Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

  • Why you should look around

    Since 2003, Chinese-forums.com has been helping people learn Chinese faster and get to China sooner. Our members can recommend beginner textbooks, help you out with obscure classical vocabulary, and tell you where to get the best street food in Xi'an. And we're friendly about it too. 

    Have a look at what's going on, or search for something specific. We hope you'll join us. 
laurenth

Betting everything on reading, out of frustration with the rest

Recommended Posts

laurenth

[Whining mode on.] I have more or less abandonned all hope of being fluent (for any definition of "fluent") in Chinese one day. 

If I list the four skills, here's the result of about 11 years of sometimes obsessive and daily self-learning in a non-Chinese speaking environment: 

 

  • writing: I've never been serious about studying how to write correct, or even basic, Chinese.  About two years ago, I had the opportunity to practice for a relatively extended period of time with a pen pall on HelloTalk and found that writing was a somewhat easy task, because you have the leasure to check your vocab and grammar (and because the reader was tolerant). But I no longer have a pen pall. So I've stopped practicing that skill altogether, since I don't need it. Never mind.
  • speaking: I can ask my way to the station, sort of. But what's the point if I still seldom understand the answer? I've also spent several months meeting with Chinese students in my hometown and observed that I could get by if I knew in advance what we would be talking about and if I'd taken the time to prepare the key vocab and some basic sentence structures. Problem is I don't have much time to study. So I stopped seeing my conversation partners. 
  • listening: here's  the major disappointment. I think I've tried all the methods that seem to work for some people here - mainly feeding podcasts (SlowChinese, San Ren Xing, ChinesePod, MandarinPod, Popup Chinese, Mandarin Corner, whatever) into Audacity or WorkAudioBook. Listen to bits of text, try hard to understand, sometimes transcribe, read the  correct transcript, listen again. Of course, I've also tried movies and series, to no avail. For example, ChinesePod upper intermediate podcasts and Xi Yang Yang are still mostly a mystery to me. Switching to a Chinese radio station is humiliating: I seldom understand what they are talking about. I've tried such methods for extensive periods of time, but always ended up so frustrated by the lack of progress that I intend to stop altogether in the future.
  • reading: I did make some progress in this field, though it's still an inmensely frustrating task to stumble through the vast majority of books. Last year, I just read a bilingual novel  called 巴黎地铁 and three or four episodes of 猫日记, a collection for children; and that's all.

 

For me, the so-called plateau is a brick wall against which I've been bumping for a long time.

 

So, apart from venting off, I could ask a question: taking account of the fact that study time is limited and that learning Chinese, for me, is a socially and professionally useless activity, is it a wise  move to abandon all activities but reading?

 

The only thing that bothers me is that I suspect the four skills are mutually reinforcing, so consciously stopping to learn to speak and listen may *also* impair my reading.

 

And - am I alone in that case?

  • Good question! 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Shelley

I can pretty much understand how you feel, I too think I never will be fluent in way, shape or form. But I haven't given up.

 

The one thing you haven't listed is actually going to classes, regular, proper classes with a teacher and following a textbook and doing all the homework, attending all the classes and putting in the work everyday.

 

I know you think you haven't got the time nor do you feel you can justify it but I think if you really want to do it,  you will make the time and if it makes you happy, you need no other justification.

 

I really think this is worth a try, evening classes at a local university or small private classes. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
TheBigZaboon

As usual, I find myself agreeing with @Shelley... She, you, and I are part of the vast majority of the members on this forum who probably may never have a chance to live or study in China. But we, especially, have to realize that different from most of the native English speaking members here, we have already progressed far enough in second or even third languages to realize that, if we persevere, we can still make some progress in Chinese, enough to satisfy our cravings for mastery. I know Chinese presents unique problems, but they're not insurmountable. 

 

Take @Shelley's advice and find a little extra encouragement from some like minded friends. Then you may find that the next time your family gives you a trip to Taiwan, you're pleasantly surprised. But don't give up, or all the effort you've already put into Chinese will be nothing more than an " i wish I had.." throwaway comment at cocktail parties, or whenever you meet someone who is still studying Chinese.

 

Just sayin'...

 

TBZ

  • Thanks 1
  • Helpful 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
anonymoose
7 hours ago, laurenth said:

taking account of the fact that study time is limited and that learning Chinese, for me, is a socially and professionally useless activity, is it a wise  move to abandon all activities but reading?

 

So what is your motivation for studying Chinese? Do you just find the process interesting, or are you pushing through the pain for some future sense of achievement? I would say simply that if frustration outweighs enjoyment, then yes, you might as well give up. Or maybe take a break, and then decide whether you feel happier learning or not learning Chinese.

 

The thing about Chinese is that it takes a lot of time and effort to reach a level where using it is no longer a chore. Either you have to make the time and put in the effort, or just accept that you will forever be pushing the stone up the mountain, à la Sisyphus.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
imron
7 hours ago, laurenth said:

so consciously stopping to learn to speak and listen may *also* impair my reading.

I think the opposite will be the case.  If you stop those other things, then focusing on reading will likely impair those other skills.  Or rather those skills will atrophy compared to reading so it will feel like they're impaired.

 

7 hours ago, laurenth said:

it's still an inmensely frustrating task to stumble through the vast majority of books.

What sort of books are you trying to read?  How well do you deal with graded readers/graded newspaper articles?

  • Like 1
  • Good question! 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
889

I think positive reinforcement is really important when studying a language, and reading if that's all you're doing just doesn't provide enough reward. Further, there's a tendency when reading to adopt your own mental soundings of words, and these can be very hard to correct later on.

 

Nothing provides greater reward and encouragement like dealing face-to-face in Chinese, especially if there's a tangible achievement in hand, like a train ticket: "I did it!" A trip to China doesn't seem to be in your near future, so seek out Chinese locally and talk and talk and talk. Go to a Chinese restaurant and order off the Chinese menu. Sometimes people at neighbouring tables will strike up a conversation with you. Ask them for recommendations from the menu, etc.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Flickserve

I agree that fluency is hard to attain in a non immersive environment. Should you aim for this? I mean, isn’t it one of those abnormal expectations placed on ourselves? What if we changed expectations to be able to converse and communicate. It looks like you are most frustrated with the listening skills - you quite rightly point out, what’s the point of being to speak if you cannot understand the answer.

 

Having gone through all those podcasts is a major feat and I wouldn’t dismiss the effort at all. However, you need practice at taking it further. You probably need the same type and range of vocabulary spoken to you at speed, with variations of accent, with dropped consonants, connected words etc - at this point you do not need more complicated grammar, nor extensive vocabulary. I don’t advocate adding more vocabulary because even if you add more, you still won’t be able to recognise the words if spoken to you. Use what you know but aim to use it well. 

 

At your level, it seems you need to start getting up to pace with a variety of voices. Speaking to different people on the same subject is pretty good. That’s why we are so good at talking about introductions. We do that all the time. Now, try to extend that further into another subject. Talk to three, four, five or six people on the same subject (like the community tutors on italki). If you are using a range of 100 words in those conversations and then improving your listening, then that’s going to be better than trying to use 500 words which you cannot remember.

 

This is why italki is so good with the extensive range community tutors. You can speak to so many different people and because they are not professional tutors, they don’t ‘dumb’ it down so much. IMO, closer to real life experience. They don’t mind if you ask again to repeat, they don’t mind if you ask to say something slowly again. The beauty is, you can pick non-standard mandarin! Ok, so the accent is not going to be heavily away from standard mandarin but the objective is to get used to a different accent or pitch. Taiwanese mandarin , south China mandarin, north China mandarin etc. 

 

I wouldn’t take understanding the news as a good indicator of intermediate listening ability. That’s a high level ability and even B2 level people will have difficulty. It’s ok to listen to and try and pick some words out but for full comprehension, it’s a bit of a holy grail. 

 

I am going to stick my neck out and say, don’t bother with reading unless it is associated with listening exercises. However, listening comprehension is a skill that takes time to develop and harder than just reading, no matter if it is chinese or any other language. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yadang
26 minutes ago, 889 said:

there's a tendency when reading to adopt your own mental soundings of words, and these can be very hard to correct later on.

 

What do you mean by this? Can you elaborate?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Flickserve
9 minutes ago, Yadang said:

What do you mean by this? Can you elaborate?

 

Exactly the same as Chinese people learning English at school, being able to read English and having inaccurate pronunciation.

  • Helpful 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
889

When I read Chinese, I don't just see the characters: I read them "aloud" as it were in my mind. If you don't have much contact with spoken Chinese, it's very easy for those mental readings to diverge from the proper readings.

  • Like 2
  • Helpful 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
laurenth
12 hours ago, Shelley said:

going to classes, regular, proper classes with a teacher

 

You have a point. Going to a real class is not an option for family and professional reasons, but I can and should use  italki more. I've had some good and encouraging experiences with italki last year.

 

5 hours ago, anonymoose said:

So what is your motivation for studying Chinese?

 

A few years ago I nursed the hope of using Chinese in my profession (I am a translator), but it did not happen. Other than that my motivation is based on  cultural interest.

 

5 hours ago, anonymoose said:

just accept that you will forever be pushing the stone up the mountain, à la Sisyphus.

 

As  Albert Camus said: "The struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy".  I should meditate that sentence more.

 

5 hours ago, imron said:

What sort of books are you trying to read?

 

I'm trying to read books written by Chinese authors (no translation) for a Chinese audience. I can read and I have read  a number of novels in Chinese. The trick is that I still have to choose them carefully, accept that there will be an initial bump (as far as vocab and style are concerned) and that I may have to put the book aside after one or two weeks of struggle to start the process again with another, easier book.

 

3 hours ago, Flickserve said:

 

This is why italki is so good with the extensive range community tutors.

 

As I said in my answer to @Shelley I've had a good experience with iTalki in the past and I probably should be using it more.

 

Thanks to all for answering and for your encouragement. Whining a bit online is an embarassing, but potentially useful way to muster some courage to go on 🙂  

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Wurstmann
4 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I agree that fluency is hard to attain in a non immersive environment.

 

But thanks to the internet we can create that environment wherever we are.

 

59 minutes ago, laurenth said:

I can read and I have read  a number of novels in Chinese.

 

Then you should be able to watch something like 都挺好 and slowly improve your listening.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Flickserve
42 minutes ago, Wurstmann said:

But thanks to the internet we can create that environment wherever we are.

 

Only a partial, artificial environment to be more precise. Whilst it helps towards learning, fluency is a different level altogether (depending on your definition).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Shelley

I still think you need some structured learning even if its not in an actual classroom. Try looking at a course from Coursera or edx. I know this will sound frustrating but start at the beginning, with level one, lesson one. If you know it all, you will fly through it, but I think its really good for catching problems you may have, there may be some Eureka moments as you understand something that has been missed in the "patchy" approach that I think (from your description above) you have been taking up til now.

 

Or at the very least start using a textbook like New Practical Chinese Reader. There is audio, video, writing practice, and speaking practice, all  working together at the correct level together.  Again start at the beginning.

 

From the way you listed what you had done you seem to separate reading, writing, speaking and listening as separate activities, IMHO these should not be separated like this. This is why I keep suggesting a structure learning method to tie all these things together. 

 

One other suggestion is HelloChinese http://www.hellochinese.cc/.

This is a good app for practicing everything together, it is free, but has some paid content but try the free content first, if you like it, its worth paying for the extra content. Don't confuse it with HelloTalk.

 

I feel the biggest change for you would be to tie all your learning together in one place for awhile, its great having lots of things to flit about from but I think to get over this hump in the road you need to knuckle down with the textbooks and put in some concerted effort to consolidate all you already know and see if this helps find out where your strengths and weakness are and how best to improve your overall level.

 

I think also if you have a set course of action you won't waste time deciding what to do today, it will be a steady progress from lesson 1 to 2 and so on, no planning just learning. Sometimes one can spend too much time preparing to learn:)

 

So in a nutshell - hit the books:D

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
imron
6 hours ago, laurenth said:

I can read and I have read  a number of novels in Chinese. The trick is that I still have to choose them carefully, accept that there will be an initial bump (as far as vocab and style are concerned) and that I may have to put the book aside after one or two weeks of struggle to start the process again with another, easier book.

If the number of books you have read without any sort of interactive popup dictionary* is less than 10, then in my experience this is likely to be normal.

 

Until then you will need to choose books carefully and there will be an initial bump of vocabulary and there's no way to get around this without reading a dozen more books.    These are in fact the 2 main reasons I wrote Chinese Text Analyser - to make it easy to find books at an appropriate level, and to extract from those books highly relevant unknown words to get over the vocab 'bump'.

 

*I make special note to call out interactive popup dictionaries (e.g. where you mouseover/tap on a word and you get an instant definition) because although they allow you to read books beyond your level, they allow you to read books beyond your level, and you really should be reading books at your level rather than skipping ahead.  And while it can feel good to read more advanced things, doing so stops you from the developing the skills needed to read more advanced things (and yes there are popup definitions in CTA, but they were added begrudgingly :mrgreen:).

 

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
haveheart
4 hours ago, imron said:

and yes there are popup definitions in CTA, but they were added begrudgingly

Whenever I check the definition of a word, then in the same session try to add it to "known words", that message that tells me no is always like a little reminder that a) I'm not using CTA for a hover dictionary,  b) Imron knows I'm lying to myself about really knowing that word 😂

I can relate to the feeling of hopelessness for this type of plateau (Related to Listening). I'm working on breaking through it myself with a ton watching TV while steadily growing my vocab with flashcards + half an hour of reading a day. I cant speak to it working (yet) with Chinese, but its what worked for Japanese for me. So I'd try to actually just enjoy some content in the language.  Pick a drama and watch it without straining or worrying about what you're missing out on. Coupled with your normal studying I'm sure you'll notice an improvement.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
AdamD
On 4/23/2019 at 1:07 AM, laurenth said:

listening: here's  the major disappointment. I think I've tried all the methods that seem to work for some people here - mainly feeding podcasts (SlowChinese, San Ren Xing, ChinesePod, MandarinPod, Popup Chinese, Mandarin Corner, whatever) into Audacity or WorkAudioBook. Listen to bits of text, try hard to understand, sometimes transcribe, read the  correct transcript, listen again. Of course, I've also tried movies and series, to no avail. For example, ChinesePod upper intermediate podcasts and Xi Yang Yang are still mostly a mystery to me. Switching to a Chinese radio station is humiliating: I seldom understand what they are talking about. I've tried such methods for extensive periods of time, but always ended up so frustrated by the lack of progress that I intend to stop altogether in the future.

 

Speaking as someone who could have written your exact paragraph as recently as a week ago (including the decade of study), listening only gets you so far unless you’re already doing. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s a complete waste of time unless it’s a supplement to regular, lengthy and effective conversations with people.

 

This topic has come up here may times before, usually by me, but last week over drinks someone put it to me this way: you don’t learn to play the piano by watching someone else play the piano. If you’re able to replace all of your TV watching with online conversation, would that be a new direction for you?

 

The other thing that jolted me over the intermediate hump was to not explicitly set a specific goal for a time period. Last year I came to Taiwan with the goal of getting my Chinese in order. It failed miserably, probably because I put myself under so much pressure that I bottled it. This year I came back with the goal to just meet people, cycle around and buy a few things. Because I didn’t set expectations, all my anxiety and personal second-guessing vanished, and my Chinese listening and speech have actually surprised me.

 

The humiliation you feel is what was feeding my anxiety, and that anxiety stopped me in a number of other ways too.

 

On 4/23/2019 at 1:07 AM, laurenth said:

For me, the so-called plateau is a brick wall against which I've been bumping for a long time.

 

Yep, me too. Years. At least six. Last week I suddenly punched out some bricks and jumped through the wall, but it took many years, countless failed attempts, a serious change in technique and a tonne of gumption to get there.

  • Like 2
  • Helpful 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dawei3
On 4/22/2019 at 10:18 PM, 889 said:

Nothing provides greater reward and encouragement like dealing face-to-face in Chinese

 

Virtually all of my motivation comes from interactions with Chinese friends, language partners, and Chinese I speak to for the 1st time.  As 889 noted, the response of Chinese to a foreigner who can speak - even limited Chinese - is wonderful and very motivating.  When I 1st went to China, I had only studied for 6 months, yet I was able to have conversations with Chinese.  Despite that the conversations were quite limited, the reactions were great.  When I meet Chinese in the US, they are equally warm & friendly.

 

Also, interacting with a compatible language partner can also be very rewarding.  When we're talking and I realize "I can say this without using English", it's gratifying.  It can also give you a deep feeling of connection.  Even relatively new friends tell me notably personal things about their lives.  However, you need to find partners whose personality fits yours.  I've been lucky to find many.  

 

In contrast, I get relatively little motivation from reading, unless I'm reading a note from a friend.  While it does feel good to be able to read text without using a translator, I get the most pleasure comes from personal interaction.  

 

Hence, my recommendation is to focus on speaking & listening and supplement this with writing/reading.  Also, finding shows you want to watch and watching them with subtitles if needed, can also be a pleasurable way to move forward (following on haveheart's comment).  

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Flickserve

Do people fall back on mainly reading because they have lost confidence in listening and speaking?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...