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Reading material chasm?


stumpy1001
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So basically I have finished reading all of the graded chinese readers and thought hey maybe now im finally reading to dive into some chinese literature written for natives. 

 

With that in mind a bought two books ”上海·以北,北京以南“ and "香港旧事". The problem is these books are becoming a chore to read. Simply put there are still far too much vocab I don't know.

 

Perhaps the books I have chosen are a little difficult, if so could someone recommend some?

 

However I have a distinct feeling there is still a large gap between the last graded readers vocab and what you need to read a normal chinese book. If I am right, whats the next step how do you plug that gap?

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I'm bridging the gap by reading a Chinese translation of a book series that was my favorite while growing up. I picked one of the books from the middle of the series, read it once and then started againg from the beginning. After finishing it again I'm planning on continuing to read the series until I run out of books and then move on to 三体.

 

I began with a story that I already knew very well because that way it is easier to pick up vocab from context without the 98% comprehension rate since I already know all of the context. It was a major chore in the beginning (it took me four months to finish the book the first time around), and in the beginning I tracked how many unique characters I was able to read in each chapter to keep myself motivated. While reading I basically added pinyin over any character I couldn't read right away and then I counted them after finishing each chapter. I began with 78% comprehension rate for the first chapter, but after two weeks it was 91% and after a month it was 95%. In the same time my reading speed increased from about 60 character per minute to about 80 and now I'm at about 90 characters per minute.

 

I began this in last December and currently I can comfortably read between 1400 and 1500 characters and kind of know about a thousand more but I can't read them out loud at will yet. I'm slowly getting there by reading with the Pleco Document Reader and checking every word that contains a character I can't read. I'm usually doing that only to check the pinyin, because the meaning of most words is already apparent from the context and the characters.

 

I'd say that it began feeling less like biting the bullet and more like reading for pleasure at around the 95% mark.

 

Finishing the series will take a while since it's seriously huge, but I expect no trouble moving over to previously unknown works after finishing it.

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Try going electronic on your first few books if you can. It's easy to look up vocab and so it bridges the gap a little, if you can get over reading on a computer. 

 

My first book was 嫌疑人x的献身. It's translated from Japanese so I found that helped remove some of the beautiful language and other underlying stuff that a native author would try to put into their novel.  I read it on my computer while listening to the audio book. This helped a lot because I didn't have to parse the grammar myself so much, the person reading breaks up the characters into words and phrases and so you can pay more attention to what's going on and figuring out/looking up unknown words. Not to mentioning providing the pronunciation of unknown characters to help things go a little smoother and make lookups even easier.  

 

梦幻花 by the same author has an audiobook on 喜马拉雅 too. 

 

活着 is highly recommended on the forum as a first read and was my second book. I also read along it with the audiobook (I think it's available on qingtingfm). 兄弟 is also available as an audiobook.

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On 5/23/2021 at 12:31 AM, stumpy1001 said:

So basically I have finished reading all of the graded chinese readers

All of them? (and I'm sure more have popped up since that post was written).

 

Without knowing what specifically you have read, or what your level is, it's difficult to recommend something.  As markhavemann mentioned, 活着 is often recommended as a first novel (forums post here), as is 许三观卖血记 by the same author.  Recently, a number of people have also been reading and recommending the novel 《草鞋湾》.

 

If those are still out of reach in terms of difficulty, it's probably worth using a service such as The Chairman's Bao, which provides graded newspaper articles at a range of difficulty levels.

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The gap between graded readers and actual literature (even literature aimed at fairly young children) is enormous, and to be honest I think this is an example of a problem that plagues the CSL community:  non-fluent speakers vastly underestimating how much vocabulary is needed to get to native-like levels. You need tens of thousands of words at your command, at least.

 

I recommend starting with the translated works of Roald Dahl.

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If you only just stepped into Chinese books written for Chinese people, 三体 seems... a bit ambitious. The writing is not that flowery, but the book being hard scifi there is a lot of very specific vocab that is not only technical, but also sometimes describes inventions that don't exist (yet) or aspects of alien culture. Starting with 活着 or 草鞋湾, as Imron already recommends, is a better idea.

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3 hours ago, dakonglong said:

it got me over the hump.

Another thing at play is that whenever you read a new genre or author there will be an initial hump of high-mid frequency words that the genre or author uses regularly that you haven’t been exposed to. 
 

Even with the grammar building blocks in place, you’ll still see these humps until you’ve read a broad range of authors and genres. 

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I've read 10 books so far (I waited until I was fairly acquainted with the 5000 HSK words before reading my first book, but that totally wasn't necessary). This has been my experience so far, upon reaching each vocabulary level (or in this case, the number of flash cards in my Pleco collection, which is actually less than my actual vocabulary, because I don't look up words whose meaning I can easily guess).

 

2500 words: A good time to begin engaging with native-level content, in my opinion. Though it won't be easy.

5000 words: Pure drudgery. About 6-10 unknown words on each page in an average book.

10000 words (after four books): Reading began to feel smoother and more manageable, but I still had to look up 3-5 words per page. Without a dictionary, I could get the general gist of a passage, lacking various details.

15000 words (after eight books): I now no longer only get the "gist" of a passage, but most of the details, too. But it's still somewhat distracting to encounter 1-2 unknown words per page, and even now, I sometimes just can't guess the meaning of the word from context. When the language becomes really complex, my reading speed slows way down to child-like levels. Character recognition is now almost never a problem. I sometimes struggle with idiomatic/slangy phrases, which are very frequent.

20000 words: I don't know yet, because this is my goal in the coming months! I hope to discover what it feels like. :)

 

It is indeed difficult! I'm encouraged by the testimonies of others on here--if it feels like hard, tedious work, then you're not alone.

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11 hours ago, dakonglong said:

To make a long story slightly less long, I think intensively reading 小王子 exposed me to the building blocks I needed to read in Chinese

 

My biggest leap, in terms of suddenly finding I could read novels quicker and more freely than before, came immediately after I had eight weeks of classes built around intensively reading and studying (almost memorising) eight longish texts in a textbook. If you want to read extensively, read intensively!

 

 

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9 hours ago, imron said:

Another thing at play is that whenever you read a new genre or author there will be an initial hump of high-mid frequency words that the genre or author uses regularly that you haven’t been exposed to

 

Speaking of initial humps: looking at the new vocabulary from a novel I'm about to start, and taking all those words that occur four times or more: by the time I'm just 15% of the way through the book, 50% of those words will have already appeared once or more. And when I'm 50% of the way through the book, I'll have already come across 85% of those words one or more times.

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9 hours ago, anonymoose said:

motivational and self-help books

 

Seconding this, especially because most books in this genre are highly repetitive.

That's why i hate reading them in English, but in Chinese it's good practice.

For example have a look at SusanKuang's 公众号 (here's a recent article: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/GHg2hRfnI2JnFfS9GjrgEA),

I used this as one of the first native materials to practice with.

 

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Literary works are amongst the most demanding material to read. Literature is deliberately written with flowery language, rarely used vocabulary, metaphors and allusions. Even for native speakers, literature can be a slog. It is no surprise that there is a chasm between graded readers which have their vocabulary and use of language dumbed down for the learner, and literature which is at the other extreme.

 

Agreed!  But it is not just the vocabulary and metaphorical language that is more difficult for literature.  I'm not up to literary works in Chinese, but in Spanish what I've found is that sentence structure is another challenge.  In Spanish, I can listen to news, nonfiction audiobooks and fiction written in the style of a fable, but yesterday I started listening to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography.  I knew almost all the words, but the way he put them together was often too unusual for my brain to process at normal speed.

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14 hours ago, anonymoose said:

Literary works are amongst the most demanding material to read.

It's funny, almost all of my Chinese reading is literature and this has never occurred to me. Perhaps you're right and I'm just used to literature so I find it the easiest material to read.

 

I do disagree with:

14 hours ago, anonymoose said:

1) the news - News reports are very factual and tend to use language in its literal sense.

News, by its nature, contains words and terms that the reader has never seen before, because they didn't exist yesterday. The sentence structure may be easy enough, but the vocabulary will always be a challenge. There was a period of time when I read lots of news and I always read the English-language news first, which was helpful in knowing that whatever unknown word was referring to a politician/a new fighter jet/a foreign city/something else.

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Maybe it comes down to what we mean by by "literary works" and "literature". If you mean "most fiction", then I agree with Lu that most novels are easier to read than most news articles. But if you mean stuff that's self-consciously literary - using old-fashioned flowery words or super-contemporary slang, or some earthy local vernacular, with some funky original take or situation or scenario, i.e. maybe the kind of stuff Paper Republic could be more likely to think is worthy of translating - then yeah, that's going to be harder to read.

 

 

余华 is an interesting case because I feel that his grammar and vocabulary are very easy, except for how he throws in huge amounts of self-consciously literary language, for almost comic effect (so it seems to me anyway). I reckon if you just ignored/wild-guessed every four-character sequence that you come across you'd still understand almost exactly what's going on in his books.

 

 

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Obviously there are different levels of literature, and something like 红楼梦 is going to be a lot more challenging than 活着. I'm just saying that as a general rule, I think literature is probably at the more difficult end of the range of native materials available.

 

It will of course depend on personal interest though. You will get through something a lot more readily if you are captured by it than reading something that may be linguistically easier but of no interest. Also, I personally don't read very fast (even in English), so I prefer to read shorter articles than long texts that I might run out of steam on before getting to the end.

 

As for the news, again, it depends on what kind of news you choose to read. I'd say that 90% of the news, at least what you get on BBC for example, is extremely repetitive and predictable (save for different people and places) - political scandals, demonstrations, natural disasters, collapsed buildings, war, famine, a public figure made a slightly controversial comment and is now a public outcast etc.

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58 minutes ago, realmayo said:

I suppose what I mean is, would you call John Grisham literature? Not that it matters to me either way, except that I think your first John Grisham book would be easier to understand than your first time reading a newspaper article on a certain topic.

I'm not so sure. It's been a while since I read Grisham, but as I recall his work contains a lot of very culturally specific descriptions of places, people's looks and background, and of course lots of legal terminology. What is easy for native speakers is not always what's easy for learners, much as you see with children's literature.

 

As to big L-Literature, there is literature that is experimental and plays with the conventions of storytelling and language, and there is literature that tells the story in a fairly straightforward way but is considered Art for how the story itself develops. The first type would be difficult to understand and even more difficult to appreciate for an inexperienced reader, the second type not necessarily.

 

There is a lot more to be said on this, but in general, there is a vast range of difficulty between various works of fiction/literature, for various reasons.

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