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Polyhistor

How did you move from studying books to reading books?

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Polyhistor

As the title states, I want to be able to read books. I want to be able to read a page in five minutes tops and use a dictionary once per chapter and understand it well enough that I don't feel compelled to reread it. 

 

I've probably read a couple thousand pages of Chinese literature, each page probably four times over on average. I've reached the point where most grammatical structures are old news to me and I recognize at least 5,000 characters. But it's still taking me an hour to read the single hardest paragraph of each chapter of 七侠五义 and half an hour to read many of the other paragraphs.

 

I Pleco any word or characters I'm uncertain about, I reread impulsively to look for little pieces of the puzzle I missed the first time (or third). I could go down to a single reread, the first to get the lay of the land, as it were, and the next to really take in the story, but it'll be a while before I feel comfortable just going through once. 

 

I started out reading 许三观卖血记 and have probably read each page of the first two chapters 50 times over, but I was probably at an HSK3 level then. I was probably just starting HSK5 when I started 鹤惊昆仑, which I completed in four months but spent an hour on the first page and got down to spending 15-20 minutes on the later pages. I'm sure if I chose an easier text, I could get through more quickly. Is that what I should do, pick out an easy text just to get my brain used to reading straight through, and try to pull that skill over to the more challenging, literary texts?

 

Other things that writing this have made me think are that I could have read a page of 宝刀飞 if I hadn't written this, so get rid of distractions, and that if I focused more on trying to work out what an unknown word means before using Pleco, then maybe I'll cement my understanding better. Any other suggestions or thoughts about your own path to reading would be appreciated.

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Lu

I'd say:

1) Make sure you know lots of words, so that you're not slowed down by words you don't understand that are important to follow the story. You don't need to understand the exact nuances of every single word: often it's enough to know that a word describes an emotion (which one is usually clear from the radical and/or the context), or a type of food (you don't need to know exactly which food), or a type of farming equipment (as long as they just farm with it and it doesn't do anything else in the story), etc.

2) Pick a book that is easy enough. 《活着》 is a popular choice. You could also consider 《草鞋湾》. Of the books you mention, I only know 《许三观》, so I don't know how ambitious the other ones are.

 

And then just read through it. Aim to understand at least every paragraph, it's fine if you don't understand every single sentence, unless it seems something important happens in it. Don't look up words unless you really feel you need them. Just keep going unless you feel yourself getting lost. If you have to look up more than one word per page to not get lost, pick an easier book and try again.

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Tomsima
15 hours ago, Polyhistor said:

I started out reading 许三观卖血记 and have probably read each page of the first two chapters 50 times over

 

So I finally picked this book up last week and finished it today, it was a very easy read for me and I barely checked a dictionary the whole read. So how long did it take me to get this ability? I would say a good 7 years of hard graft and pushing through, keep trying to read and failing, sitting and trudging through books collecting vocab. There are still books I find incredibly difficult, as standard anything by 金庸 is gonna take a lot more hard work to read than most other genres. But on the whole, the better part of a decade of daily study can get you to where you want to be, so keep working and one day all the fog will clear.

 

One of the best bits of advice I found on this forum was imrons, that essentially tells you not to be afraid to let unknown words pass by. Give yourself a benchmark of something like 10 new words to collect per chapter, then just get on with reading. If the words you missed are ones you need, they will by definition crop up again in the future and give you endless chances to study them.

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roddy
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But it's still taking me an hour to read the single hardest paragraph of each chapter of 七侠五义 and half an hour to read many of the other paragraphs.

This isn't reading, it's vocab / grammar study. It sounds like you're tackling stuff WAY above your actual reading level. Bring it back to something you can read fluently - graded readers, if necessary - and then increase the difficultly bit by bit. 

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大块头
9 hours ago, Tomsima said:

If the words you missed are ones you need, they will by definition crop up again in the future and give you endless chances to study them.

 

Some Python scripts I wrote can help you identify these words.

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imron
11 hours ago, Tomsima said:

One of the best bits of advice I found on this forum was imrons, that essentially tells you not to be afraid to let unknown words pass by.

This is probably the post you were talking about, but I bring up the same theme again and again in other posts. I’m glad it’s been helpful!

 

While we’re talking about my advice, the other thing I’ll bring up besides the things mentioned in the above post is to train what you want to learn.

 

The answer to how to get better at reading is to do more reading, but pay attention to how you are reading.  In particular, prefer paper books over electronic readers that have pop up/mouse over dictionaries.  If you rely too much on the latter, you won’t be training yourself to read, you’ll be training yourself to look up the English translation whenever you encounter a word you don’t know (which is almost the exact opposite of what you need to be doing). 


It’s fine to make use of something like Pleco to look up words (but see advice above about limiting the daily new words), but make sure you are coming back and learning those words properly and avoid the document reader when doing reading practice.

 

I also agree with roddy’s advice about choosing material at the appropriate level.
 

Go through and read a bunch of stuff at an easier level, stuff where you don’t have to look up much at all. Do this even if you feel such content is below your level, because the truth is, it’s not below your level, rather, everything else is still above your level (as evidenced by the amount of difficulty you said you have reading it). 
 

Although yes, you can struggle through more advanced content, that’s not an effective way to learn and you’ll be much better off going and reading a whole bunch of more suitable content to bulk up your reading skills first (there’s more to reading than just grammar and vocabulary).
 

This was a mistake I made in my learning, and correcting it involved accepting the reality of where my skills were.  Once I did this, I was able to make rapid progress with my reading (details in the first post I linked to). 

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kanumo

This then leads in to the second thing to pay attention to, and that is to set yourself a sustainable quota of new words to learn on a given day. For me, I've found that this is 5-10 words a day (with a word sometimes containing more than 1 new character). I could learn more, but then I'd find I'd be spending more of my time learning and revising new words than on reading, which is not something I want to do (I prefer to get the revising through more reading).
 

@imron: I am struggling with this one.. I also came from the Flashcards and Skritter approach, where I almost only did learning words with SRS. 
 

now I am very rarely using SRS, just watching movies, sometimes using the chrome extension, sometimes just watching and „extensive reading“

 

could you please explain how you are taking the 5 - 10 new words a day? Will you put them in srs and your list grows until one day you delete it or are you just learning them on that given day?

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Polyhistor

It turned out the paragraph I was struggling with makes no sense. It was butchered when it was edited, they took half of it out quite randomly, presumably to make it fit the 306 pages that this publishing house always releases (I had noticed the regularity with the six other volumes I have, but now I understand how and it's not pretty). Now that I found a whole copy online, it's back to relatively smooth sailing. The thing about this book isn't usually the grammar, but the archaic words, and also the fact that I have been taking pretty detailed notes and translating a lot of the more challenging sections. 

 

My goal in picking out a book is to find one where on most pages I'm able to make sense of it in 45 minutes at the start, then by the end I should be at a maximum of 15 minutes per page. I've found the three times I've done this have been the best. When it's too hard, I put that book away and try another. I have about 300 physical books, so that's not an issue. 

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imron
26 minutes ago, kanumo said:

could you please explain how you are taking the 5 - 10 new words a day?

At the end of the post you quoted from I mention how I choose those words. It’s not a hard and fast set of rules just a general approach.  You then need to trust that’s it’s ok to skip any other new words - you can still look them up, just don’t add them to your flash cards.  As long as you are doing some reading everyday the useful words will reappear (and if they don’t reappear then by definition they are not useful to you yet). 
 

As for how I learn them, I add them to pleco, using this setup for SRS. 
 

When reviewing, I test myself on instant recognition because that’s the standard required for fluent reading and it’s important to grade yourself according to the standard you want to achieve.  If I have to pause (even briefly) to recall a word or pronunciation then I will stop and analyze the word and try to figure out why I couldn’t get it instantly and what part I need to be sure of the next time I see that word so that I’ll have instant recognition. Then I’ll do several small mini drills in my mind going over the word again and again.  Then If it was only a brief pause I might still pass the card, or if it was a longer pause I’ll fail the card.

 

When I find that reviews are taking up more than about 30 mins a day, then I’ll delete the whole deck and start again.  See here for discussion about the rationale for doing this. 
 

28 minutes ago, Polyhistor said:

The thing about this book isn't usually the grammar, but the archaic words, and also the fact that I have been taking pretty detailed notes and translating a lot of the more challenging sections

I think the broader point still stands that if you are trying to improve your reading skills, then rather than doing detailed study of more challenging works, you would be better served bulking up your reading skills on a large amount of easy books first.

 

32 minutes ago, Polyhistor said:

I have about 300 physical books, so that's not an issue

👍 excellent! One of the most important things you can do when trying to build a reading habit is making sure to have your next book ready to go before you finish your current book, so that there is no loss of momentum while you decide what book to read next. 

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Yadang
11 hours ago, imron said:

 Then I’ll do several small mini drills in my mind going over the word again and again.

So if you've forgotten the pronunciation of a word (or a character in a word), what do these look like? Just repeating the word in your head several times? Something else?

 

11 hours ago, imron said:

When reviewing, I test myself on instant recognition

From reading your posts, it sounds like you don't use Cloze deletion. Is there a reason for this? Do you every worry that you're not learning the correct usage of the word (by "correct" I mean the usage in which the word appeared in the book you're reading) or that by not having the word surrounded by context, you're not really learning the word (this is really just the cloze deletion vs. word-in-isolation argument...)?

It also sounds like you don't use CTA to "pre-learn" words, but rather you choose them as you read. Why is this? Is this looking-up-as-you-go approach suitable only if you already have a high enough level to not need to pre-learn? (I suppose one advantage is it answers the question I asked in the above paragraph about knowing you're learning the correct usage of the word, because if you're studying words you've already seen in context, then you can figure out the usage... But I'd like to hear your answer to that question, too.)

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Polyhistor
12 hours ago, imron said:

you would be better served bulking up your reading skills on a large amount of easy books first.

 

 Ah, if only there was some way to do that. The problem is, I can't seem to find any books that offer a more introductory foray into 清 language that 七侠五义. I've already read plenty of easy modern books and other writings, but they do nothing at all to prepare you for the archaic language of 四大名著 or other less-known writings. If there were an easier book, I'd be reading it, but despite my pretty broad collection, I've come up empty. 

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Lu
1 hour ago, Polyhistor said:

The problem is, I can't seem to find any books that offer a more introductory foray into 清 language that 七侠五义. I've already read plenty of easy modern books and other writings, but they do nothing at all to prepare you for the archaic language of 四大名著 or other less-known writings.

Wait, what you aim to read is not contemporary (or even modern) Chinese books in 普通话 or 白话 but Qing dynasty books in 文言文? That's... not really the same problem, I think. And now I also understand a lot better how you struggled over 1 paragraph for an hour before realising it was garbled nonsense.

 

The advice remains largely the same, I think: read as much as you can, learn vocab and it will get easier. Perhaps you can ask other specialists about easy texts to read? You could also consider reading a translation (or summary) of a text before reading the original. I found this helpful in reading the news (during the period where I read the news every day): if you'd encounter a lot of words that are unfamiliar because the thing they describe is unfamilier (in case of the news because it's new, in case of very old texts because it's normal for the author but not for you), it helps if you already know that you're going to come across a WHO meeting/a space shuttle/a very specific type of rickshaw/a certain piece of horseriding gear.

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roddy

I wonder, given your interests, if this might be of use, particularly the 'what book to use' pinned topic. 

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Polyhistor
1 hour ago, Lu said:

horseriding gear

Oh, so many words related to that come up in 武侠小说, I've learned many. 

 

My interests are manifold. I have read several modern Chinese grammars. I have read a number of Republican-to-modern Chinese novels (Republican-era is my strongest period). Now I'm trying to work backwards by reading late 清 literature while going back to the very beginnings by working concurrently on three 文言文 textbooks. My ultimate goal is to become competent in the entire history of the Chinese language. As a teenager, I studied about a dozen Indo-European languages. Now my dream is to understand Chinese across time just as I sought with Latin, Old Norse, Snaskrit, etc.

 

My understanding is quite strong most of the time for the last century of literature, but there are always characters that I fear I don't understand well enough, so I go back and re-read compulsively, trying to understand what it says from a different mood or perspective. My desire for perfect understanding certainly hampers progress, especially when it's a very old book.

 

I certainly don't expect that the book I have in front of me is garbled nonsense, so it was quite distressing to find an online copy with the complete paragraph. It really looks like they simply took out random lines to pare it down to fit their 307 (not 306 like I said first) standard. I've sent it to Chinese people and they agreed several sentences made no sense while two whole plotlines were removed, including the girl going insane when looking into the mirror and digging out her friend's eye. Perhaps it was censored? 

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Polyhistor
53 minutes ago, roddy said:

I wonder, given your interests, if this might be of use, particularly the 'what book to use' pinned topic

Very much! I've been doing the translations from the textbook (not yet at Assassins, but I'll be there this week, only a couple weeks in). For the other two books I'm using, they have excerpts from classical texts. I own copies of those texts with modern translations. So I have been checking my work by translating the 文言文 into English and then comparing that to the 普通话 version in the other book. But I only have maybe half the necessary books, so it doesn't always work. 

 

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imron
17 hours ago, Yadang said:

what do these look like?

I visualize the character in my mind again and again, paying particular attention to the part I didn't get correct and making a mental note not to get that wrong next time.  I might also create a false memory of me coming across the word and not being able to remember it, but then suddenly being able to remember it.  While doing all this, I also make sure I am "hearing" the pronunciation in my mind's ear.  Both of these things are skills that can be trained.  See here and here for a description of how I visualize characters (Yadang you've previously liked both of those posts), and this for some discussion on how to learn to reproduce sounds in your mind.

 

17 hours ago, Yadang said:

From reading your posts, it sounds like you don't use Cloze deletion. Is there a reason for this?

Creating and managing them is too time intensive.  Even though I like the idea of cloze deletion, I much prefer having zero time spent creating and maintaining flashcards, and the extra time I save can then be spent doing more useful activities (like extra reading).  With my Pleco setup, I spend almost zero time on creating and maintaining a deck - it's just a tap to add the word when I look it up, and then every so often going in and deleting everything.  It's not super flexible like Anki and it means giving up on things like cloze deletions, but it's good enough, and the time saved more than makes up the difference.

 

17 hours ago, Yadang said:

Do you every worry that you're not learning the correct usage of the word (by "correct" I mean the usage in which the word appeared in the book you're reading)

No.  I learn it in the context I encounter it in.  Then either I'll see it again in other contexts (and learn those then) or I won't, in which case it doesn't matter.  As long as you are doing regular reading, you will encounter all the useful words regularly (probably more regularly that flashcard revisions for "learnt" cards) and that will reinforce the meaning.  If you don't encounter them regularly, then by definition they are not useful to you (otherwise you would have encountered them).  Even for uncommon words, if you are reading > 1,000,000 characters a year, you'll probably encounter them a handful of times.  1,000,000 might seem like a lot, but it's not that much (@murrayjames did it last year).  Back when I was reading a book a month, that worked out about 3,000,000-4,000,000 characters a year.

 

17 hours ago, Yadang said:

It also sounds like you don't use CTA to "pre-learn" words, but rather you choose them as you read. Why is this?

Once again it comes down to efficiency.  I don't want to be spending all my time drilling vocab, I want to be spending the majority of my time doing the activity I want to get better at (reading, listening etc).

 

17 hours ago, Yadang said:

Is this looking-up-as-you-go approach suitable only if you already have a high enough level to not need to pre-learn?

I think this is correct, but note, you are able to choose the content that you read so maybe you don't have to be at a high enough level, you just need to choose easier material.

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PerpetualChange
On 8/22/2020 at 8:43 AM, Tomsima said:

One of the best bits of advice I found on this forum was imrons, that essentially tells you not to be afraid to let unknown words pass by. Give yourself a benchmark of something like 10 new words to collect per chapter, then just get on with reading. If the words you missed are ones you need, they will by definition crop up again in the future and give you endless chances to study them.

I tend to agree. This has been a game-changer for me. 

 

To give a bit of background... I have about 1/3rd as much of the time I had for Chinese study at the beginning of the year these days, so I've also shifted from maximizing the amount of time I spend reading and minimizing the amount of time I spend doing other things. 

 

I just finished a 300 pages volume of Gu Long's Liuxing Hudie Jian, through the course of which I made 280 entries into a Pleco deck. This 280 doesn't represent every unknown word, mind you, but instead just every word I noticed come up more than once as well as every word that I just couldn't let pass by without a lookup,  like if I found I was just too confused about the meaning of a sentence or paragraph otherwise. 

 

Sadly, I never once reviewed this deck, until now. I just ran through all 280 cards, and got about 90 correct... so roughly, I've retained 1/3rd of the vocabulary. I think I would have gotten another 3rd of the words in context, but came up blank when I saw them independently. So... not so bad, I think. In 2 months I've increased by vocabulary by 90 words and maybe a looser vocabulary of recognizable words by the same amount. Over a year's time that would be 1000+ new words. I'm pretty happy with that. If I can take an extra 5-10 minutes per day to review my deck, maybe that amount doubles...

 

 

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Lu
2 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

Sadly, I never once reviewed this deck, until now.

Yah, making a great SRS deck that you don't review doesn't work, as you have noticed. My advice on how to fix this depends on why exactly you didn't study, but assuming it was partly something like 'I'd need to study for half an hour every day for two weeks and I don't have half an hour' or '280 words, that is so many, I'm intimidated and would rather do something else than look at that pile', the solution is to make a much smaller deck and actually study that. If you only have the time/stamina/courage to study 5 minutes a day, study those 5 minutes and pat yourself on the back. If it's 15 minutes, that's good too, study 15 minutes. Better to make a deck of 20 words that you actually know well after a few weeks than a deck with 200 words that just sits there and makes you feel guilty.

 

On re-reading, it looks like you're actually content with the 90 words that you have learned. That's also fine. In that case I recommend just skipping making the deck next time, since you didn't need that.

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PerpetualChange
10 minutes ago, Lu said:

My advice on how to fix this depends on why exactly you didn't study,

Pretty much because any time I had a minute to study, I wanted to dive straight back into the book 😂

At least, initially. After that, the deck just grew and grew, and become too cumbersome to consider studying in a day. You're right, I should blow it up, and limit it just a few words per day. I do think that I am not content with what I've done and would like to work some flashcard review back into my routine. 

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