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zakiya

I know thousands of characters but can read or make proper sentences

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Silent

 

 

To answer your question, very little. Its a bit of a catch 22 isn't it. If you practice talking to people and then you have little time to revise words, read the text do the homework etc.

Maybe it is, provided you have only a limited time to spend. But in the end it is just a balancing act. For optimal balanced results you have to work on all the skills. It's easy to get into some routine and keep doing the same thing over and over, but in the end it will be ineffective and possibly backfire.

 

With limited time available there's nothing wrong with concentrating on  a limited number of skills at a time as long as every once in a while you change your focus to a different skill. A good approach might be to evaluate every once in a while and change the focus to the weakest skill.

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etm001

A lot of great advice and observations have already been given in this thread. For what it's worth, here's mine:

  • Learn new vocabulary within the context of a larger piece of text. Here's what works for me:
    • Scan the text for new words and add them to your flashcard/SRS program.
    • Review the new words in your flashcard/SRS program.
    • After completing your first flashcard review of the words, immediately read the text.
    • Over the course of the next 2-3 days, continue to review the words in your flashcard/SRS program.
    • Finally, read the text again.

​This method is time intensive, but it works well for me. Note: I don't treat every text in this fashion. Some texts I read purely for leisure, accepting that I won't understand every word. For others I go into "study mode" and follow the method described above.

  • ​Write a sentence for every new vocabulary word you learn. At a minimum, write a short, declarative sentence (i.e, "The car is red"). If you have the time and inclination, challenge yourself to write a longer sentence. To be honest, 造句 can get a bit tedious, but the pay off is huge. Here are some things I used to do to make the process more interesting:
    • Try to write a sentence that incorporates multiple, new vocabulary words.
    • Don't write separate, stand-alone sentences. Instead, write a short story that incorporates as many of the new vocabulary words as possible. 

​In the end, writing something is better than writing nothing. And if you challenge yourself to write longer sentences and/or a short story, you'll be forced to look up many new words and/or grammar patterns in order to complete the story. For me that process was labor intensive, but ultimately hugely rewarding - I ended up learning far more than just the words in my vocabulary list. Finally, write using pencil and paper; typing sentences on a computer is not nearly as effective.

 

On a related note, I went to a language school in Taiwan that is sometimes criticized for being too reading/writing focused, which to some extent is true. That said, I'm convinced that the hours and hours I spent writing sentences (and ultimately full fledged essays) was worth it.

 

  • Don't just read the passages in your textbook. Go find books on topics in which you are interested and learn from them. Do you like to cook? Then go buy a cookbook. Do you love cycling? Then buy a book on bike repair. It's amazing how much more you will retain when you are learning from material in which you are really interested. Note: as others have said in this thread, it's critical that you use material at your level (i.e., you understand about 98% of the text).
  • Keep the texts that you read short. Long form reading can be tedious in your native language, and even more so in a secondary language. Read short stories, short news articles, etc. You'll still learn plenty without becoming overly fatigued.
  • It's also good to read (slightly) below your level. Why? You want reading in Mandarin to become an enjoyable and effortless activity, just like it is in your native language. As ambitious secondary language leaners we often push ourselves to learn more words, more grammar, etc., and thus pick texts that, while not necessary above our current level, still require the active parts of our mind to parse. So take a step back and find texts that require absolutely no effort to read - you'll be amazed at how rewarded you will feel after you finish reading them.
  • Text chat with people online. You can use HelloTalk to find online language exchange partners, or use apps like WeChat, LINE, etc. to find people. For me, daily, informal chats with native speakers has been hugely helpful, especially in learning informal, colloquial Mandarin (i.e, all the words and phrases you'll never be taught in a book).
  • Speak the language. If you are not in a native environment, then find a local person, or an online partner, with whom to speak. You need to develop your muscle memory and brain+mouth connection, and gradually make speaking an effortless, thoughtless process (this takes a long time). Given the challenges you've described, I might recommend holding off on language exchange until you feel like you have a better grasp of basic Chinese grammar and the ability to form complete sentences relatively easily. Otherwise, sitting across from another person struggling to speak can be really frustrating.

Well, that's my advice. Good luck!

 

 

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Rufus

Hey Zakiya, 

 

I've pulled out a few paragraphs from a highly relevant paper by Dr. Robert Waring, a leading researcher in second language acquisition. I think this illustrates exactly what you have experienced.

 

Recent research (Nozaki 2007) has shown that direct and intentional learning of vocabulary is faster than from incidental learning (i.e. from reading). Nozaki used two groups in two conditions, in a rotated design. Both groups were given the same amount of time to learn the same words either from word cards or from an easy reading text. Nozaki found that the words met with word cards were learnt not only 16 times faster (words per hour of study), but were also retained longer than words learnt incidentally from reading.

 

One might easily conclude from the above that we should not ask learners to learn vocabulary incidentally from reading, but rather adopt a systematic and intensive approach to direct vocabulary learning such as with word cards. One might even go further to conclude that by doing so, learners would not need to “waste” time reading, because they can learn faster from intentional learning and free up valuable class / learning time. However, this would be a grave mistake and a fundamentally flawed conclusion because language learning is far more complex than the extremely simplistic picture given above.

 

...To really know a word well, learners need to know not only meanings and spellings, but the nuances of its meanings, its register, whether it is more commonly used for speaking or writing, which discourse categories it is usually found in, as well as its collocations and colligations (word pairs), among many other things. The above studies see words as single stand-alone objects rather than words that co-exist and are co-learnt (and forgotten) with other words. They vastly underestimate what might be learnt because they only look at a partial, though very important, picture of word learning – the learning of single meanings.

 

Based on your explanation, this appears to directly address your issue at hand. I think there have been some good advice given, but I believe the #1 thing you can do to rectify your issue is to read; read as much as you can. And I am specifically referring to graded readers. Short articles and dialogues in books are helpful but the real value is in reading long strings of comprehensible text. This length is only provided by full length novels of graded text, not by short articles. 

 

Visit the sticky "Graded readers, by the numbers" post at the top of this forum for a reference of graded readers available. Full disclosure, I own the Mandarin Companion series and I may get some flack for this, but many of the books listed in the thread are not true graded readers. I recommend you read through the Chinese Breeze and Mandarin Companion series before moving onto the other series. You'll quickly begin to feel  your Chinese improve. Start at the Level 1 and work your way up. 

 

You can read the above full (and very lengthy) article cited here: The inescapable case for extensive reading

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Johnny20270

Good posts.

 

@etm001

 

It's also good to read (slightly) below your level. Why? You want reading in Mandarin to become an enjoyable and effortless activity, just like it is in your native language. As ambitious secondary language leaners we often push ourselves to learn more words, more grammar, etc., and thus pick texts that, while not necessary above our current level, still require the active parts of our mind to parse. So take a step back and find texts that require absolutely no effort to read - you'll be amazed at how rewarded you will feel after you finish reading them.

 

 

 

I full agree with that. Its such a mistake to constantly push. I think you need time to absorb it. My progress increases a lot when I can understand 80% of the passage on first reading . The real benefit is starting see grammatical structures, sentence patterns, particles. For example. I seem to never really understand the use of 的 when you have an "attributive + 的". It the easier passages this is mostly a single word adjective or such.However in the hard ones it starts to become verbs, fairly lengthy clauses  etc. I constantly miss "the forest from the trees" (is that the phrase?)

 

 

@Rufus

 

That sounds exactly right to me. Studying a word is vital to me. I seem to have little ability to pick things up on the fly. Its the same with listening. My TV is on all evening but I hear practically nothing. Its all just noise even if I try concentrate. Then again I am not a believer in this "total immersion" philosophy that's gets banded around language schools in China etc 

 

On that same vain, I personally think its imperative to study grammar to a decent depth so you can start to see the blueprints of the language. I realize this is not for everyone and many find it tedious, but its vital for me as mental markers start to appear in my mind when I read, listen etc. 

 

Regarding the grader readers and the OP's original question, I am always baffled as to why there is no English translations to many of these readers. Similarily in language schools and training CD's like Rosetta stone, many really avoid translations at all costs . I understand that as you advance it becomes harder and harder top provide translations. However, I think its vital at the start to set the foundations. For example simple things like 秋天了. Is that "Autumn has arrived", "Autumn will arrive soon", "Autumn is just about to arrive", i.e. change is imminent etc. That single tiny sentence caused me problems as my teachers wouldn't be specific on it and gloss over the sentence particle 了 (I know now)

 

I'd love to see some research of whether exacting translations is advantageous or disadvantageous in language learning. I am a firm believer they are (until at say HSK 4 level), but well that's just my own empirical evidence

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gaogaozhan

Speak more.

Write more.

Listen more.

Then, read more.

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Hofmann

OP's problem was difficulty making new sentences. Lots of input is necessary for output to develop. Writing before reading, speaking before listening, is like trying to wring a dry sponge.

 

Also the four skills (listening, reading, speaking, writing) is an outmoded way of organizing types of communication, because rarely do people use them in isolation. More useful is to think of the role that one plays. In such a case, communication can be classified into three modes: interpretive, interpersonal, presentational. They are not mutually exclusive. A language learner needs to experience all three. For example, here I am reading and writing while doing interpersonal and presentational communication.

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Rufus

@Johnny20270

My progress increases a lot when I can understand 80% of the passage on first reading.

 

Counter-intuitive as it might seem, you will see faster progress if you read at higher rates of comprehension. The chart below is put out by the Extensive Reading Foundation. Based on decades of research, they recommend reading at 98% comprehension is the "sweet spot" where the greatest amount of learning takes place.

 

Basically its like this: If you can understand more, then you'll read faster. If you read faster, you will be able to read more. If you read more, then you will increase the number of unknown words you encounter. Because the unknown words are surrounded by context you understand, you will increase your ability to acquire this word. 

 

If you can't understand very much, then you'll read slower. If you read slower, then you won't be able to read as much. Because you are encountering a larger number of unknown words, your comprehension suffers. Because your have a low context base to understand the words, your likelihood of acquiring the words decreases. 

 

2ne2jvi.jpg

 

Regarding the grader readers and the OP's original question, I am always baffled as to why there is no English translations to many of these readers. Similarily in language schools and training CD's like Rosetta stone, many really avoid translations at all costs 

 

Simply put, if you require a translation to understand the text, then it's too hard for you in the first place. You should find something easier to read or read with somebody who can help you through it (guided reading).

 

 Then again I am not a believer in this "total immersion" philosophy that's gets banded around language schools in China etc 

 

Total immersion works best with children. As adults, it can be effective but we also learn a bit differently. Furthermore, when children are in immersion environments, the native speakers typically speak to them as children, i.e. in a much more simple manner. When we as adults are put in immersion environments, native speakers tend to want to speak to us as adults at levels far above our comprehension. What's the answer to total immersion? Some people are just doing it wrong.

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imron
they recommend reading at 98% comprehension is the "sweet spot"

This has been discussed previously, and the video linked to has a great demonstration of this at work.

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Johnny20270

@ Rufus, 

 

actually, my 80% was my ultimate low limit!. I am glad to see your research. I was comparing this to the 50% we are made read in class. In fact some passages on first reading, I (and my classmates) understood about 30%. This was a source of discontent with my language school. 

 

I was lead to believe that we should only be understanding 50% of the text and rest we "study". I 3 wasted months where I can honestly say I went backwards.I learnt absolutely nothing. Things which I thought I knew I started to question and everything became polluted / a muddle. It took an hour to read one page and by the time I got to the end I had forgotten the beginning as each sentence was a struggle. 

 

 

If you can't understand very much, then you'll read slower. If you read slower, then you won't be able to read as much. Because you are encountering a larger number of unknown words, your comprehension suffers. 

 

 

Fully agree. For example, this week in my spoken class, we studied chapter 4 of the book "short Term spoken Chinese - Pre Intermediate" The chapter introduces 48 new words in one single page of text! In my view its completely the wrong approach. The grammar is easy but having to constantly check the 5 new words in a single sentence is painful and way below optimal.  My progress through this book is very bad

 

Now in my Comprehensive class we were using New Practical Reader 4 (we jumped straight into this book from another book). I and my colleague could only understand 50 - 60% of the texts. I argued that the progressive levels were set too high and thus after a lot of "forceful encouraging" on my part we dropped level. We recently dropped to book 3. Although I had "covered" almost all of the grammar and most of the words in book 3 and 4, the uptake in learning speed was very noticeable for me! My colleague is in agreement. We are finally staring to learn this month has without a doubt been the best month. I thought it was just me and my learning style.

 

Simply put, if you require a translation to understand the text, then it's too hard for you in the first place. You should find something easier to read or read with somebody who can help you through it (guided reading).

 

 

 

Good point, perhaps its not necessarily translations that are important but rather grammar. For example

take these two sentences

1) 我的同事

2) 我那两位同事

3) 我的那两位刚才从美国来的同事

4) 我的那两位刚才从美国来的年轻的同事

5) 我的那两位刚才从美国来的年轻的日本同事

 

This is an example of progressive building up as I refer to it. (1) is easy but unless grammar is taught well it can become a mess very quickly (for me). I only figured this out by myself from reading a grammar book. As with the OP's original question, I too understand all these words but wouldn't understand sentence 6. This is because because the whole concept of an "attributive" was never explained. Maybe its not the translations but grammar patterns that is vital.

This could be as simple as "this bit of the sentence is used to describe/give more information" + 的 + "this noun" and all of a sudden it "clicks"

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