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munterberg

Fluency in Reading: How long for a decent reading speed?

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munterberg

How long did it take you guys to get more rapid in reading Chinese character texts? I've got a fair amount of characters down and can read comics for the average 8-year old, but it still takes such a long time to go over the characters.

 

Is it possible to attain a reading speed that is comparable to English? Has somebody reached a level where you can 'skim' a Chinese text, i.e. look at a text and make out its topic / key facts in a few seconds?

 

Even after investing years into Chinese, I feel that I'll always be reading at a terribly slow pace, and it's irritating me so much.

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li3wei1

How long is a piece of string?

 

You'll probably never get to native-language equivalence, but it will get easier, faster, and more enjoyable. It just takes lots of time. I would try many different bits of reading, online and offline, fiction and non-fiction, and try them all. If you find something that you can read comfortably, looking up a few words per paragraph or page, read as much as you can. If it's too hard, put it aside and come back later. If it's too easy, save it for when you're really tired or on the toilet or something. But whatever reading you do, will make the next bit of reading easier.

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kdavid

I've been studying since 2006, completed an MA in the PRC, and now working toward a PhD in Modern Chinese History in the States.

 

My reading speed in Chinese is nowhere near what it is in English. Faster than it was a few years ago, yes, but still slow enough that I loath having to read Chinese-language monographs under pressure.

 

The main difference, I find, is that it's extremely difficult to skim in Chinese. Maybe I'll get to that level at some point, but you should temper your expectations.

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rezaf

By the time I was a teenager I think I had already read a few hundred serious novels plus everything else. That's when I was fluent in my mother tongue. I guess it takes a few hundred of Chinese novels to be fluent in reading Chinese as well.

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munterberg

 

I've been studying since 2006, completed an MA in the PRC, and now working toward a PhD in Modern Chinese History in the States.

 

My reading speed in Chinese is nowhere near what it is in English. Faster than it was a few years ago, yes, but still slow enough that I loath having to read Chinese-language monographs under pressure.

 

The main difference, I find, is that it's extremely difficult to skim in Chinese. Maybe I'll get to that level at some point, but you should temper your expectations.

 

Very interesting feedback, thanks for the input kdavid. I assume you are reading Chinese on a near-daily basis, so it really is that difficult. Native-like reading fluency might really be out of grasp for us late-comers who haven't picked it up in childhood.

 

 

 

You'll probably never get to native-language equivalence, but it will get easier, faster, and more enjoyable. It just takes lots of time. I would try many different bits of reading, online and offline, fiction and non-fiction, and try them all. If you find something that you can read comfortably, looking up a few words per paragraph or page, read as much as you can. If it's too hard, put it aside and come back later. If it's too easy, save it for when you're really tired or on the toilet or something. But whatever reading you do, will make the next bit of reading easier.

 

I can second your thoughts, those texts where you know the characters are lovely to read, but you get the best kick out of texts where maybe between 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 words are unknown. It's a fun way to practise vocabulary, especially if you re-visit the text later on and can cruise over the bits you had problems before, gives you a nice feeling of achievement.

 

 

 

Didn't take long at all. I just used this method - http://languagelog.l....edu/nll/?p=189 -  quickest , easiest and most efficient way to learn characters, and is backed by studies (rather than opinion/anecdotes etc). 

 

First, I'm always interested in actual scientific studies conducted on that topic, but your link doesn't quote any. Can you guide me to them?

 

Second, I'm actually using the occasional kids' book from China that has advanced texts (like stories from the Warring States period) but still features full Pinyin over the characters. Well, I'm sorry to say, but it makes reading the text kind of - irritating. It's often too enticing to skip the characters altogether and only read the Pinyin, so normally I end up covering the Pinyin with a piece of paper so I only see the characters (kind of defeating the purpose) It might only be me, but I just find the additional Pinyin too distracting, especially since it does not help you reinforce remembering the character's pronunciation, as your eyes just naturally wander off to the easier Pinyin, unless you cover it which I tend to do as mentioned. So apart from making the character easier to look up in the dictionary, I really dislike the Pinyin above the characters. Either make it full characters or full Pinyin for me, I guess.

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abcdefg

@Munterberg --

 

Even after investing years into Chinese, I feel that I'll always be reading at a terribly slow pace, and it's irritating me so much.

 

I've asked about the same issue here and have gotten lots of good advice. Some particularly astute suggestions by Imron. Will see if I can find them and post links. You might also try searching older threads.

 

Personally, my problem is two-fold. From the outset I always cared more about the spoken language and still do today. Conversation is where my heart is, and that's where I invested my major time and effort. Reading Chinese is a distant second.

 

Furthermore, even though it irritates me not to be able to read fluently, it doesn't irritate me quite enough to spur me to take effective action and try to remedy the problem. I simply lack the motivation and will therefore probably always read slowly, word by word. I'm not proud of that, and wish it weren't so.

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L-F-J

I think the key to being good at reading Chinese (like any language) is reading a lot.

 

The problem with Chinese in particular is that the writing system is not really phonetic. So, there may be a word you've previously learned but haven't seen in a while and you will stumble on it. Look it up though, and you'll realise you already know the word, but just didn't remember the characters. That problem, combined with truly unknown words will slow your reading speed down because you can't even sound it out. You can skip the word and read on in order to not affect your speed, but your comprehension will be affected then. And which is really more important?

 

The way to remedy this problem, in my opinion, is to read a lot. This way, you'll run into certain words/characters enough that their familiarity won't wear off, or will at least be strengthened each time you run across them, and this is bound to happen more often if you're reading a lot. If it has been a long time, because you haven't been reading enough or often enough, you will stumble on words you may know in listening and speaking, and that's just frustrating when you should already know them.

 

This problem doesn't exist in other languages with a phonetic alphabet. I've been learning German and I often run into words I haven't seen in a very long time, because Chinese is my priority, but because I can pronounce the word I'm seeing, the familiar sound brings its meaning to my mind and my reading speed is not affected. I don't have this luxury in Chinese. If I want to remember the characters of a word, I have to be reading a lot in order to come across them more often. Listening and speaking activities won't make up for it, like with German.

 

It may sound too simple (just read more), but the more I read, the more I find I'm able to read fast due to the freshness with the characters. If I go a while without reading, my reading speed will slow down as I refresh my familiarity with certain characters.

 

So that's my advice. Read a lot, and keep it up. You'll eventually get faster as your familiarity with the characters increases.

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imron

Didn't take long at all

I'm curious. Previously you have stated that it's best to wait several years before even starting characters. How is that 'not long at all'.

I'm also curious as to what books/materials you are reading with a similar speed and proficiency as your native language, and how many complete novels would you say you have read in Chinese?

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imron

Also, in answer to the OP.  As others have mentioned, you need to read, and read a lot.

 

This thread contains a bunch of information, including from my own experience, about improving reading fluency.  Short version - it took me about 4-5 full-length novels (at high e.g. > 98% comprehension) before feeling like reading wasn't a chore and maybe about 8-9 books before feeling comfortable.   This was reading approx 1 book a month - it's probably not going to be much benefit to your reading speed if you are spacing those books out over several years.

 

Also see this post of mine here about developing a reading habit.

 

Then it's also useful to specifically drill reading at a faster pace.  I mention one way to do this here.

 

Finally, despite all of that, like the other posters mentioned above, my Chinese reading fluency is still far below my English, but at least it's now at a point where it's not uncomfortable to read for long periods of time.

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AdamD

My reading speed is still jerky—see a word, process, see a word, process—but it gets faster every year. I don't reckon it'll ever catch up to my English reading speed.

However, there's this. Tonight I suddenly had to read aloud a couple of pages of text I hadn't seen, and it felt just like reading English. Apart from the odd stumble, I voiced the whole thing at normal speed. That really crept up on me.

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li3wei1

I was recently proofreading a textbook, and trying to concentrate on the pinyin sections as the characters had been proofread by someone else. I found that when I wanted to read the pinyin, the characters were actually easier.

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realmayo

One underestimated way to increase your reading speed is to get better at listening and speaking.

 

At least, I think that must be true. Imagine that you've only come across the word 身体 a few times, in speaking/reading/listening/whatever. You kind of know the two characters 身 and 体 but not very well. If you come across 身体 in a sentence you've got to pause to puzzle out what the characters are and then work out the meaning.

 

But if your Chinese is much better and you've come across and used the word 身体 in countless situations: then you're already half-expecting the word in that sentence. So, when you see it, you're not working from bottom-to-top, figuring out the meaning. Instead you've given yourself a big hint about what the word might be and it becomes a matter of confirmation rather than working-it-out. Which is quicker.

 

 

Yes, there's a skill to reading characters rather than letters. And yes there's a skill to reading in a new language. And sure, drills and intensive work will improve those skills. But if your listening/speaking abilities are high, you're bound to read faster than if they're not. Reading becomes a matter of just putting jigsaw pieces together.

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Michael H

To address the OP's question about skimming, the "Read This Way" series of textbooks has (among other things) a number of exercises where you are supposed to skim texts very quickly to extract key bits of information. 

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etm001

 

 

Is it possible to attain a reading speed that is comparable to English? Has somebody reached a level where you can 'skim' a Chinese text, i.e. look at a text and make out its topic / key facts in a few seconds?

I don't think I'll ever read in Chinese as fast as I can in English, especially since I didn't start learning it as a child. I'm happy to say that my reading speed/comprehension improves daily - and should for a quite a long time - including my ability to skim texts. 

 

 

 

Even after investing years into Chinese, I feel that I'll always be reading at a terribly slow pace, and it's irritating me so much.

One simple thing that has helped me a bit: I reminder myself to read faster. I tend to settle into a "default" comfortable reading speed. The truth is, though, is that I'm able to read a bit faster than this default speed without sacrificing much comprehension (if any) - but I have to remind myself to do so.

 

Another habit I have when I read in Chinese is pronouncing (and making sure I pronounced correctly) each word in my mind (i.e., an inner narrator). Inner narration is effortless in English, but in Chinese it requires an active part of my brain, and it slows down my reading pace. I can't shake this habit (and I don't know if I ever will - or should?), but I do at times try to turn it off, and let my eyes glide over the words and (hopefully) instantaneously recognize the meaning without voicing the pronunciation internally.

 

Here are some other tips/thoughts that have helped me over time:

  • As others have noted, reading at your level - over very slightly beyond it - is most effective. This means 95% recognition. And even at this level of recognition you'll be reaching for a dictionary often enough.
  • Before you start reading a text - especially literature - decide upon your reading approach. Here are some that work for me:​
  1. Reading for Pleasure: with this approach I want to have a uninterrupted, relaxed reading experience. I don't look up any words. I minimize re-reading and backtracking. For this approach to work, it's critical that you do not read beyond your level (and probably read something slightly below your level).
  2. Read First, Look-up Later: read the text first and mark unknown words, then go back and look up the words. This approach works a bit better when reading shorter texts. If you are reading a novel, read just one chapter at a time. If the chapter is long, divide it half or into small sections if necessary.
  3. Lookup + Flashcard First, Read Later: quickly skim a portion of text and create flashcards for unknown characters/words. Drill on these words for a short period of time - just long enough for them to start to cement in your short-term memory, then read the text. Repeat the process a few times. Note: skimming is effortless if you are reading text at your level, as the characters/words you don't know should be few and jump out at you immediately when you encounter them.

My preferred method, which I feel best balances learning with reading for pleasure, is method #3. 

 

My final comment: Pleco's OCR and reader functionality can be a big help. Here's how I use the two to supplement my reading:

  • Take a picture of a page, run the OCR, then tap-select a word to add them to a flashcard deck. This method usually is faster than manually looking up the words.
  • Read source material in Pleco reader. This allows for instant dictionary look up and/or adding words to flashcard decks.
    • ​I sometimes use a pen scanner to OCR text to a PDF file, then read the PDF in Pleco reader. However, this adds a lot of overhead to the end-to-end read/study process and I am increasingly less fond of it.
    • I'm on the verge of buying a document scanner with an ADF (auto document feeder). My plan is to cut the bindings off books, scan them, then read them in Pleco. While this method also involves a bit of initial overhead, in the long run I expect it to make the end-to-end read/study process much faster and relaxing. Obviously cutting the bindings off books may be a non-option for some, but I buy mostly cheap, used books that I usually have no interest in keeping long-term. (Also: the sheer volume of books I have makes it cheaper in the long run to scan all of them instead of shipping them to my next destination in the world).
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icebear

I've been reading a half dozen articles daily for ~3 years (~1 hour per day, I guess). While my speed has picked up considerably, it still lags well behind reading in English. As others have noted, skimming with decent comprehension is the most difficult skill to develop. I recall seeing (others might be able to confirm) research that Chinese readers skim in a substantially different fashion than those of other languages.

 

Regarding when you started - essentially, if Chinese isn't your first language, you started too late :) I have a friend here that is half Chinese, raised in Beijing, including attending standard public schools until middle school and continuing with part time Chinese since, and now (mid-life) he still says skimming Chinese at the same level as his English (which he studied in for high school, uni, grad school) is a challenge. I think a lot of that skill is built in high school and university as one is cramming as much information as possible in a short time, and it is hard to substitute that experience with a hour or two a day a few times a week.

 

That said, there is plenty of great advice on these boards on how to improve. While I can't read as well as in English, in my area of expertise I find it useful and sometimes even pleasurable to read Chinese articles/essays - and that is a great feeling.

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imron
As others have noted, reading at your level - over very slightly beyond it - is most effective. This means 95% recognition.

95% is still probably too low. 98% is around the level when unknown words stop having a significant impact on understanding. See this thread (and watch the linked video) for a good demonstration of this.

Lookup + Flashcard First, Read Later: quickly skim a portion of text and create flashcards for unknown characters/words.

This is actually a really good thing to do - and if you'll excuse the shameless plug, is one of the reasons I created Chinese Text Analyser. You can use it to analyse text, and then export the top N unknown words sorted by frequency, or first occurrence for prelearning in a flashcard program or whatever.

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etm001

 

 

This is actually a really good thing to do - and if you'll excuse the shameless plug, is one of the reasons I created Chinese Text Analyser. You can use it to analyse text, and then export the top N unknown words sorted by frequency, or first occurrence for prelearning in a flashcard program or whatever.

This looks great and I can immediately see its usefulness. In fact, I made a Pleco enhancement request a while ago for something similar (without knowing about your program):

 

Allow text in Pleco reader (or a document saved in Pleco/Dropbox) to become the source for a new flashcard set. I want to Pleco to select the words in the source text for inclusion in the flashcard set, based on flashcard database metrics that I either pre-define and/or I select at run time. I want to see the candidate words that Pleco selects for the flashcard set and be able to easily remove words that I don't want in the set.

 

I have years and years of flashcard metrics in Pleco. Is there a way to extract them for use in Chinese Text Analyzer? I wouldn't be adverse to shuffling files between CTA and Pleco, as in the long run it could greatly reduce the time I spend skimming texts and adding new flashcards to Pleco.

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imron

Yes.  CTA can import new vocabulary - just have a file with one word per line (anything on the line after the first whitespace is ignored, so the line can contain other things after the word also).

 

In Pleco you can export your cards as a utf8 text file.  Don't include anything extra data with the cards and you'll have a file that contains the headword followed by a tab, followed by the pinyin.

 

You can then email/copy this file to your computer, and import it directly in CTA from the File->Import option.

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imron

Also, FYI, the Chinese Text Analyser thread is here if you have further questions on usage.

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