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HSK 5 - Too many new words in the exercise book


_Ethan_
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5 minutes ago, Woodford said:

I’ll look back at my word-counting in the future and cringe over it as a sign of immaturity.

Why should this be immature?  It is enormously motivating to me, personally, to see my progress. And it helps me contextualise my capabilities ("this level of vocabulary allows me to do XYZ"), which can be really helpful when talking about that sort of thing with others.

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6 minutes ago, 黄有光 said:

Why should this be immature?  It is enormously motivating to me, personally, to see my progress.

 

Point taken! Yes, this is the reason I do it. And I like to see other people who have done it and shared their own progress. I imagine that I'll keep doing it until I reach a certain threshold (and I'm not exactly sure when that will be).

Maybe "immature" was too harsh. More like..."Oh, yes, that time was a particular phase in my growth!"

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That works!  

 

Right now I am working towards achieving <1 生词 per page in average adult-level literature -- which *should* equate to ~43.000 words in Chinese Text Analyser. I suppose after that I'll probably stop worrying about keeping track of vocabulary so much and transition towards physical media. 

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Also:
 

17 minutes ago, 黄有光 said:

Well, in my case because I am setting very high standards for myself which I am working arduously to reach. I an still triaging words to a certain extent, and I've adopted a study habit that allows me to balance extensive and intensive reading, but just to give you an idea, here are my eventual goals:


That's a really great list of goals! Similar to what I'd like to do. I recently encountered an expression in the Chinese book I'm reading: 一不做,二不休。 Apparently, it's similar to the English expression, "All or nothing." If I'm studying Chinese, I really want to lean into it, all the way.

I also have a copy of Hong Lou Meng as a "stretch goal" someday. My biggest stretch goal is to learn the basics of (but not necessarily master) Classical/Ancient Chinese via a textbook/workbook I bought, written in Chinese with traditional characters (I only know simplified right now). A good opportunity to be rooted in the etymology/history/culture of the language.

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Yeah, looks like we are on the same page.

 

I'm not sure I'll ever actually *read* 红楼梦 (because it sounds interesting in theory but dreadfully boring in practice), but I would at least like it to be approachable, if that makes sense.

 

I got really tired of dabbling in languages (French, German, Chinese) and never truly being able to speak any of them at the same level as English. So for me, that's where the impetus comes from. I'd immigrate to China in another world, but the one we've got has the CCP in power, so....

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Fair enough. But my point was that you could reasonably achieve all of that by understanding and acquiring, rather than counting and memorising, that is by inferring some words here, looking up some other words there. The level of regular exposure to the language that's discussed here will surely lead you to those goals either way. If along the way you want to count, for the motivational/gamificational fun of it, by all means count away! No harm done. Beware, however, the presumed fungibility of words that this exercise entails: can vocabulary knowledge ever be quantified like that? The assumption seems to be that "a word is a word is a word", which we all know it's fallacious. We know no single word, in any language, to the same depth or breath of usage as any other word. Our relationship with each word is as unique as our relationship with each person we encounter in our life. Sure, we could 'collect' them in a facebook-like database and send them regular reminders to 'keep in them in our thoughts' so that we can preen ourselves on having x amount of 'knowables' we're in 'regular contact' with, but I would question the whole point and authenticity of the exercise.

 

So back to word counting, do you really 'know' all of those words in the same way? If not, what is it you're counting? There's words you're proficient in, words you've only ever used in one specific context but wouldn't even imagine can be used in others, words you only interacted with once... Do they all go in the same pile? If so, such a pile would be so miscellaneous that it wouldn't be accounting for anything in particular at all. Again, it's like priding yourself on x amount of friends by counting up every person you've ever laid eyes on and talked to for a bit. Is that what's supposed to motivate our society with words, counting and collecting every instance of it? 

 

I wonder if this is less about acquiring new words in all those nice contexts you want to acquire them and more about claiming a sense of control and ownership over something that's by nature amorphous, interactional and bigger than any one of us, native or not.

 

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13 hours ago, sanchuan said:

But my point was that you could reasonably achieve all of that by understanding and acquiring, rather than counting and memorising

 

First, why is this an either/or? How is "memorising" exclusive of "acquiring"? Is "understanding" impossible at the same time as "counting"?

 

Memorising/drilling a new word makes it much more likely that when you next encounter that word in real life, you'll recognise it, and once that has happened a few times, you probably never forget it. It's a standard and proven language learning technique that helps people acquire vocabulary faster. What's not to like? :)

 

Second, this is a question of degree: what you say probably applies to extremely rare words. And it probably applies to someone already at near-native levels of foreign language ability.

 

In fact, you earlier wrote that your ideas only apply to learners who are already proficient with a 20,000 vocabulary: i.e. people who can already read a range of Chinese texts with considerable ease, and excluding more than 99% of people on these forums. Also excludes me, so I probably stop here.

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Thanks all for the comments and I didn't expect such enthusiastic responses. Actually I just want to ask if it is expected for a HSK 5 learner to know every word in the exercise book on top of the text book to reach HSK5's expected outcome: learners can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese films.

 

Now as I have reached lesson 5, I have seen that there are more and more new words in the exercises which make me really upset. I believe exercises are supposed to help students practice what has been learnt with some expansion or improvement. Yet the set of new words in the text book and exercise book are mostly not overlapping at all. And they are not just a few, there are usually more than 50 new words in the exercise after each lesson. If they are important, why don't Hanban just increase the number of lesson from 36 to 72 lessons to teach students all of those new words properly? I feel they are just trying to squeeze as many new words as possible to reach their KPI to achieve the HSK5 outcome, while officially the new word count for HSK 5 deceptively look reasonable (+1300 words) to cheat new students to start taking HSK5.

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With apologies for having nothing to offer re HSK5, I'm going to indulge in a bit of a response to the good points raised to my comments about word learning.

 

No-one would dispute that understanding, inferring, counting and memorising/drilling are in any way mutually exclusive; all are common reasoning processes used (and often used all together) to achieve word acquisition. I did suggest though that counting and drilling can become as redundant/unnecessary as the training wheels on the bicycle of a (semi-)functionally proficient cyclist. A good aid at first, a great hindrance later on.

 

I don't doubt my argument upthread only applies to proficient language users, including (semi-)functionally proficient ones (anyone with the proficiency of a >7yo native and the literacy of a 14yo native, I hazard to guess). What I would perhaps press you on is about the stage at which we, as a community of language-learning experts, should conceive that level of (semi-)functional proficiency to start.

 

So I agree with you that drilling and counting words has a place in language learning - pride of place, in fact, when it comes to the first 10k words or so. If you, too, share my scepticism about the value of counting and drilling rare words (the top 10k of the ~40k range estimated above?), then our discussion narrows down to how to go about learning the 10-20k words in the middle.

 

This is an intermediate stock of essential but not-quite-everyday words. Some of them are transparent, say, 车座. I wonder if any of us has that 'on file'? Any intermediate learner will just know it means seat/saddle/other-contextually-appropriate-synonym at their very first encounter with the word. Would it make sense for them to drill it? If not, should they 'count' it as a newly learnt word, even if they've never actively 'drilled/memorised' it and have only ever (consciously) experienced it as a 'known word'? If you count it, you're cheating: the word was not earned as a result of learning/studying; it was known innately by virtue of your intermediate proficiency in the language. But if you don't count it, your counting exercise loses all value as a measure and record of progress. So what are you counting? 

 

Other words in that intermediate stock are neither as mono-dimensional and concrete as basic words nor as unique and localised as rare ones. These words are often abstract, many of them are verbs, many of them carry multiple different connotations, many are highly promiscuous in their collocational and contextual usage. Flattening these words down to a one-sentence example or definition may actually mislead you, not help you, in future encounters with the word. It's good practice to look them up (every time if needed), to ask around, to try using them yourself to check your understanding. It would be a questionable practice to reduce them to a fixed example or definition and put them down in the count of 'learnt/known'. 

 

So I think counting and drilling help with motivation and word acquisition up to 10k words / lower-intermediate levels, but above that level they mean very little (and inconvenience very much).

 

I know this is all just about how to think about words. But your thoughts inform your methods. And your methods inform your results.

 

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3 hours ago, _Ethan_ said:

Actually I just want to ask if it is expected for a HSK 5 learner to know every word in the exercise book on top of the text book to reach HSK5's expected outcome: learners can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese films.

Officially?  I have no idea. Unless you are relying on passing the HSK for work or school I don't think you should worry about what is officially expected, however.

 

The people who publish the HSK (er...HSK 2.0 at least, we will have to see about HSK 3.0 when it comes out) dramatically underestimated what is required to function well in a Chinese environment. 

 

In my personal opinion, someone who passes even the HSK6 will be unable to do what you want to do (read newspapers and magazines, and watch most films), unless perhaps they passed it 'organically'. You need a passive vocabulary of several tens of thousands of words to be able to do these things effortlessly, and I'm guessing (based on my own experience plus some maths I have on hand) at least 20.000 words before you can have fun with it. So you can see why someone who *only* knows HSK vocabulary and not much else would struggle, even at HSK5 & 6.

That's passive vocabulary, again -- active vocabulary is a bit ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

By the way, I wrote a post here that describes approximately what 10.000 words gets you in terms of practical capability.

 

Don't stress about it too much. You'll get there. Just set a target of how many new words you'll tackle each day and Anki the crap out of it.

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By the way, I wrote a post here that describes approximately what 10.000 words gets you in terms of practical capability.

 

That is a great post!  Thanks for the link.  I wish Chinese instructional programs were that transparent about how far their lessons might and might not take somebody.

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5 hours ago, _Ethan_ said:

Actually I just want to ask if it is expected for a HSK 5 learner to know every word in the exercise book on top of the text book to reach HSK5's expected outcome: learners can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese films.

 

I think the answer is no.

 

As people have already said, HSK exams will intentionally include words that are not in the HSK 5 official list of vocabulary. But I think that there is unlikely to be a significant overlap between the non-list words in your exercise book and the non-list words in any HSK 5 exam. The exams intentionally include non-list words in order to better test your language ability - in certain parts of the exam, they want you to encounter some words you don't already know.

 

You mention an HSK 5 textbook and an HSK 5 exercise book. Have you also found the official list of HSK 5 vocabulary? If so, you can check if the words you're seeing in those two books are on that official list of HSK 5 vocabulary. If they are, you should learn them. If not, then you can learn them later if you want.

 

As for the expected outcome of being able to read Chinese newspapers and watch Chinese films, I think most people who pass HSK 5 will not really be able to do those things, sorry. If you have concerns about Hanban misselling anything, perhaps it's guilty of exaggerating the difficulty levels of the 1-6 HSK levels.

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Yeah, I think anyone who is starting out with learning Chinese should be aware that everything HSK1-6 is "beginner". Passing the HSK6 means you have an excellent foundation. However, it does *not* mean you are ready to consume native content casually. Almost anything not specifically targeted at beginners will remain significantly opaque.

 

36 minutes ago, Moshen said:

That is a great post! 

Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. I'm not sure when I'm going to make my next post...I've got a fair few milestones coming up in the next little while but I'm not sure which ones are worth writing about.  Finishing my 10th book, reaching "1 year" since I started reading, and reaching 15/20千 words are all on my mind. Any thoughts? What would you like to hear about?

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5 hours ago, sanchuan said:

So I agree with you that drilling and counting words has a place in language learning - pride of place, in fact, when it comes to the first 10k words or so. If you, too, share my scepticism about the value of counting and drilling rare words (the top 10k of the ~40k range estimated above?), then our discussion narrows down to how to go about learning the 10-20k words in the middle.

 

I think you're absolutely right to narrow the discussion down to that "10-20k words in the middle". Can we also separate "counting" from "drilling" too please? I don't think counting's that interesting: someone who likes to tot up a notional vocabulary size will probably stop not because they've reached a given number, but because they no longer feel the need. I'm not personally interested in counting. But drilling interests me.

 

Quote

Some of them are transparent, say, 车座. I wonder if any of us has that 'on file'?

 

Very interesting example. Let's say I read that word in a book and, partly thanks to the context, I guessed its meaning correctly. I would not be that confident that one month later I could immediately produce that word if suddenly required. And - because of the relatively small number of pinyin sounds - I wouldn't be that confident that I would immediately identify the sounds of that word with the meaning, unless there was useful context.

 

So I suppose what that means is that I haven't got a firm notion in my mind weeks later that 车座/che1zuo4 is a word in Chinese around which I should hang some associations with car seat.

 

But let's say I drill that word. When I drill new words, I test myself three ways, showing myself the characters, the pinyin, and English. So I associate the two Chinese characters, and the sound che1zuo4, with "car seat". After this I'm sure that I could better recognise/produce this word than if I'd never done the drilling. And I wouldn't be inferring it on the fly like the first time I saw it, I'd actually be remembering or recalling it.

 

Just looking at things from a sound perspective, I could count up how many pinyin sounds there are in Chinese and then multiply them in such a way to arrive at a number of all possible two-character words in Chinese. Let's say it's 3 million pinyin combos. But I don't have 3 million cubby-holes waiting in my brain to fill with the relevant word or words that correspond to each pronunciation.

 

But after drilling che1zuo4, I do now have an association in my head for the sound che1zuo4, which I didn't have before, and almost certainly didn't have when I just read-for-the-first-time-and-quickly-inferred 车座.

 

So I think, most people accept you need to see a word a few times before you're likely to remember it. If you drill, there's the time cost of drilling. If you wait to randomly bump up against the word a few times over the next 12 months or so, there's the time cost of interrupting your flow while you infer/wrack your brain for the meaning.

 

5 hours ago, sanchuan said:

many of them carry multiple different connotations

 

I don't think this matters. What's important is that you've got a firm notion of the word qua word, and you can hang more associations on it as time goes by. I'd forgotten one of the meanings of 杀气 and so when I heard it this afternoon it didn't make sense, but by looking it up it's a simple matter of associating that forgotten meaning with my existing memory of the word, and also associating the conversation in which the word was being used.

 

I guess it's the difference between thinking "hmm shāqì, that's definitely a word but how come it doesn't make sense here" rather than "shāqì, I wonder what that can be, is it even a word at all?". A known unknown versus an unsure unknown!

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10 hours ago, sanchuan said:

So I think counting and drilling help with motivation and word acquisition up to 10k words / lower-intermediate levels, but above that level they mean very little (and inconvenience very much).

What about the names of elements (helium, sodium, etc), names of countries, cities, and other high level words that are required to be "educated" in a language. These are definitley not easy to simply acquire in the same was as the verbs and grammatical words that just seem so easy to absorbed around HSK 5 and 6 level.

 

I'm finding now that I am starting to be able to consume native content somewhat comfortably (definitely past that 10k mark), Anki is starting to take a bigger place in my learning again, but you could argue that I'm now learning "knowledge" rather than words. 

 

As other's have said, drilling makes a little empty "dictionary entry" in your mind, and the usefulness of this definitely hasn't dimished with the hundreds (thousands) of chengu that are around. Many are very difficult or impossible to guess from context. I often found that I've drilled a chengyu in Anki, and months later I encounter it again, after a few seconds of thinking I can slightly recall the meaning that I had in Anki. Sometimes it's a little far from the meaning in the text, but it's often enough to help me to infer from context.

 

As for motivation, I still get that warm fuzzy feeling when I see that I've added 2000 cards to Anki since I deleted my previous deck. The only difference is this deck is full of chengyu, literary words, ancient Chinese, interesting sentences etc. 

 

I think that throwing out flashcards even at a relatively high level is a mistake, but perhaps it's worth moving from Pleco to Anki so you aren't limited to just words, and to take Imron's (and others) advice and use a heavy hand when deleting old cards. 

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9 hours ago, markhavemann said:

use a heavy hand when deleting old cards

Yeah, this is exactly what I do. Work my way through a book and then the cards get removed from my study routine as soon as I move on to the next book.

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I don't delete whole decks - but if I get a card wrong twice it gets automatically deleted.

 

- mistakes during the initial drilling period don't count.

- card are actually suspended, not deleted, so if I choose to relearn later I don't have to remake the card.

- I did restart my SRS deck from scratch a year ago after a few years of not studying, not SRSing.

 

I'll also periodically get rid of cards that are too easy.

 

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13 hours ago, markhavemann said:

I think that throwing out flashcards even at a relatively high level is a mistake

 

I personally use the Pleco SRS add-on, and I must confess (for better or for worse) I've kept every single card I've added. First, a deck of 5000 HSK cards. I've been doing them for so long now that each day's review just takes a few minutes. Then there's the deck of over 12,000 cards that I've picked up from novels and YouTube videos, and that hovers around 200 cards a day to review (takes me about 45 minutes). I definitely sympathize with people on this site who say, "Hey, just abandon that, and then you'll have 45 more minutes to actually engage with native books/TV." They're probably right, but I do like having an algorithm reminding me of a massive amount of words I may have forgotten. It's just so cool. And over time, if you stop adding words, the workload diminishes.
 

13 hours ago, markhavemann said:

What about the names of elements (helium, sodium, etc), names of countries, cities, and other high level words that are required to be "educated" in a language. These are definitley not easy to simply acquire in the same was as the verbs and grammatical words that just seem so easy to absorbed around HSK 5 and 6 level.


This is the clincher for me, and why I think flashcards are useful for more advanced learners. One of my favorite words in my deck (okay, I jest) is the one for "potassium permanganate." Will I ever see that word again, ever in my life? Likely not. Have I encountered it in English? Maybe not. I can't remember. But it does familiarize me with how the naming conventions for chemicals in Chinese work.

 

1 hour ago, realmayo said:

I'll also periodically get rid of cards that are too easy.


I like that idea, because I think if I were to delete any of my cards, this would be a good standard to go by. For some reason, my brain likes to retain some words (however obscure they are) and forget others (however common they are). My deck has a bunch of cards that I've just never guessed wrong, from the first day I added them until now, because they "clicked" when I first learned them. So really, they needlessly take up time.

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