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Reading material chasm?


stumpy1001
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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.

 

Right.  I imagine that Hemingway would be relatively easy for English learners while James Joyce would be very much harder.

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4 hours ago, Lu said:

What is easy for native speakers is not always what's easy for learners, much as you see with children's literature

 

Fair enough, quite likely I struggle more with newspapers versus novels more than most - as I say, I find a random novel easier than a random news story.

 

As for what constitutes "literature" in general, I don't think this is the time or the place to attempt any definition. "Fiction" or "novels" is probably a more sensible choice of words.

 

I still regret wasting time on certain novels the last time I was studying Chinese: would have been better off ploughing through harder textbooks first. But reading novels is good for the ego: "oh, I don't understand this part of the book, never mind, not my fault, after all it's written for native speakers" versus "oh, I don't understand this part of the textbook, maybe my Chinese isn't quite at this level yet".

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey @stumpy1001, I just looked through the list of graded readers and I realize it is entirely missing the graded readers from Imagin8 Press which has also written the Rise of the Monkey King series. Their higher level readers go up to 1800 characters. You can find them here: 

https://imagin8press.com/

 

We've talked and I've read a few of their books and they have my stamp of approval! 

 

I know there is still a big gap between that and authentic readers, but it might help to at least bridge that gap a bit. 

 

We also did a podcast about this very issue you are facing. You can listen to it here. 

https://youcanlearnchinese.mandarincompanion.com/episodes/49-how-to-learn-to-read-chinese-bridging-the-gap-to-native-materials

 

Good luck!

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I feel your pain caused by the gap between graded readers and real novels. I experienced the same problem.

 

To remedy it, I turned to children's books, in particular the kind that includes pinyin--not necessarily because I needed the pinyin, but because I think the presence of pinyin is an indication of reading/vocabulary level for children. I remember I read a book about Chinese myths, and so many words that I learned from that book have recurred in other written works. It was extremely helpful. I wish I could tell you the exact name and publisher, but it's sitting in a box somewhere, and anyway I bought it 10 years ago so it might not even be in print anymore. However, I'm sure you could find something like it. If you are in China, just go to a bookstore and look around for something that grabs your eye.

 

Another kind of children's book I used was the Chinese version of National Geographic Kids. Easy sentence patterns and lots of new words, plus lots of interesting facts.

 

I would recommend against reading English-language literary novels in translation. They're often poorly translated. One of my well-read Chinese friends used to tell me that reading them gave her a headache because the translations were too literal. Japanese lit in translation might be better since it is so popular, I'm not sure.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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On 7/7/2021 at 5:11 AM, Woodford said:

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. :)

I have been tracking progress in a similar manner, albeit much more intensively. You can see my spreadsheet here. I use Chinese Text Analyser to keep track of unknown vocab totals across a plethora of books, as well as the average number of unknown words per page in those books, and how those numbers are changing over time. I've been doing a study project since the beginning of the year where I learn nearly all of the words in each book I read through Anki...it's been very constructive, I think.

 

Anyway, I've been learning at a rate of 30 new words per day, and you can see on the "words per page" tab that my projections suggest I should be able to pick up a wide variety of adult literature and expect to see <1 new word per page by the end of 2024...additional calculations suggest that that level of competency will involve having a total vocabulary encompassing in excess of 43,000 words. So that's your rough figure --> ~40,000 words for extensive fluency across a range of genres. 

 

I admire the work you've been doing. Definitely keep it up!

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56 minutes ago, 黄有光 said:

I have been tracking progress in a similar manner, albeit much more intensively. You can see my spreadsheet here. I use Chinese Text Analyser to keep track of unknown vocab totals across a plethora of books, as well as the average number of unknown words per page in those books, and how those numbers are changing over time. I've been doing a study project since the beginning of the year where I learn nearly all of the words in each book I read through Anki...it's been very constructive, I think.

 

I love to see that kind of data! I've also used CTA for that kind of analysis. Because I count my vocabulary by the number of flash cards in my deck (it's now about 17,250), it likely vastly underestimates the total number of words I actually know. I noticed that CTA always gives me a much higher number. To give an example, maybe I have one flash card for 中国 in my deck, while CTA has a vocabulary entry for each individual combination (中国,中,and 国). There are likewise endless combinations of compound words that mix and match the same characters and mean similar things. I don't add many of those to my flash card deck (because I can just guess what they mean), but CTA exhaustively documents them all.

I made my own chart that illustrates my own experience with unknown words on each page, month by month (starting in September 2019 with Yu Hua's "Huozhe"). Yu Hua's book was easy, and then the difficulty peaked in November - December with "We Three," an autobiography written by Yang Jiang. Liu Cixin's "Three Body Problem" is after that (January - March), and then there's a steady decline, with exception to August and September 2020, in which I read Mai Jia's "Decoded." That was my last really difficult book (my sixth one overall, I think). This chart documents 10 books. I'm reading #11 right now in August (I took some time off to do listening practice). I'm basically stuck in the range of 1-2 words per page now. I'm looking to read a few thousand more pages this year (hopefully about 300 pages a month), and I hope to inch below that 1 word mark!

image.thumb.png.ba48422a52eedcd24959f6cbfe843e21.png

 

 

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16 minutes ago, Woodford said:

I'm basically stuck in the range of 1-2 words per page now

Perhaps you might consider something similar to what I do?  Instead of looking up words as you go (which can break up the flow of reading and make it significantly less enjoyable), I learn all of the unknown words for a chapter in advance via Anki (CTA really is a lifesaver), and then read the material once I feel more comfortable with the vocabulary. That way, I get the benefit of intensive reading with the luxury of extensive reading. 

 

I don't know if that fits in with your study routine, but it might be something to consider.

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20 hours ago, 黄有光 said:

Perhaps you might consider something similar to what I do?

 

That is something I've thought about doing! Unfortunately, I haven't kept CTA as updated as I should. Nowadays, I just circle words I don't know with a pencil, and come back to them later. It does help with the continuity of reading.

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If we're still looking for materials to bridge the reading material chasm, I would strongly recommend the Independent Reader (從精讀到泛讀). Its a textbook that was originally put together in Taiwan in 1994, but it's very well thought out and structured, and the articles are entirely unedited, it's just native level reading with useful vocab lists and grammar patterns if you need them (articles mainly sourced from magazines aimed at a 高考 student readership, presumably).

 

Be ready for Taiwan-specific vocab and good old traditional characters - although I would say at this level neither of these things should be missing from your skillset anyway, even if you're entirely mainland-based.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 7/7/2021 at 11:11 AM, Woodford said:

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. :)

 

I have a similar experience, although I haven't focused as much on vocab accumulation but more on character recognition + learning to parse sentences + stamina.

 

I started with 活着 and had to look up a lot of new characters, as well as "dual read" with an English translation.  I just couldn't understand some sentences (long descriptive ones with subclauses) even when I knew most of the characters.  Fortunately, after the initial few chapters, the novel transitioned into a lot of dialog, which tends to be a lot easier to parse, especially once you get the author's conversation style. 

 

After that I tried 家, which was too hard.  I gave up when I had to use Google translate sentence by sentence on some of the passages.  Particularly difficult was when they referred to Names (people, places, groups, history), because I could never tell when I was losing the ability to understand a sentence vs. being confused by a Name.

 

I then switched to reading Chinese translations of English novels that I've already read.  Since I knew the gist of what it was supposed to say (even though I've forgotten the details), it was enough so I didn't have to use Google translate anymore to parse sentences.

 

After 3 of those (so 4 books total, about 600k characters worth of novels in), all of a sudden, my parsing improved and I was able to finish 家 without over-using Google translate.  It was still a bit like studying rather than reading. 

 

At the same time, I was also drilling characters, so my character recognition went from ~2400 (just slightly below HSK6 2600), starting 活着, to about 3400 after this.

 

I then read 圈子圏套 1, 兄弟 1, 三体 1, Meteor Butterfly Sword and a few others (all recommendations on this site).  Total I've read about 10 books, or 2million character worth of novels.  Along the way, I noticed a few benchmarks:

 

1. Being able to ignore stuff I don't know and still get the gist of a sentence / paragraph.  That makes reading a lot more pleasurable.  Only when I read the equivalent in English translation do I realized how much I missed, but then I realize I don't really care.  I still followed the plot, understood the logic, and got excited when I should have gotten excited, sad when I should have gotten sad, etc. 

 

So I only look stuff up to save on my vocab list, if I think the phrase is common or interesting and something I might want to use myself in the future.  Otherwise, I'll just let repeated exposure put the word or phrase into my head.

 

2. Being able to tell the reason that I don't understand something is that they are  Names, Idioms, History or Concepts that I'm unfamilar with, rather than due to a language parsing problem.  Great for confidence, to know it's not just a language problem. 

 

Also I read a lot of .txt files from online sites, and I started being able to spot the typos.  It's the OCR's fault, not mine, that a sentence is mangled!

 

3. Stopped reading words out loud.  I still read them out loud in my head, so I'm not at the level where I scan text yet.  This seems to improve speed from 50 words/min to like 100-150 words/min.  That's still slow enough for me to be impatient with the pace of the story, but it no longer feels like a crawl.

 

4. Building stamina and being able to read a few thousand characters before tiring.  I used to tire after reading a paragraph or 2 (3 breaks to read a short news article).  Now I can read 2-3k characters before I need a short break (switch a tab on the browser/read or think of something else). 

 

---------

 

But now, after 10 books, all of a sudden I'm stuck on a new plateau. 

 

The last couple of weeks, my stamina started varying greatly.  When I'm in the mood, I can peel off 10k characters at once, but some days I'll stumble over even 1k characters, and find the characters all blurring together.  Makes me wonder if my previous progress was an illusion. 

 

So I'm procrastinating and posting instead :)  When I get through this plateau, I hope to look back at this post and figure out what I was getting hung up on.  I have some theories...

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