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How to transition into reading native books


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blackfalcon

I am around HSK5 level, and according to Chinese Text Analyzer I know about 3700 words, which I feel is pretty accurate. I have been reading Pleco 2500 word graded readers every day for 30 minutes for a few weeks, adding the most important 5 new words a day to my flashcards, and am soon going to finish my second book (Outlaws of the Marsh). When I read the Graded reader, I think I have about 98% comprehension. However, CTA says I only understand 68% of 活着 (and that's the simplest native book I can find so far), so I feel like even when I finish reading all the graded readers there is no way my vocab is going to be at a 90+% level which is ideal for reading a book without having to look up too many words.

 

Do you guys have any advice on how to make the transition from graded readers to native books?

 

 

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jannesan
1 hour ago, blackfalcon said:

However, CTA says I only understand 68% of 活着 (and that's the simplest native book I can find so far)

 

From my experience the rate of words you understand is significantly higher than given by any kind of vocabulary analysis tool. There are many words that are either segemented wrong, compounds of words you know or verbs with complements like “放下", "看出来" of which you know the verb, but haven’t saved all possible combinations with complements as “known”.

 

So my advice is, pre-learn the words that occur at least 3,4,5 times (and that are actually unknown to you) in order of appearance and once you’ve done that for a chapter, go ahead reading it. Maybe even going for just the words that occur at least 5 times will result in too many new words, then I’d stick a bit longer with graded material. 

 

If it doesn’t bother you to look up many words as you read and you like to learn new words like that, then just go ahead and give 活着 a try, if it’s too hard/unenjoyable you can just come back later. 

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blackfalcon

Yeah, it couldn't hurt, may as well give it a try and see what happens. I am used to learning in context, but I can also give pre-learning the words a shot. I still feel like the gap is kind of large between the 2500 word graded readers and the novel, but I guess at some point I've just got to make the jump.

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At least for traditional characters there are also a couple of high-level / native material readers available to bridge the gap, see the graded reader thread. Currently I am reading those along with native material and I think it's a relatively smooth transition. I don't know if there are similar high-level readers available in simplified characters.

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amytheorangutan

I’m around your level though I don’t know how many characters I know. I’m mixing native materials with graded readers. I read a few comics initially, they’re easier to get through because of the pictures and the conversational style of the material. Also each chapter normally would be short so you wouldn’t get overwhelmed. I’m 3 chapters away from finishing my first native novel. It’s a romance novel of a drama I’ve seen so I’m familiar with the story and because it’s not some classic literature or very specialised subject so the vocabularies are more modern, daily used vocabularies and not too hard. 

 

If you go with a non comic material, either go with short stories or a novel that is not too specialised but make sure that you’re really into it, otherwise it might be a chore to get through. John Pasden recommended a short story by Lu Xun - Diary of a madman. It’s actually not as hard as I thought it would be. Only 7 pages, and other than the preface which is written in classical Chinese and I had no idea what it was, the rest of the story is not that hard to understand and some words get repeated.

 

When I read I just read about 5-10 pages at a time without looking up any word at all but I mark the words I don’t know that I would like to look up. Normally around 5 words on a page that has around 200 words in it, then I look them up once I’ve read 5-10 pages, that way it would be more pleasant instead of looking up every time an unknown word comes up. It would feel very choppy and distracting, at least for me personally. My comprehension level when reading these type of native books varies from 91-95% but normally I’m able to get the gist of the story without looking up too many words. 
 

Sorry for the essay! Haha just realised I typed a lot! But hopefully some of it is helpful.

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Short stories! Just plough through, if you have no clue ditch it for one you can get the gist of and get some pleasure from, then if you find one you're enjoying put in the extra work to get the bits you're missing. I also found taking pleasure in every sentence or colloquial construction that was unfamiliar but I came to learn was a big help.

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alantin

My issue with comics and short stories is that they aren't long enough.
If I remember correctly, John Pasden made this point in favor of using long graded readers over short stories. You need a lot of encounters with any given word to internalize it and that requires huge amounts of reading.

 

@blackfalcon, I think I'm around the same level as you. I passed HSK4 in last June and I have been reading short stories and Graded Readers up until now. I also purchased the Chinese translation of one of my favorite books some time ago and my goal has been to read it. I finally began this task about a month ago and I'm about 190 000 character in.

The book is from the middle of The Wheel of Time series and I know the story and characters very well, so even though my vocabulary isn't anywhere near the often quoted 98% for extensive reading, it is fairly easy for me to follow the story and I'm already seeing improvement in my reading.

 

I was only able to get the book in paperback and not in electronic format, so what I have been doing is, I've scanned the pages and ran them through OCR in order to get the text into a word file. Then, as I read, I'm using a font, that includes pinyin on top of the characters, to add pinyin to any character that I can't instantly read correctly. This allows me to calculate the percentages of "pinyined" characters in the text and I'm using that as a proxy to gauge my reading comprehension, although it is not the same as "known words". This also allows me to record my "reading performance" of each individual character as I move along the text and later focus my character study on the ones that seem difficult.

 

I also just found out about @imron's Chinese Text Analyzer and I'll have to give it a try!

 

I'm attaching some of the stats that I have recorded. The prologue in the book was quite long and while reading it I added pinyin on whole words that I had trouble with, but after the prologue I began very strictly adding pinyin only on top of individual characters that I couldn't read. This sqews the data a little.

 

I guess this is closer to Intensive Reading than Extensive Reading and in the beginning it was quite slow and arduous but now it is already actually quite enjoyable and I'm finding myself getting drawn into the story.

 

I only check words once in a while in a dictionary and just keep going.

At one point I copied each paragraph to google translate and read the translation before reading the Chinese version, but now I don't do that anymore and just check individual words that begin to bug me.

 

I'm finding this a good method and at least character wise I'm closing the magical 98% zone.

Screenshot 2021-01-24 at 13.16.50.png

Screenshot 2021-01-24 at 13.13.34.png

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BearXiong

Perhaps try reading a Chinese translation of an English book you've read and enjoyed before. Preferably where the English writing is simple. You might have to try a few since how complex it turns out in Chinese very much depends on the translator. That's what I did for my first novel and it helped me transition to simple non-translated works like 活着.

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mungouk
On 1/23/2021 at 6:39 AM, amytheorangutan said:

I read a few comics initially, they’re easier to get through because of the pictures and the conversational style of the material. Also each chapter normally would be short so you wouldn’t get overwhelmed.

 

Hi @amytheorangutan — would you recommend any comics in particular?  Also since you mention chapters are these actually graphic novels?

 

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amytheorangutan
2 hours ago, mungouk said:

would you recommend any comics in particular?  Also since you mention chapters are these actually graphic novels?

hmmm I honestly don’t know the difference 😅 to me any  panel style illustration where most of the story is written in dialogue style I call comics but I read mostly Japanese comics that have been translated to Chinese because I grew up with it. I read so far 5 of the 深夜食堂 (Midnight Diner) series I read them because I like the series on Netflix. This one each chapter is a very short story not related to one another, only the background is the same which is at an Izakaya so you don’t have to read them in order, 2 of 高木直子 (Naoko Takagi)’s comic style book of her life in Tokyo. They’re very funny and I enjoy them very much, I have another 2 from this series that I haven’t read yet, each book has it’s own topic and can be read independently. I also just started reading 鐵拳小子外傳 series online, this series used to be my favourite when I was little so curious to read them again many2 years later in Chinese, this one is serialised and must be read in order about a boy who learns 武術 and his adventure. I think this one is much easier compared to the other two because it’s supposed to be kids comics while the other 2 are more geared toward adults. I also started reading online 妙手小廚師 Mister Ajikko again in Chinese, this is also serialised and for kids so easy to read and fun.

 

not sure what kind of stuff you’re into but hopefully you find that somewhat useful 😊

also I read these out of pure enjoyment so I disregard difficulty levels and what I get out of it in term of learning. The level of difficulty might be all over the place, some might be too easy some might be harder 😅

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mungouk
On 1/22/2021 at 8:43 PM, blackfalcon said:

CTA says I only understand 68% of 活着

 

I'm probably being over-ambitious here, but I just bought a paper copy of 活着 on a whim.

 

Are there any published vocab lists I could study, or would someone be able to share the CTA analysis of the book? 

 

I just realised that if I'd bought an ebook I could've done that myself.

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Jan Finster

The problem I have with fiction like 活着 is the flowery language.

 

 

Here is the first paragraph of 活着 [translated with google translator [ignore the mistakes], bold highlights by me]:

 

"When I was ten years younger than I am now, I got a idle job and went to the countryside to collect folk songs. Throughout the summer of that year, I was like a flying sparrow, wandering in the village and fields flooded with sunshine and Zhiyu. I like to drink peasant tea with a bitter taste. Their tea barrels are placed under the trees of the ridge. I unscrupulously pick up the tea bowls, which are covered with tea stains, and scoop the water. The man at work said a few nonsense and walked away in the girl's snicker because of me. I once chatted with an old man guarding the melon field for an entire afternoon. This was the most melon eaten in my life. When I stood up and left, I suddenly found myself struggling like a pregnant woman. Then I sat on the threshold with a woman who became a grandmother. She woven straw sandals and sang "Pregnant in October" for me. What I like most is when I arrive in the evening, I sit in front of the peasants’ house and watch them pour the water from the well on the ground and suppress the transpiring dust. The light of the setting sun shines down on the treetops. Take them The fan handed over, taste their pickles that are as salty as salt, and look at a few young women talking to men". 🙄

 

When I studied English as a teenager, I read hundreds of books by myself. However, I made the mistakes of reading books like Agatha Christie novels, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Shakespeare. Or even worse, the Lord of the Rings where I suffered through 100s of pages describing the creeks, glens, willows and whathaveyou. Later on, when I lived in the UK for 4 years,  I never came across the word "glen" in real life and I never had to comment on the "weeping willow's shade" or the like. Looking back, I should have read more non-fiction books and/or Newsweek or the like. The vocabulary in those sources is more connected to real life. This is why I am currently reading mostly on TCB and started 2 non-fiction books as my first Chinese books. 

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40 minutes ago, Jan Finster said:

The problem I have with fiction like 活着 is the flowery language.

I've not read To Live but it doesn't have a reputation for flowery language, which made me check the original of your passage and really only the sparrow metaphor comes even close IMO. For example, the bit about the tea is very ordinary in Chinese: 他们的茶桶就放在田埂的树下 "They'd place their tea flasks under the bushes on the ridges between the paddies", and the bit with the granny singing the folk song is pretty ordinary too - people really did sit on their doorsteps weaving sandals and he was out there to collect folk song.

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Jan Finster
40 minutes ago, Jim said:

bit about the tea is very ordinary in Chinese: 他们的茶桶就放在田埂的树下 "They'd place their tea flasks under the bushes on the ridges between the paddies", and the bit with the granny singing the folk song is pretty ordinary too - people really did sit on their doorsteps weaving sandals and he was out there to collect folk song.

 

The issue I have with fiction books is not, if what they describe is possible in the real world, but rather, if  knowing what "bushes on the ridges" (etc) mean in Chinese is useful. I am 100% positive that I will never talk about "bushes on the ridges" in any language in my whole life (aside of this forum...). Paraphrasing Imron "study what you want be become good at", are you studying Chinese to talk about "bushes on the ridges" or "weaving sandals" later on? I know quite a few people study Japanese with the sole goal of being able to read manga in Japanese and some people may study Chinese just so they can follow kung fu period dramas in Chinese. Good on them! However, the majority, or at least a significant minority on this forum (want to) study in China probably in order to use it later on in their career. Unless you want to become a novelist, it may be more useful to learn what the "gross domestic product", "carbon dioxide emissions", "electric vehicle market share", " or "aseptic meningitis" means. I am doubtful, if 活着 or the like are useful to achieve this goal. If however, you simply learn Chinese for the beauty of the language, then yes, of course, read 孫悟空, etc.

 

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Zeppa

I read To Live, with a lot of help from Pleco. I actually wanted to read fiction. The ridges separate the fields and there is shade under the bushes, so it was a kind of background information for me on what it was like living in the country - the narrator was not from there. Actually there is a very small vocabulary in that novel. I kept meeting 'sparrows', I think. I found it very different from the film, which I loved at one time. I think studying literature is part of knowing the culture and that isn't just about 'the beauty of the language'.

 

ut if you don't like reading fiction, perhaps you should read non-fiction. But to read about GDP or meningitis you might spend more time learning the subject-matter than in fiction.

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realmayo

I know this is obvious, but being quite good at a language isn't simply a function of knowing vocabulary items. Someone who had read the English words "electric", "vehicle", "market" and "share" loads of times in lots of different contexts would be quite comfortable, I think, if they then came across "electric vehicle market share" for the first time.

 

And then consider the general benefit of being exposed to, and engrossed in, the language for hours and hours.

 

Because novels are stories written in the hope that readers enjoy reading them. Most people will be willing to read a novel they like for far longer than they would a whole book's worth of worthy newspaper articles.

 

Plus - this is just a guess - surely engaging imaginatively with the lives and feelings and actions of other people, in a foreign language, and picking up on the different registers of how people communicate in that language, depending on who they're talking to, or how they're feeling, or what kind of predicament they are in, is better for your overall understanding of the language than a no-nonsense report on GDP statistics.

 

So, much the same way as competing Red Guard factions might have squabbled over different interpretations of the Little Red Book, let me suggest "study what you want to be good at" could be interpreted as "if you want to be good at reading, read a lot, and if you want to read a lot, find texts you enjoy reading".

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Jan Finster
40 minutes ago, realmayo said:

Because novels are stories written in the hope that readers enjoy reading them. Most people will be willing to read a novel they like for far longer than they would a whole book's worth of worthy newspaper articles.

 

There are tons of highly enjoyable non-fiction books that are full of stories. In fact the best writers make it a point of storifying non-fiction. Here are some examples:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Down-Under-Travels-Sunburned-Country/dp/1784161837

Bill Bryson is super funny, yet informative.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Being-Mortal-Medicine-What-Matters/dp/1250076226/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=being+mortal&qid=1611665515&s=books&sr=1-1

https://www.amazon.com/Great-Influenza-Deadliest-Pandemic-History/dp/0143036491/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=pandemic&qid=1611665560&s=books&sr=1-2

This is largely about medicine and you learn plenty of medical terms, yet it is not a dry spreadsheet...

 

Etc.

 

48 minutes ago, Jim said:

but each to their own.

Amen :)

 

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