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How much time can I spend reading at the intermediate level?


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Fithen

As an intermediate learner (HSK4 and some) with a lot of free time due to the summer holidays, I'm wondering just how much of it I should spend reading Chinese. Generally, I finish my Chinese studies in the afternoon, with non-reading activities (flashcards, textbook/workbook, journalling, shadowing) taking up two hours or so a day.

 

Afterwards, I'm at a bit of a loss for what to do, since my reading is generally saved for the evening and I feel this aversion to reading for hours on end - perhaps due to the greater difficulty caused by it being foreign, or just a fear that the time could be spent learning in another way, as reading is relatively passive. However, this ends up just being unproductive time or "researching" better ways to study Chinese - where I spend sometimes upwards of an hour just reading articles about studying, etc. instead of actually reading, since I have the "core" studies behind me.

 

Is there any upper limit to the amount of reading I can do, or would you members of the community suggest that I simple buckle down and spend hours a day doing so? I'm not sure how else to spend the time, and my main goal for the summer is just to improve my level of Chinese.

 

The reading is almost always intensive (lower 90th percentile during the beginnings of novels, 95-98 later on), not extensive reading - children's novels. I do occasionally read simpler sites (MandarinBean, HSKReading), but I'm slowly running out of them and the storylines aren't as satisfying.

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Jan Finster

I think reading "intensively" for more than one hour per day is really tough. Very likely you will run out of steam if you try. You could definitely read extensively for several hours per day on e.g. TheChairMansBao (HSK 1-3), if you do not mind non-fiction content. Otherwise, try graded readers.

 

 

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alantin

Sounds like we are at about the same level. I'd say you can't really read enough but I do recognize the notion of "running out of steam". I don't think reading is that "passive" after all.

 

Although my reading is currently mostly novels at around the same level as you (95% comprehension level or so). I don't really stay and dwell on words or characters that I can't read, but is never the less tiring and doesn't really take me into a flow state.

 

Still I would say that reading more than anything lays the foundation for any language so if you want to improve, then you can't get enough of it.

 

Another thing I'm doing currently is having free talk sessions with tutors completely in Mandarin about 5 times a week and I'm finding it immensely helpful in improving my communication skills. Though it also is a tiring exercise and I had to build stamina for it.

 

All in all, I believe the passive exercises like listening to stuff and reading, enhanced with doses of flash cards in moderation, create the foundation of passive knowledge and understanding of the language, that you then activate through active exercises by communicating with people, text chatting with people over WeChat for example, and talking with tutors or language exchange partners. Grammar explanations and exercises can be helpful extra, but hardly the stake.

 

That's basically the whole philosophy I follow in all my language learning activities and it's working well enough for me.

 

So on the question of what extra to do to help your Chinese after you've completed your curriculum for the day: do what ever you like, as long as it's in Chinese. Bottom line is: If it's in Chinese, it's going to help. If it's not, then it's meaningless or as close to meaningless as it can be in regard to your learning Chinese regardless of if it is reading study tips or not.

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Fithen
1 hour ago, Jan Finster said:

TheChairMansBao (HSK 1-3), if you do not mind non-fiction content. Otherwise, try graded readers.

I might reconsider the Chairman's Bao, but I feel I've mostly exhausted other "simple reading" options. I've read a plethora of graded readers (Mandarin Companion, Chinese Breeze, most Sinolingua readers below the 1500-word mark) and even all the stories off DuChinese when I was subscribed. However, now that I'm capable of reading free native content, I'm somewhat reluctant to shell out for the more expensive (for students) TCB, especially as the content would be quite dry.

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Fithen
41 minutes ago, alantin said:

Although my reading is currently mostly novels at around the same level as you (95% comprehension level or so). I don't really stay and dwell on words or characters that I can't read, but is never the less tiring and doesn't really take me into a flow state.

Perhaps it's just the way I approach new words then - using Readibu, I aggressively tap each new word and sometimes ones I know to confirm pronunciation; this may make reading more tiring. But wouldn't your approach lead to less actual learning? Since you're just skipping over new words?

 

Anyway, the philosophy you shared is a sound one, appreciate the write-up. The last bit of advice is a bit tougher for me to follow since pretty much my only hobby now is learning Chinese, but I'll see if I can incorporate Chinese into the other, somewhat infrequent activities I do.

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alantin
1 minute ago, Fithen said:

But wouldn't your approach lead to less actual learning? Since you're just skipping over new words?

 

I don't thinks so. The important ones come up often enough to start bugging me, at which point I'll check them up and add them to my SRS. Checking every word would just drown me in them.

Hailing from Czechia I expect English to be a second language for you. Did you check every word while learning it?

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Fithen
35 minutes ago, alantin said:

Hailing from Czechia I expect English to be a second language for you. Did you check every word while learning it?

I’m mixed race, so a native speaker of both actually. Just living here for a spell.

 

I’ll try only clicking on words I see often and see how that goes in terms of reading speed and stamina. While only a fraction of the new words I see I add to my deck, I suppose the frequent clicking will be quite tiring nonetheless.

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imron
5 hours ago, Fithen said:

or just a fear that the time could be spent learning in another way, as reading is relatively passive.

I agree with others to give extensive reading another go.  Think of it as doing hundreds of flashcards a minute, with hard feedback about whether or not you actually, really, truly know a word (if you need to look it up, even if it's just to check if you were right, you don't know the word).  Drop down to the easiest level possible that is interesting enough for you to bear, but easy enough that you don't need to look up much (if anything).

 

3 hours ago, Fithen said:

However, now that I'm capable of reading free native content, I'm somewhat reluctant

Except that it sounds like you're not at the point where you are capable of reading free native content.  I mean, yes you can study it and understand it, but it involves a large amount of time and effort and has a large amount of unknown vocabulary that you need to look up.  That's not the same as reading, and you'll never develop the skills required to read comfortably for long stretches of time if you aren't doing more extensive reading (there are plenty of other soft skills, unrelated to grammar and vocab that you need).

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Fithen

Well then, I suppose I’ll be looking into TCB since I’ve pretty much exhausted all other extensive reading options. Thank you for the advice everyone.

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alantin

What I'm doing is reading Chinese translations of my favorite books. It lowers the bar somewhat, as I already know all the context, so that I can enjoy the story and pick up vocabulary through "osmosis" even though I can only read about 95% of the characters.

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Fithen
28 minutes ago, alantin said:

even though I can only read about 95% of the characters.

Is this your only form of reading? People here have been suggesting looking at easier content, but I’m at a similar percentage after getting through the first few chapters of a novel and acclimating to the author’s writing style; if this counts as borderline extensive I’d vastly prefer to do so over TCB.

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imron
8 minutes ago, Fithen said:

if this counts as borderline extensive I’d vastly prefer to do so over TCB.

If this is your level, then for sure go for more interesting things.  The important thing is to be doing reading that doesn't require a lot of dictionary lookups.  If you start something and find you're doing that too much, then set it aside and look for something easier.

 

Your goal should be to find content that allows you to do more reading and less looking up.

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Jan Finster
10 hours ago, Fithen said:

I might reconsider the Chairman's Bao, but I feel I've mostly exhausted other "simple reading" options. I've read a plethora of graded readers (Mandarin Companion, Chinese Breeze, most Sinolingua readers below the 1500-word mark) and even all the stories off DuChinese when I was subscribed. However, now that I'm capable of reading free native content, I'm somewhat reluctant to shell out for the more expensive (for students) TCB, especially as the content would be quite dry.

 

 

Just now, Fithen said:

People here have been suggesting looking at easier content, but I’m at a similar percentage after getting through the first few chapters of a novel and acclimating to the author’s writing style; if this counts as borderline extensive I’d vastly prefer to do so over TCB.

 

The great thing about TCB is it provides easy material, but cumulatively, you learn a lot of words. As you can see in those posts (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/50831-the-chairmans-bao/?do=findComment&comment=478385), even the so called "HSK 1" level on TCB covers more unique words than the official "HSK 4". However, if you do not enjoy the type of texts offered on TCB, then do not torture yourself. The most important thing is enjoying the process. 

 

I guess the best test, if you are fit for the native material you are considering, is testing it yourself. If you find yourself exhausted after 30-60 minutes of reading, then it is probably too hard. If you can easily read the whole afternoon and you are captivated by the content, then by all means, go for native content. I know HSK5+ vocabulary, but I really struggled with native material, even though based on CTA, I should have known 95-95% of the words. The result was that I only read 30 minutes or so per day and this is vastly inferior to reading 2 hours per day of easier content. 

 

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alantin
1 minute ago, Fithen said:

Is this your only form of reading? People here have been suggesting looking at easier content, but I’m at a similar percentage after getting through the first few chapters of a novel and acclimating to the author’s writing style; if this counts as borderline extensive I’d vastly prefer to do so over TCB.


Yes, mostly. I tried TCB at some point too but found it boring to no end. Some graded readers were entertaining enough at some point too as a way to easing into reading, but I didn't find them interesting enough to get immersed in them either. On the other hand I learned my English as a kid by running out of Finnish translations of my favorite fantasy book series and continued reading it in the original English even though my level was no where near the 98% quoted around here. I had a dictionary and the book and read it because I wanted to know what was going to happen and I couldn't really care less about learning English at the time. The dictionary was also there only for checking words that somehow impeded my understanding of the story. I still remember finally getting fed up with seeing the words "pavement" and "balcony" a hundred times before finally getting fed up with not knowing what they were and finally looking them up. Somewhere around the second or third 300 000 word book I didn't need the dictionary any more.

In my experience, that's how you really learn a language. The material is just right for you if you enjoy it and that should be the only criteria.

 

In regard to Chinese, I would still recommend checking the pinyin for any character that you are not sure about the reading (tone included!)for rather than guess. I basically either jump over the character or look it up, but resist the urge to guess, in order to not develop or enforce bad habits.

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Jan Finster
10 minutes ago, TheBigZaboon said:

I'm afraid I'm not really willing to engage in much in the way of back and forth on this issue, either. Some people have the time for that but I don't. This is just my attempt to throw out a different point of view. However, after shooting off my big mouth about the availability of lotsa stuff, I would be willing to try and help people find easy, level-appropriate content in a particular field or two of interest

 

In case you still decide to reply to this: could you give us a list of books/texts/links you used for the "rocket science" example you mentioned. I believe this would help people understand your interesting concept better.

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TheBigZaboon

@Jan Finster. This may  like the ultimate weasel-out, but I just looked up a half dozen of the books I bought on Amazon, and they're almost all listed as 'no longer available.' This takes the picture of the book and information about it off the site. I'll look for a few others, but I'm afraid I'm a pretty good scavenger. I got most of the low-hanging fruit on an easy site like Amazon in rocket science. And Amazon is the most accessible for most people here. I've only left upper level books still available. 

 

But after shooting my mouth off, I gotta face the music, and teach you how to dance. So I think that finding examples of the introductory books available in any field that I talked about is what I should do. If you don't have a different field in mind, lemme try to choose one by myself, and get back to you. 

 

TBZ

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realmayo

@TheBigZaboon So for you, the phrase "it's not rocket science" might actually mean it's rather difficult....!

 

I'm sure what you describe is a great tactic - it largely solves the problem of encountering lots of unknown vocabulary, beacuse after a while you'll (a) already know most of the words, and (b) will be learning new words from within a well-understood context. On a less ambitious scale, I did something similar with newspaper articles all about a single topic, some years ago.

 

@Fithen it's hard to know for sure if an hour of so-called extensive reading would help you much at this stage, compared to say an extra 30 mins of very intensive reading, just beacuse it might be hard for you to find suitable 'extensive' texts that are long enough, interesting enough, but without too many unknown words. If you've got the willpower, try powering through reading-comprehension textbooks at your level or the one below.

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alantin
4 hours ago, TheBigZaboon said:

This is just my two kopecks based on my own experience. I'm sure there are no studies touting this method, so don't ask me to quote any. And I apologize for citing my own experience, but I'm afraid that that's the only kind I have. But it worked for me, and I've amazed myself at what I'm able to read now in a timely field I had zero knowledge of two years ago.

 

This is an awesome idea! I never occured to me to try to find young children's literature like that!

Thanks for sharing that!

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  • 2 weeks later...
TheBigZaboon

Me, again...

 

Sorry for the delay in promises made and promises kept, but getting my first vaccine shot, and trying to find examples of this method for other lines of inquiry took more time than I expected. I tried finding books for fashion and makeup, and it was easy enough to find high school and university level textbooks on clothing design and manufacture. But I found that I don't have the knowledge and experience to come up with easier words to find material on a lower or younger level in the fashion field. There's thousands of such books in English and Japanese, so I can't imagine that the same situation doesn't exist in Chinese. Your experience, however, may make the difference after I show you how to do it using space flight as an example.

 

I've chosen to start with two types of books, one originating in English, and the other originating in Chinese. Both are easy to find on Amazon, so you can try looking for the books I use as examples, and then apply the same strategy to other fields.

 

First, I'll start with books originating in English. The illustrations below are of a book in a series entitled "How does a XXXYYY work, in this case, "How does a Rocket Work?". The pictures are of the Chinese translation of the English original. As you can see, working your way though this will make sure you learn the most basic, most relevant, vocabulary in the field. Rather than struggling to memorize thousands of flashcards of seemingly unrelated words, try treating each page, or two-page spread, as a vocabulary-oriented essay, providing the words, explanations of those words, and often numerous examples of how to use those words in their correct context.

 

"How do I find such gems ?" you may rightly ask. In Amazon, simply enter the real (or even imaginary, if you don't have a real book to start with) title in the Books category, followed by the magic words: "Chinese Edition." This should turn up many, many examples, some totally irrelevant, of Chinese books. To avoid being swamped with books far above the level you want, add words like "for young people" "for beginners," etc.

 

I tried to add one more book (front and back covers only) as another example. Again, this was a Chinese translation of an English original. But the app said I was pushing the limits for file size for a single post, so I will stop here and continue with the introduction of the Chinese books in a separate post.

 

 

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