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Yadang

Trouble with confidence in pronunciation only when reading

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Yadang

I know there are many threads about learning pronunciation and tones - most of these are by people starting out and having trouble with tones in general. My problem seems different, because it's specific to reading, and I'm not a beginner (but neither am I good! :wink:). I don't usually have (too much) trouble pronouncing or remembering tones, as pronunciation was something I spent a lot of time on from the very beginning. What I'm having a problem with is only those words which I'm specifically learning through reading. I'll give some background on what's worked for me in the past and what's not working - maybe it will help...

 

In the past I've taken movies, used subs2SRS to convert them to bite-sized chunks, and used Chinese Text Analyzer to identify unknown words and give definitions/pronunciation for these words. I've then used anki both to either memorize the sentences and chorus them (while recording myself, and then comparing, re-recording, etc.), or just clozing out the words I don't know (but still reading and listening to the whole sentence when the card is revealed). The first method worked wonders, but took a lot of time per sentence. The second method worked pretty well, and took much less time per card.

 

Both methods resulted in very good intuitive pronunciation recall and a more intuitive feeling for how the word is used. The reason I say that they resulted in very good tone recall is because, first, I felt confident that the tones were right when I said them (which will become relevant below), and second, to judge the tone, I'd have to say the word in my head and recognize the tones. In other words, I couldn't just say what the tone was - I'd have to say the word in my head and listen to what the tones are when the word sounds correct. To me, this is very telling, because it's what native speakers do when I ask them the  tone of a word. They don't just know it off the bat - they know how it should sound, so they say it and figure out what the tones are. The second reason this is telling for me is because I can typically do this only with words I know very very well, such that I've "forgotten" what the tone "should" be, until I say it, and hear it, and figure it out -- much like native speakers do. So it seemed that this method was short-cutting the time it took for me to be able to really ingrain how a word should sound such that I'm not memorizing the tones, but I'm just learning how the word sounds.  

It might be notable that one thing helping me figure out the tones of words I learned this way was to say the whole sentence in which I'd learned them, because I got more and more of a feeling for the overall sentence contour, and so could say the sentence and then focus on how the word in question sounded...

 

If that worked so well, why don't I just continue doing that you say (and, so do I...). Well, I would really like to get better at (or really, to start) reading. From what I've read on this forum from people who know what they're talking about, reading is an excellent way of learning new vocab, in context, etc, etc.

 

 

 

So then, this is what I did to try to read a book over the summer:

 

I imported the book into Chinese Text Analyzer, and exported all the unknown words such that I'd understand 96% of the words if I learned the unknown ones. I imported these words into pleco, and tested Definition --> Characters/Pronunciation/Audio. I really only tested myself on whether or not I got the pronunciation correct. 

 

The problem is this. I'd rate the words as correct if I got the pronunciation correct, and, sure enough, after a few reps would have very high confidence in their pronunciation. Then I go to read. And I start questioning not only some of the words that were in my flashcard deck, but words that I would never question if I was just talking in a conversation. I found that I not only question tones, but also question pronunciation (-eng or -en, -ang or -an, etc.). A lot of this second-guessing is unwarranted. I know that I shouldn't be questioning the pronunciation (especially for words that I would have no trouble saying in a sentence if I was having a conversation), but I keep questioning myself, and I convince myself to look it up, and sure enough, the pronunciation was as expected.

 

I've thought I could just find the audio book, and make subtitles and use subs2srs to export to anki, and then I'd have the audio of the whole sentence to study. I'm sure it would work, as it did when I used subs2srs with movies, but I don't want to have to do that, if possible. For one thing, it takes a lot of time.

 

How can it be that I have such confidence when reviewing on pleco going from definition (some are English dictionaries, some are Chinese) --> pronunciation, yet then question even words I would speak without hesitation when reading?

 

(One more thing that is interesting to me... While this problem occurs with words of 1 or 2 characters, it occurs far less with phrases or chengyu, as it seems that, like sentences, I learn the overall tone contour and can then "extract" the relevant tones out of the phrase/chengyu...) 

 

Is how I'm learning my problem? Or is it my confidence? Or something else?

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Flickserve

It's another skill that needs to be trained. There is a different neural pathway that needs connecting up and training. 

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, Yadang said:

yet then question even words I would speak without hesitation when reading?

 

I postulate what has happened is the different pathway of creating the sound. Previously, to obtain the correct tone if unknown, you use a calibration process in the context of a whole phrase. There is also another calibration process occurring when you speak to somebody and another when you hear yourself speak. 

 

When reading, that aural input that helps your calibration of tones is interrupted. Thus, producing the correct tone needs to be done with less sensory input.

 

It is like balancing on one leg, you train yourself to stand on one leg, but if you try blindfolded, you lose the sensory input from the eyes and lose balance more quickly. 

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imron
6 hours ago, Yadang said:

So it seemed that this method was short-cutting the time it took for me to be able to really ingrain how a word should sound such that I'm not memorizing the tones, but I'm just learning how the word sounds. 

This is exactly how people should be learning pronunciation.  You need to see the tone as inseparable from the sound.  It simplifies things so much because you never need to learn the tones you just learn the whole sound, and just like you would learn that qīng is different from jīng so is qīng different from qíng.

 

6 hours ago, Yadang said:

reading is an excellent way of learning new vocab, in context, etc, etc

It is, but so is getting vocab from movies or TV shows, so don't think reading is something you need to do to improve unless you aren't getting enough new vocab from movies/tv, or unless you specifically want to improve your reading - which you also mentioned you want to do, in which case go for it.  My point is don't do it just because you feel you have it.  The important thing is to be learning from context and from actual usage.  Reading is definitely the best way to improve your reading.

 

6 hours ago, Yadang said:

How can it be that I have such confidence when reviewing on pleco going from definition (some are English dictionaries, some are Chinese) --> pronunciation, yet then question even words I would speak without hesitation when reading?

This comes back to what I go on about in other posts - SRS revisions are not wholly representative of the skills needed to understand a word in context, and people tend to judge their flashcard reviews more leniently than the stricter standards required for real world usage.  Flashcards can be useful but aren't any good if you're not testing your knowledge in real word situations.

 

If you want to improve a certain skill then you need to be doing that thing, otherwise you won't find out where your problems are and if you don't know where your problems are, you'll likely spend effort on the wrong things.  For example, you may never have figured out how important confidence is if you hadn't tried reading a longer text like this.

 

6 hours ago, Flickserve said:

It's another skill that needs to be trained

Absolutely.  Confidence in knowing a word is something that needs to be trained, and is just as important as knowing the meaning and pronunciation.

 

If you've ever wondered or been annoyed by Chinese Text Analyser marking words you look up in the dictionary as 'unknown', this is the reason.  If you had to look it up in the dictionary (even 'just to check') then you didn't know that word (even if you got the pronunciation and meaning right).  You can protest against this statement all you like, but the reality is, if you really knew it, you wouldn't have needed to look it up in the dictionary.  Confidence in knowing the word is just as important as knowing the meaning and pronunciation.

 

So what to do about it.

 

The main thing is that looking up a word even 'just to check' should trip a mental trigger that you don't know the word well enough.  You mentioned:

 

6 hours ago, Yadang said:

but I keep questioning myself, and I convince myself to look it up, and sure enough, the pronunciation was as expected.

 

When this happens, do you tell yourself that you know the word, or do you tell yourself you don't know the word?

 

You *should* be telling yourself that you don't know the word (as evidenced by the fact that you had to look it up) and that you need to study it further.  You should not just look it up, think 'the pronunciation was as I expected' and move on.

 

You should add it back to flashcards in a temporary drilling deck (or similar) or you should re-read the sentence/passage of text and make a conscious note of the correct pronunciation. 

 

Another technique I use is to create a 'false memory' where I imagine myself reading a sentence and coming across that same word, and then imagine myself being unsure of it and then imagine remembering that I looked it up last time and the pronunciation was as I expected and then imagine that now I'm confident enough of the pronunciation that I don't need to look it up this time.

 

If you imagine that 'false memory' several times then the next time you come across that word there's a good chance it will trigger the false memory and you'll remember that the pronunciation is as you expected and that you don't need to look it up, and then you can keep on reading.

 

Also try to reduce your reliance on the convenience of popup dictionaries.  If there is word you are not confident of then before looking it up, tell yourself what you expect it to be (and why) - perhaps trying to recall an aural memory of a sentence or phrase that uses the word, also try to recall if you've looked it up previously and what the result was (this will trip the false memories if you've set them up), and think about what the other possibilities might be.

 

Only then, after you've spent some time thinking about it should you look it up.  Now compare in your mind the actual result with your expected result.  Did they match up?  If so re-affirm that memory and tell yourself you won't need to look it up next time because you got it right (combine with re-reading the sentence/passage and with the false memory technique if needed).  If they didn't match up, figure out why and re-affirm that next time you won't make the same mistake (perhaps reaffirming an aural memory of the sound and also combining with re-reading the sentence/passage and with the false memory technique if needed).

 

Whatever you do, don't just look it up and move on.  Convenience is the enemy here.  Your brain likes convenience so it will always take the most convenient route and if the most convenient route is to quickly check and then move on, that's what the brain will try to optimise for - without bothering to remember anything because it's just a quick check away.  So take that away as an option and always spend some time making sure you won't need to look it up next time and creating positive and confident memory hooks for the next time you encounter the word.

 

6 hours ago, Yadang said:

Or something else?

The only other thing to consider is whether the material you are trying to read is too advanced for your level, and whether there are too many new or unknown words.  Having to continually look up new/unknown words will destroy your confidence and normalise looking up words (which is the very thing you are trying to get away from).

 

Even though it feels like it will take longer, and even though you might not be able to read what you want to read right now, you'll be better served by improving your reading skills (confidence, stamina, word boundary identification, etc) on easier material and then returning to the other content once your skills are up for it.
 

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Flickserve
7 minutes ago, imron said:

The only other thing to consider is whether the material you are trying to read is too advanced for your level, and whether there are too many new or unknown words.  Having to continually look up new/unknown words will destroy your confidence.

 

This is a good one.

 

Choose a text where you know all the words (no need for CTA)  and read the text in front of a native speaker. That will certainly be interesting. 

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Shelley
1 hour ago, imron said:

Also try to reduce your reliance on the convenience of popup dictionaries

When reading a new text with many words I won't know, I get my big brown Chinese- English actual paper dictionary out and look up unknown words by hand, finding the radical, counting the strokes and finally finding it.

This helps make it really stick, I do use pop up dictionaries but I find this first or second time though a new text or lesson is helpful.

It also gives me something more of a mental hook to make as imron describes as "false memory" if in doubt I can recount my looking up procedure and the end result.

 

It is by no means foolproof but it helps.

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imron
20 minutes ago, Shelley said:

if in doubt I can recount my looking up procedure and the end result.

That's a real memory!

 

What I call a false memory is imagining 'remembering' something that didn't happen.

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艾墨本

I think Imron hit most of the points, so I'll just emphasize what he's said and add an opinion and my own experience.

 

To parrot Imron, make sure you are picking a text at the right difficulty. If you're working on reading aloud, no need for a text that challenges you on your vocabulary. One thing at a time.

 

Reading Chinese out loud is hard. You're not looking at symbols that tell you the pronunciation, you're looking at symbols that tell you the meaning, which is different than what many of us here are accustomed to.

 

It might be worthwhile to give yourself a reality check, do you really know the tones? Print out a page of text, double spaced, and write down the pinyin with tones. Check it with a machine generated one (might be worth double checking any you get wrong to make sure the machine didn't pick the wrong of two pronunciations for the single character). Did you really know the tones?

 

Second, since it seems you do really well learning via listening, give yourself an added step before you read--listen to someone else reading it. But don't do this passively, add a slash every time the reader pauses so you can get a feel for the natural phrasing. Where does the native reader pause to catch a breath? I recommend this as something I am doing now and finding helpful (and actually quite fun).

 

Lastly, in reading your post, it might be worth noting how successful you have been learning through listening. I know when I started out that that wouldn't have worked well for me as I learn better visually. If that is the case, considering using the test option on Pleco that reads the words out loud (best to only do words AKA two character pairings) and then write it down. Essentially, give yourself a dictation. Does this help it stick more? Try different testing options in see what works for you. I've found that testing via my weakest link, listening, is actually what works best since it is the hardest for me to get right and is the last of the various aspects that I remember.

 

One of the fun parts of learning Chinese for me has been learning about myself and how I learn. It's been too hard of a language to just nonchalantly work through vocab lists and grammar drills.

 

Edit: why have only Imron and I reacted to this question? This is an awesome question with background information, goals, and he/she even did a preliminary search of the forums before posting! Give the OP those <3's

 

 

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Shelley

@imron Okay thanks for the clarification, I would then say I am making a real memory.

 

I am trying to give myself a "hook" to hang the memory on, so later when I doubt myself I can go through the process of looking it up mentally and see if I can confirm if I knew it or not.

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imron

For sure, hooks like that are important.  What I was talking about was specifically imagining a situation where initially you weren't sure about the word but then 'remembered' that actually you were sure of it without needing to look it up.  That way you have a 'memory' of going from being not confident about a word to being confident about it.  That memory of confidence will then help the next time you encounter that word but aren't confident about it.

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Flickserve
3 hours ago, 艾墨本 said:

Edit: why have only Imron and I reacted to this question? This is an awesome question with background information, goals, and he/she even did a preliminary search of the forums before posting! Give the OP those <3's

 

I read halfway through his post and immediately knew what was the problem and why because the same happened to me way before. 

 

If I read out and get it wrong, I go back and check the dictionary. But Imron and Shelley already said that....:-)

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Wippen (inactive)
On 1/2/2018 at 12:00 PM, 艾墨本 said:

t might be worthwhile to give yourself a reality check, do you really know the tones? Print out a page of text, double spaced, and write down the pinyin with tones. Check it with a machine generated one (might be worth double checking any you get wrong to make sure the machine didn't pick the wrong of two pronunciations for the single character). Did you really know the tones?

This is laborious at higher level but a good idea. Does it not become more binary to you, ie you read a text and you definitely know the ones you do not need to look up, then there will be some with question marks such as those that have several tone readings and unknown words. At higher level these latter proabably only constitute 5-10% of a text (excluding names), do you not think? So reading a given text you may not know/be unsure of around 5--10 % of the tones.

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