

I apologise if a similar thread has already been made. As you might be able to tell from the title, i have no idea how to really sum it up to search for it.

 

Anyway. Recently i have been reading lots of Chinese short stories and dialogues and a very annoying thing that i've noticed is that though i know a fair amount of characters (about 3000 and odd at this point. i know that's not a lot at all so i'm bound to be illiterate, but still), i still have lots of trouble understanding sentences. 

 

There seems to be lots of times where i know every last character in a sentence, but i don't actually understand it. For example, one made up off the top of my head, i know the characters 马 and 鸡, horse and chicken. But then i'll see them together in a sentence and i'll be like "what the heck is a horse chicken?" and i can't figure out what the sentence is supposed to mean.

 

That was such a bad example, sorry. 

 

It's weird that you can take two characters as above and understand them alone, then together they mean something completely different. Or is this just me being thick? Is this a common problem?

 

If anybody has any advice or opinions, please share them. Thank you.

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querido

That's a pretty good collection of characters but haven't you studied multi-character *words* too? See this most recent post by Imron about words vs characters: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/45681-n1-word-reading-website/#comment-344333 . Sorry if I've misunderstood your question.

 

I guess you should continue reading the short stories and dialogues while flashcarding these words you don't know, maybe along with the sentences too.

 

(There's grammar too, but that doesn't seem to be what your post is about.)

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shuoshuo

Okay, so you know a lot of characters which are great. Now it's time to start learning words. Words comprise of a combination of characters and if you can learn a few thousand words then you will be able to understand the sentences with no problems. I don't really know if I understood you though. Would an example be: 对,不,起...all good so far. But then 对不起...and now you're like WHAT?! Obviously, that's the simplest example but I'm trying to figure out if that's what you meant? Cheers.

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Melanie1989

I have been, but i was advised a while ago to stick to learning words that would be especially relevant to me until i got to a decent degree of fluency. Grammar i rarely have a problem with, but mostly it's just hard to find decent teaching material. Most things i can find seem to be either for absolute beginners (the 您贵姓 stage) or for near native level so there is no English explaining it.

 

I dunno, sentences just seem like gibberish to me most of the time. I know the characters, but not when they're together...

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Melanie1989

Shuoshuo, yes that's the kind of thing i'm talking about. Sorry if i was unclear, i'm very tired

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shuoshuo

If you are looking for good Chinese books, check out the ones from BLCU. There is beginner level 1 and 2 for speaking, listening, grammar, comprehension, and then there are books at higher levels such as beginner 2 (pre-intermediate), intermediate and then advanced. I noticed that there are different intermediate levels.

 

They usually publish it complete sets, try to buy these sets that start from beginner all through advanced. That way, it will be coherent. Best of luck!

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Melanie1989

Thanks very much guys. I skipped right past Imron's post for some reason. I will take a look now and also have a search for BLCU.

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imron
I skipped right past Imron's post for some reason

Either because it's a) a wall of text, or b) I only just posted it :mrgreen:

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grawrt

You should definitely start studying actual words. I honestly don't find learning characters in isolation much use at all.

 

Also I think you should try finding reading material with recordings. That way you can start to hear how they break down the sentences in spoken speech, as you listen read along so that you can train your eyes to read the sentence how it should, instead of mixing character couplets or pairs etc.
 

I recently finished "Learning Chinese Through Stories" By Lindo Ho (Peking University Press) 讲故事 学汉语, there are 2 books in the series but I'd recommend the first more. The stories test your understanding of the story because each story ends with a cute kind of twist. it comes with a CD, and the book has language points, etc. It's fairly simple, it was beneath my level but still a good read.

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Melanie1989

Thank you, Imron! Shameless plug and all, very helpful. Saved the link to your text analyser, will take the free trial when i've looked at the rest.

 

Thanks again, everyone. Good to know it's not just me. 

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Melanie1989

Seem to be posting at the exact same time as everybody else today. Haven't left the bloody page yet.

 

I will add that book to my list too then, grawrt, thank you. 

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Melanie1989

Imron - that and having my glasses on top of my head instead of my face!

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imron
Thank you, Imron! Shameless plug and all, very helpful. Saved the link to your text analyser, will take the free trial when i've looked at the rest.

There's even a few licences left from the Chinese-Forums giveaway if anyone's interested.

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ilovelamp

 

Either because it's a) a wall of text, or b) I only just posted it :mrgreen:

I don't get to post here very much because I spend most of my time reading your posts! (in a good way, not bad :) )

BTW, I am interested in your text-analyser application.. would there be a license giveaway available for me?? :D :D

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querido

Hey ilovelamp, go to the link he posted in #15 and do what he says there! Good luck!

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imron
Also I think you should try finding reading material with recordings

This is really good advice too.  A great show for doing this this is 锵锵三人行, which is a topical current affairs and general interest chat show covering the greater China region and contains full-transcripts.  Realmayo and others are also providing detailed breakdowns and discussion on various episodes, see further discussion here.

 

For those interested, here are the links to other discussions I mentioned above but was too lazy to include last night.

 

reading fluency

Extensive Reading and Vocabulary Range (video)

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

SRS: best 'environment' to remember?

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Silent

 

about 3000 and odd at this point. i know that's not a lot at all so i'm bound to be illiterate

I think the Chinese government defines basic literacy as knowing 1500-2000 characters depending or you are a peasant or a citydweller. So 3000 is really a good amount. For a learner these figures are not that relevant as a native who is already fluent in speaking can do a lot more with those characters.

 

As already mentioned by others, it's not just characters you need. You need words, sometimes the meaning of a word can easily be deducted from the characters, but sometimes little logic seems involved. Some people even plead that you should also learn sentences. I think sentences would help a lot, but what it really boils down to is grammar. You need to know how to (de)construct a sentences. What part of the sentence works on what part. E.g. a negation may work on an entire sentence, but also on a single word, an action may work on different parts of the sentence etc.

 

Added to all above, it takes practice. Even if you know all theory you have to put it all together the right way and preferably smoothly. Only practice will help you with that. So apart from different learning methods read, read nd read more.

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rebor

I wholeheartedly agree with imron, but I would argue that it is possible to attack novels and newspapers with considerably less than 10000 words under your belt, if you use pop-up dictionaries or Pleco Reader. I started reading newspaper articles with a vocabulary of around 5000. It didn't make for comfortable reading, but with a bit of patience it was perfectly doable, and for me far more rewarding than textbooks. I understood around 90%, but then I already had a decent grasp of basic grammar and sentence structures. At first the parsing was gruelling, but within six months it wasn't too bad, and by now(a couple of years later) I can read for a couple of hours without too much strain. With Pleco it couldn't be easier to create flashcards on the fly and then drill them, building your vocabulary as you read.  

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