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Fastest intensive self-study routine to go from HSK 4 to 5?


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Fithen

I have an extended summer holiday coming up, and can think of no better way of spending it than learning Chinese. I'm currently at the HSK 4 level and have been putting in about three hours a day studying; I reckon over the summer this number could go up to four or five - especially given the lack of other activities due to covid and general lack of other hobbies.

 

It'd be a great achievement to go from HSK 4 to 5 in these three months, but I'm wondering how best to approach as someone self-studying. Spending focused time learning a dozen or so new HSK 5 cards a day would likely be the quickest, but I feel this would bring drawbacks with grammar and listening comprehension. Equally, I'm considering going through BLCUP's HSK 5 textbooks, but I feel they aren't as suited to self-study and can be somewhat slow.

 

How would you suggest that I structure my studying to quickly, but well-roundedly, go from HSK 4 to 5?

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NanJingDongLu

I'd say all of those things sound like good approaches. Try to keep it varied so that you can cover the weaknesses of any one approach, and also keep things interesting. Flashcards, textbooks, graded readers, easier Chinese books, The Chairman's Bao, Youtube videos, podcasts targetted at intermediate learners, and Chinese TV shows are all great ways to improve your Chinese. None of them are the Silver Bullet that's going to turbo charge your learning, but if you do all of them for 3-4 hours per day, you should see huge progress over 3 months. Some people like reading Manga, others read Novels they are familiar with in their own language, others go for childrens books with easier vocab. At the end of the day it's all about input, and the key skill when going through volume like this is working out what you should focus your efforts on, and what you should ignore. Don't waste time learning vocab that isn't in the list on subjects you're not interested in because "they're part of the textbook and I want to learn it all before I move on".

 

32 minutes ago, Fithen said:

Spending focused time learning a dozen or so new HSK 5 cards a day would likely be the quickest

Personally I believe this is a good idea if your goal is to to reach HSK5 level for the test, rather than just improve your chinese to that of an HSK5 level student. I hope Lord Imron can forgive me for this sin of a recommendation though. However, 3 months is quite ambitious for this, so don't expect 100% retention for all 1300 words by the end of it. Set realistic expectations.

 

If your goal isn't to pass the test, and you just want to get better at Chinese so you can read books, watch TV, and converse with natives in Chinese, then I would caution against getting too focused working through the word list. Perhaps 60% of the words on the list list are words that any intermediate/advanced learner should know, but many of them are arguably useless, or niche at best. (I'm still angry that 传真 is an HSK4 word).

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mungouk

Just to add, if you are planning to take the exam... 

 

There's a shift in materials in the BLCUP Level 5 textbook to longer texts (600+ hanzi), including many chengyu.  The book introduces a lot of 书面语 equivalents of 口语 words covered in earlier levels, and expects you to know when they're used. The material also includes many, many words that are not even on the vocab lists.

 

I agree the BLCUP textbooks are probably not ideal for self-study, especially the grammar explanations all being in Chinese. The workbooks however are a more useful way to build up to the exam, given that they start off a bit simpler and each workbook chapter includes the vocab introduced in the corresponding textbook chapter. Since the chapters are structured like mini-exams the book also includes audio for the listening part.

 

Unlike the previous levels you do have to do some actual writing for Level 5. It's only 80 hanzi but still, it's something that isn't tested until this level, so that will involve some practice as well, and you would need a teacher to give you feedback, or at least a native speaker.

 

 

 

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Fithen

Thank you @mungouk and @NanJingDongLu for your advice. While I'm not placing too heavy a focus on the HSK exams - though it can't hurt to take and try and pass them - the primary reason I'm going through the HSK in this manner is because of its structure. Many apps, websites, analysis tools and so on will grade the difficulty of a text based on HSK; likewise, the structure of the HSK with its relatively useful wordlist and grammar is helpful to me as a learner.

 

While I would prefer to learn only the words that would be useful to me, excluding the ~40% equivalents to 传真, I'm not sure how to approach this yet remain well-rounded without the HSK. HSK wordlists logically follow up on each other, so learning wordlists by frequency would pose a challenge, not to mention the lack of grammar and audio/visual resources.

 

And the three month goal is quite unrealistic, I would be happy with even just getting halfway through. But the further you set your target, the harder you'll try.

 

I'll look into the workbooks - the HSK 3 and 4 ones have been very useful to me - though this would require going through the HSK wordlist despite some useless words. Equally, I'll make sure to keep up immersion; I'm already reading some children's novels and watching cartoons, but will later try to look at more complicated TV shows and work on picking up chengyus.

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imron
23 hours ago, NanJingDongLu said:

I hope Lord Imron can forgive me

Lord Imron doesn't care how you study, and is happy for people to recommend things that they think will work.

 

Even if I might personally disagree, there is value in many different opinions.

 

That said, I think focusing on flashcards is not going to be a productive use of your time.  You should train what you want to learn, and unless you are training to become the world champion at flashcard revisions, with the biggest, bestest deck, flashcarding vocabulary shouldn't be the primary thing that you work on.

 

You should still use flashcards, just don't make them the activity where you spend most of your time.  I'd also recommend against ramping up vocabulary.  Even if it means you 'learn' more words, it might come at the price of not learning each of those words as well.  See here, and also here.

 

If it was me in your position, I'd do something like what Jan Finster did here (including starting from HSK1 material).  Don't think of starting from HSK1 stuff as 'going backwards'.  Think of it more as an audit of those levels to see if there are still holes and gaps that you are not aware of.

 

This will be immensely more useful to your Chinese ability compared to just ramping up vocab.

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Apollys

I find that the most important thing is doing something that engages you mentally.  For example, I still remember visiting my girlfriend in Beijing when I first started learning Chinese, and her dad asked me if I wanted any 大蒜.  Then he grabbed a clove of garlic in his hand and took a giant bite out of it, and the mom said, Yeah people from the north really like to eat raw 大蒜.  And I'll never forget how to say garlic in Chinese after that, because I was so engaged in that moment and it left such an impression on me.

 

Flashcard review is a very efficient way to maintain already-learned vocabulary.  Just pay attention to your mental focus during these review sessions, and when your mind starts to wander, take a break or switch to something else.  Also, when learning new vocabulary, ideally you'll have something with a bit more power and punch to it: actual scenes from movies or TV shows are great, and if not that, then at least an example sentence around which you can concoct your own imaginary scene.

 

Some tricks I employ to stay focused during SRS review sessions are actually physically writing the word with a pen and paper, speaking the word and analyzing my pronunciation, and/or writing the word in my mind -- all of these things force your mind to stay in the present.

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Fithen
11 hours ago, imron said:

You should train what you want to learn, and unless you are training to become the world champion at flashcard revisions, with the biggest, bestest deck, flashcarding vocabulary shouldn't be the primary thing that you work on.

Thank you for your comment, I read through the articles you shared and they were quite informative. My personal goal is to read Chinese literature, which is why I'm placing such a heavy emphasis on vocabulary - there more I know the easier it will be to read. While I've also been reading some easy novels and marking down common words I don't know, I feel going through the HSK is the most efficient way to learn the vocabulary, because of the ease in which I can find new words to learn that I will likely come across.

 

Because I've haven't self-studied previous HSK levels, I'm relatively confident in my abilities there. But since this is self-study, I'll take the advice of the articles and try to focus hard on learning the new vocab, with looking at some example sentences as well and going through the workbook as was suggested previously.

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realmayo
On 5/29/2021 at 9:21 PM, Fithen said:

I'm considering going through BLCUP's HSK 5 textbooks

 

If you've got the motivation and committment, I can't see how you'd go wrong with this. Presumably each chapter has a main text, which introduces new words and grammar patterns, and has mp3 audio? In which case I'd suggest the rather boring task of listening sentence by sentence or clause by clause (lots of pause and rewind) to a text, trying to work out the meaning by listening, then reading, and finally looking up any words in a dictionary if you need to ... with the goal of thoroughly understanding the text, and if you don't end up hating each text immediately, you surely will if you force yourself to re-listen on subsequent days as review. But I do think this intensive process is better than just regarding a text in a textbook as a source for 'mining' vocab and grammar. However, if it's too high above your level for you to eventually understand each text thoroughly on your own, and if you don't have anyone to help you with it, then this may not be a good approach at all.

 

That's the intensive side of your studying done, then you need something more extensive - read some suitable TCM articles without stressing too much over them, or watch some TV.

 

Finally, for vocab, distinguish between simple words with a fairly straightforward correspondance with your L1 (these are easy to learn and to remember and to use), and more tricky words which will take a lot of exposure to and practise using before you're confident you really understand them. Words like 梨花 or 烟头 can be piled up quite quickly in your head or powered through with flashcards, but things like 只管 or 经过 or 纵横 need quite a different approach, I think. Treating all vocab equally is a big mistake.

 

 

 

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imron
2 hours ago, Fithen said:

I feel going through the HSK is the most efficient way to learn the vocabulary, because of the ease in which I can find new words to learn that I will likely come across.

It's actually significantly less efficient, probably by an order of magnitude.  See here for a more detailed analysis, but the general gist is that the HSK aims to cover a broad range of content and genres and authors, but what you are reading at any given time is usually a very specific genre, content and author.  From HSK4 and above you will almost always be better off learning words from context (whether that context is textbooks, graded readers, graded newspapers or whatever) rather than learning from HSK word lists.

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Jan Finster
14 hours ago, imron said:

what Jan Finster did here (including starting from HSK1 material).  Don't think of starting from HSK1 stuff as 'going backwards'.  Think of it more as an audit of those levels to see if there are still holes and gaps that you are not aware of.

 

I really want to confirm this. I am so glad Imron washed by head about chasing after those artificial milestones (HSK levels). 

 

It is quite obvious now that  I look back at my progress since I started learning Chinese: between 11/2020 and 2/2021 I tried to step up from HSK 4-5 to HSK 6 on TCB. The result was that I only learned about 200 new words. Since 2/2021 I am doing the TCB listening challenge starting at HSK 1, then HSK 2. I also try to read the texts, but this is really a minor aspect. I have completed HSK 1-2 on TCB and currently I am busy with HSK 3. As you can see my known word count jumped up around 800 words. 

image.thumb.png.df24b582e0f9221ef558a3def166fbea.png

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Fithen
1 hour ago, imron said:

the general gist is that the HSK aims to cover a broad range of content and genres and authors, but what you are reading at any given time is usually a very specific genre, content and author

I agree with you that the vocabulary in HSK covers more topics than you'd ordinarily encounter, but isn't that a benefit? Although my main goal is to read a specific genre of literature, I wouldn't want to excel in that at the cost of being unable to speak well about common topics or read other genres.

 

Additionally, when I was talking about the ease in which you can find new vocabulary to learn, wouldn't you say the HSK would be the fastest in that respect? In the past four or so children's novels I read (admittedly usually in the 30-40k character range), I've only added a couple hundred new across a few months (I only add those I subjectively feel I encounter often). On the other hand, I can go through the HSK at a faster rate.

 

So while I do plan on leaving the HSK system after level 5, I feel that both its structure (explanations, app and site-oriented texts and videos) and the simplicity in which you can pick up relatively useful words outweigh the benefits of having vocabulary you'll encounter a bit more often, but be picking up at a far slower rate and not have as deep an understanding. Wouldn't you agree?

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realmayo

Surely it's not just a vocabulary-accumulation endeavour though? You actually want to learn how the language works, through exposure to the lanaguage. In fact the holy grail is working through Chinese texts where you already know almost all of the words. That's something that textbook series (including listening comprehension and reading comprehension books) - whether graded by HSK level, or by e.g. intermediate, upper-intermediate etc - are tailor made for.

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Fithen

Yes, you're right. I must have missed the part of Imron's explanation where he cited textbooks as a potential source for learning.

 

I think I'll just go through the HSK 5 textbooks with flashcards for the words I learn on the side at a rapid pace this summer, and then leave HSK entirely. Thank you everyone for all the advice!

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abcdefg
On 5/29/2021 at 4:18 PM, NanJingDongLu said:

(I'm still angry that 传真 is an HSK4 word).

 

Last year I needed to send a fax from Kunming to the U.S. They were documents regarding a pension payout that required my signature. Wound up on a merry chase to all the usual places that I had relied on for sending and receiving fax transmissions in years past. These were for the most part copy shops/print shops 复印打印店。

 

None still had an actual fax machine 转真机。It had become an obsolete piece of equipment. Of historical interest only. The most common advice was to "Just use WeChat." Problem was, the recipient in the US did not have WeChat. In fact, they had never even heard of it. 

 

The second-choice consensus of the shops I visited was that e-fax would be the way to go. Finally a patient lady helped me set up an international e-fax account and install the necessary software on my phone. Took some time since it required validating my identity and method of payment.  

 

It was an eye opener. Technology had once again passed me by. 

 

image_2021-05-31_085126.thumb.png.b0417072af7a21939b23b01e28be767b.png

 

 

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mungouk
On 5/30/2021 at 5:18 AM, NanJingDongLu said:

(I'm still angry that 传真 is an HSK4 word).


While I was equally dismayed at that, I also thought 黑板 (HSK 3) was in the same category, until I started teaching in China and found myself covered in chalk dust at the end of classes for the first time in 25 years. 🙈

 

Plus, there's also plenty of vocab about bows-and-arrows, historical stuff etc. that somehow seems just as important today.


Maybe one day we'll have to translate an article on the history of dead media and be grateful. 


 

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abcdefg
1 hour ago, mungouk said:

While I was equally dismayed at that, I also thought 黑板 (HSK 3) was in the same category, until I started teaching in China and found myself covered in chalk dust at the end of classes for the first time in 25 years. 

 

I hope you have invested in some of those snazzy sleeve protectors 袖套 that my Chinese friends who teach in secondary schools all seem to use.  

 

image_2021-05-31_105603.thumb.png.e99077cfbad8f3d75ad2f3bfc5fb5571.png

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alantin
3 hours ago, Fithen said:

I agree with you that the vocabulary in HSK covers more topics than you'd ordinarily encounter, but isn't that a benefit? Although my main goal is to read a specific genre of literature, I wouldn't want to excel in that at the cost of being unable to speak well about common topics or read other genres.

 

The problem is that the words are "disconnected" from each other.

I'm currently at around HSK5 level and I began reading books at around HSK4. First a few graded readers but I just couldn't wait to jump into the Chinese translation of my favorite book and I believe my speed of learning vocabulary has increased a lot even though I didn't use any SRS for about a year. I also sometimes take the HSK practice tests to "audit" my progress and did ok in HSK5. Not really well but ok enough to pass with a fair margin. The interesting thing is that I do OK on HSK6 too and I know a lot of vocabulary that is in HSK6 and outside of HSK all together, but not in HSK5.

If you want to do SRS and the end goal is to read books, I would recommend finding sentences in a book that have one unknown word tops in each and add those in your SRS instead of standalone words.

 

In the end you basically get good at what you do so if you want to read books, read books! HSK4-5 is definitely enough to start reading without memorizing another 1000 random(ish) words.

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realmayo
1 minute ago, alantin said:

In the end you basically get good at what you do so if you want to read books, read books!

 

My problem with this is that, if people really believed it, they would never step inside a classroom unless they wanted to be professional students for the rest of their lives!

 

 

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alantin
35 minutes ago, realmayo said:

My problem with this is that, if people really believed it, they would never step inside a classroom unless they wanted to be professional students for the rest of their lives!


I don't really step into a classroom for anything but an introduction for something. 😁

 

Applied to professional subjects, it's good to get an introduction on a framework or tool or what ever from an instructor in a class. On the other hand some classes are structured so that there are basically two different outcomes expected; The students get a basic understanding of the subject so that they can go and learn more, and on the other hand the company gets some actionable plan or something else brainstormed by the students. These are usually really good and useful for everyone involved.

 

In language learning setting I use class time with teachers and tutors to practice interaction with native speakers, practice pronunciation or to validate my understanding of sentence structures etc. but study happens on my own and somewhere completely different than in classroom. To me, in language learning context, the more there are people attending a classroom course, the less it makes sense to join it because the less you are going to get the teachers time for yourself.

 

With 20 or so years of formal school, with teachers trying to pour knowledge into the students' heads from a podium, under my belt, I'm just saying that most of one hour classroom classes could be condensed into 5-10 minutes long videos and let the people do something else with the rest of the time instead. Like study. Not all classes are bad, but most likely the pareto principle applies.

 

"Professional students" actually seems to me like quite an apt description of that stuff. It implies to me someone who is constantly cramming information to pass classes and to do well in tests, but most likely lacks in real world application skills.

 

I'm obviously not an education expert and I apologize to any teachers here who might take offense, but I sincerely believe that classroom is probably the most over and abused teaching technique out there. My main issue with it is that the student is so easily reduced to the role of passive recipient of information with no chance to apply or practice it. That's just not how most people learn!

 

I'm also not against SRS. It is a good tool, but I've done it too enough over the years to have noticed that it too ceases to be a good tool if it's not used in moderation. When memorizing isolated facts, like word lists, you won't really be able to do anything useful with that word until you've seen it in the wild a bunch of times and also used it yourself. That's why if you pick the words yourself from material that you yourself read, instead of taking a ready made list, and preferably also took the context, the whole sentence, you're going to get a lot better effort for words learned ratio from your SRS than if you just go through the HSK list. Also the amount of text in text books is usually not nearly enough to internalize vocabulary. That's why you need to be reading books to get enough exposure to the words.

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alantin

Here’s a classroom experience: when I began studying Chinese I enrolled on a Chinese course in the local university which had a native teacher. In class she wrote a lot of pinyin in on the blackboard (no characters until I asked for them a couple of times), didn’t really cover pronunciation, except by giving us a url to some website, and didn’t really use Chinese at all in class except to read out some words or really short sentences. She usually also looked really impatient when I tried to ask something in my elementary Chinese and the answer usually wasn’t in Chinese.

 

At some point she also told me not to ask so many questions!

 

I payed 100€ for the course, took three hours time off work in the middle of the day once a week and drove to the other side of the town to be there and ask questions!

 

I guess the teacher was under some kind of pressure to go over the curriculum and then give us a test, but us learning to use the language didn’t really make it to the list.

 

So my takeaway from this: classroom is not the way to study a language.

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