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Listening to Audiobooks


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@TofuChris thanks for asking!   I am about 100 hours in now.  I took a 10 day break in February, when I got discouraged by the slowing progress, but I'm back on the treadmill now.  I was going to update with stats when I get to 120 hours or so.  I only generate a new data point every 5-10 hours (not enough has changed otherwise).


I'm about half new books, half old books at this point.  The new books are mainly sequels of things I read, where I generally know the plot but haven't exactly read the material before.  I'm also watching Reset the tv series. 


For the first time recently, I was able to listen to an audio book while doing dishes, with ok comprehension!


I did run into the problem of becoming bored / distracted with pure listening.  That was part of what slowed my progress in mid February.  It's ironic, because one of my goals when starting this was to be able to listen to material, while doing other stuff (like chores).  I still want to do that, but you can't actually learn (well) that way.


So now, when free listening, I open a window and take notes (in English).  Like I'm in school, going to a lecture.  They don't have to be great notes; but it keeps me focused on what I'm listening to.  And that way even when I get lost, I can look back up at my old notes and feel assured I mostly understood the material.  That's about 2/3rds of my total listening time.


The other 1/3rds of the time, I keep the original material open in another window, and  glance over every 15-20 seconds or so to make sure I'm comprehending everything I heard. I used to have to do this to ensure learning, but now I only do it as a change-up and to catch any stray words that I get wrong.  Approx 10% of the time, I will test myself with my script to see how many times I need subtitle help. 


That's my new routine now.   

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On 1/28/2022 at 7:45 AM, phills said:

BTW, I may be oversensitive, but is the female version an AI voice? 


It's Microsoft Azure's TTS.


I think the question has been posed before, but does anyone know of a good way of buying and listening to audiobooks on Ximalaya from outside of China? Having just finished 孽子 I'd love to listen to the audio book (and others). 

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On 3/6/2022 at 5:44 PM, Insectosaurus said:

It's Microsoft Azure's TTS.


Good ear!  I looked up Azure and there's a demo right on the page:




It's funny that the sample text has 2 instances of "语言" in it.  It sounds quite like that narration in the youtube video.

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  • 6 months later...

I wanted to give an update!  Sadly, I fell off the listening wagon after my last post in March, but I'm back at it again.


I took 2 breaks since my last post (each about 2-ish months each).  So between March and now (6 months total), I've only been following my listening routine for about 2 months. 


Since the end of my last break, I've been sticking to my listening routine for a month now.  All told, I'm at ~170 hours cumulative listening time, since the beginning of the year, ~40 hours per month when I've been seriously engaged. 


Recent observations:


1. It's harder to maintain focus on intensive listening than I originally thought.  Harder than my intensive reading project from last year (at least for my learning style). 


I thought it would become easier as I got better.  But it's turned out not exactly to be the case.  As I got better, my attention started wandering.  E.g. started clicking around the internet, reading stuff, looking for other things to do, while listening.


Paradoxically, I couldn't do these other things before when I was worse at the skill.  I had to focus 100%.  After I got better, so that I could focus < 100%, I actually did focus < 100%, making the process just as hard as before.  Lol.

2. Also, my improvement was veeeerrrrry slow, plateauing hard after the first 50 hours or so. Without much noticeable improvement, I couldn't maintain interest.  Even my attempts to create tests to track my progress didn't help, since the test scores didn't budge much, and went down as much as up. 


3. One sure sign I was about to fall off the wagon is when I start listening to lots of different stuff.  Listening to a chapter from 5 or 6 books / shows over a few days preceded all of my prolonged lapses.  If I'm sampling heavily, it's a sure sign I'm getting bored.


4. Last year, when I was continuously reading, I made a habit of sticking to a single book at a time.  In hindsight, that was very important to maintaining my progress, because if nothing else, just finishing a book feels like progress. 


Also, books get easier as you continue through it, so you can tell yourself you're getting better.  Even if it's partly illusory competence, you feel it viscerally. 


But when you're jumping around 5 or 6 books, you get continuous hints that you haven't improved as much as you think.  You're falling down the competence curve every time you switch.


Since coming back from my last lapse, I've been sticking to a single book at a time.  In fact, I've just listened to books from a single series since then.  That makes it much more similar to my experience last year, which boosts my confidence (since that worked well last time).

5. Recently, I had a bit of a breakthrough in terms of performance. 


It came around 150 hr mark (or about ~2 million chars).  That's just about when I expected it... because that's the same point at which I felt a lot more comfortable with reading (2 million chars). 


That coincidence does makes me wonder if it's just psychological, but I'm going to see if it sticks and if I can confirm it through tests.  I'll post again if it confirms.  But feeling an actual improvement is hugely encouraging, giving me some hope I'll stick to my routine this time.

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On 3/6/2022 at 9:44 AM, Insectosaurus said:

I think the question has been posed before, but does anyone know of a good way of buying and listening to audiobooks on Ximalaya from outside of China?


@Insectosaurus did you find an answer to your question? Sorry I missed it. If you haven't, and for others who don't yet know: you can access Ximalaya in your browser, just go to:  


It's all there, if not all, at least enough to keep you busy for a long time. You can open an account using your email &/or non-Chinese phone number, this allows you to keep track of your listening history, choices, favs, etc. as well as sync across devices. You can use browser extensions like Zhongwen and translator apps on the web pages.  

There will be restrictions on some audios due to copyright, depending on your location, and also podcasts that are restricted to VIPs, but there is much good stuff for free. You'll have to check how much of what you want to listen is for VIPs only -  and you may want to find a way to subscribe, for which I think may need to register via the international branch (more below). I have an annual subscription and find it good value but I joined a long time ago and subscribe via the Apple store (the app is only available through the Chinese store now). 

There are also many lecture series for purchase (prices are reasonable) and are yours to keep no matter what. 


A tip: If an audio book you want is restricted, search for the same book title in the H. site - many books have multiple recordings, some restricted, some free, it's worth a try.


The home page on the web site will invite you to download their Windows app. This is a nice tool, it allows you to download audios and save them in your device to listen offline.  Note: The files are not mp3s. The app downloaded from the Ximalaya website is new and updated regularly, unlike the ximalaya app in the Windows Store.


The Ximalaya Home page also has a link to the Ximalaya international branch: Himalaya. The Android and iOS apps are available in the US store though not in Europe or UK (Copyright regulations again), but there now is web access. I don't know whether it allows subscribing from EU/UK (US subs are $60 per year), though one can explore the site and listen to the free stuff. You can sign up for an account using email, or non-Chinese phone, or WeChat / Google or Facebook.





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@Insectosaurus I'm sorry to hear that. Can't even start to imagine how it would be, I have hundreds of podcast series waiting to be listened. Have you tried Dragonfly FM ((蜻蜓FM)? Apple Podcasts alsomany good podcasts in Chinese, but I don't think they have audio books. DangDang Cloud reader has very good audio books, but they're not free (though they're cheap) and I think this is another app that disappeared from the UK/Europe stores, so you'd be late to join from outside China (I was lucky there too) 


A few more suggestions:  



Failing everything, there are some good audio books in YouTube.







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On 9/29/2022 at 12:20 PM, Insectosaurus said:

including the works of Eileen Chang


I'm very glad you found good audio books! But surprised that you didn't find Eileen Chang 张爱玲 in Ximalaya, a search gave me 20 pages, a bit mixed up but with a good number of on target audios, many free. 




zhangailing_有声小说音乐相声故事专辑免费在线收听 - 喜马拉雅 (ximalaya.com) 


A good thing about Ximalaya is that it's quite good at learning what about your taste in audios  (of course it would be! ?) and after a while it always suggests stuff for you right in your opening page.

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On 1/14/2022 at 2:21 AM, phills said:

Stamina is highly related to comprehension, in my experience.  If you get lost, your brain will revolt.  But if you keep your thread, you can keep going even if you don't understand everything.


I think this is one of my biggest obstacles right now. If I were just able to focus, then I would understand most material. But my brain says, "No, I'm not interested!" And then it wanders off and thinks about other things. This sort of thing happens often enough even when listening to things in my native language. So the effect is much more intense when listening to Chinese. It's as though my brain just doesn't recognize that language as its own, so it shuts down. I can overcome this issue if I sit down and dedicate time just for the sake of listening (and not do anything else). I've heard one of the big polyglots on YouTube say that he prefers to not waste time that way, but he always multitasks when listening; he'd rather reserve his "focused" time for reading. I often think about that, and indeed, a lot of my listening practice happens when I'm working, walking, cleaning, etc. I can understand a lot of it, but again, my brain doesn't want to focus for too long. I feel like I'm receiving some benefit from it, but maybe I'll need to go for a hybrid strategy in the future--perhaps 15-20 minutes of focused practice in the morning, and then "passive" practice throughout the day.


I agree with sentiments expressed earlier in this thread--it is very hard to quantify your progress with listening, or to know whether (or to what extent) you're improving. One day, I might feel really well about my listening progress. Then the next day, I feel like I can't understand anything at all.

Ultimately, I think that improvement just comes with repeated, enduring exposure to the language, and even if you don't feel it from day to day, you're likely getting better. I'm definitely in a better place than I was 2 years ago, though I still have a lot of work to do.


On 1/17/2022 at 5:36 PM, MoonIvy said:

@alantinA friend just told me, you can pay for 微信读书 or 微信听书 via Apple Pay on an iPhone.


I do that with Weixin Dushu! I'm not sure if it's through the "Apple Pay" feature, per se. My phone just stores my payment info in it, and then I make payments through that Apple app store interface. I've purchased around a dozen books from Weixin that way. I'm actually quite oblivious to exactly the way Weixin works. They keep offering me what seems like an "infinity card," or telling me I've earned one (I guess that maybe it means you can read unlimited books for a certain time period). Sometimes, I try to buy a book, and I can't, because I'm somehow allowed to read it for free. I have no idea why. 

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On 10/2/2022 at 7:48 PM, Woodford said:

I'm actually quite oblivious to exactly the way Weixin works.

They do keep changing their offering so it can be confusing to keep up.


Quick general gist:
- If you only read a few published books a year then top up 书币 and buy the books you want to read. 

- If you are interested in their popular webnovels, you need to buy these with 书币 (it's the only option!)

- If you are interested in their published book and read a lot of these, you should consider the subscription service known as 付费无限卡


I bought a years worth of 付费无限卡 many months ago when they had a offer for 164 RMB for a year (it's dirt cheap!). I highly recommend this for heavily published book readers, because as a 付费无限卡 member, you have unlimited access to all published books, and you can also claim some free 书币 every week which you can use to buy published books, I've bought a few just for the sake of it because...might as well, it's free 书币!

You can check this page out if you want a more detailed explanation - https://heavenlypath.notion.site/What-Is-and-How-To-Use-It-With-a-Popup-Dictionary-08abeb4e0c354b29b8ac29b3e02ae750 they've recently spilt their 书币 into two types which isn't mentioned in the guide - it's something I need to update soon. It should still be enough to give you an general idea. 

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Ah, the mystery of the 无限卡 has been solved! All the different credits and benefits seem to get attached to my account and produce random results--sometimes I have to pay to read a book, and sometimes I don't! 


When I'm reading a rather "heavy" book that has a lot of complicated vocabulary, I buy it on Weixin, then use the copy/paste function (Weixin lets me copy five pages at a time) to make it show up in the Pleco clipboard reader. Unfortunately, I suppose that the Pleco screen reader doesn't work on Apple iOS, probably because of the way iOS is built. Oh, well. My current system works well enough!

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I find 

On 10/2/2022 at 8:48 PM, Woodford said:
On 1/14/2022 at 9:21 AM, phills said:

Stamina is highly related to comprehension, in my experience.  If you get lost, your brain will revolt.  But if you keep your thread, you can keep going even if you don't understand everything.


I think this is one of my biggest obstacles right now.


What I think has been working well for me is to phase out extensive background listening in favour of much smaller chunks of attentive listening. Note I wouldn't call that intensive, just intentional. I found your brain will have less reason to wonder off if you give it a good reason to want to understand something for all of 5min at a time. This exercise is also more faithful to actual language use. 


Extensive listening is useful when you want to expose yourself to the rhythm of the language. That will improve speaking as well as listening fluency. But I don't think it does much to actually upgrade your listening comprehension skills per se.


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On 10/3/2022 at 9:30 AM, sanchuan said:

This exercise is also more faithful to actual language use. 

Let's not forget that audiobooks are an extremely unnatural type of language exposure - humans can normally see who is speaking to them!! In my experience attention will wander far less if I can see the speaker.


So any time you're listening just to audio, you're making life more difficult for yourself (which can be good, if you are training hard skills). Also audiobooks involve words written for the page being spoken out loud, which increases the difficulty level even more.


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On 10/3/2022 at 3:31 AM, Woodford said:

sometimes I have to pay to read a book, and sometimes I don't! 

You most likely have the free membership thing called 体验卡 (it used to be called 免费无限卡). The 体验卡 lets you access some content for free, so that's why you need to pay or some and not others. I also think they often change what's available for free - like before I purchased the yearly 付费无限卡, I noticed some books becoming available when it wasn't a few weeks ago. It's all super confusing to be honest. I just bought the 付费无限卡, much easier. I can access all published work and don't need to worry about what's available. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I have accumulated some more data since my recent breakthrough (at around 150 hours), which confirms my new progress.  I just recently passed 200 hours.


Of course, the data isn't the cleanest, because I took 2 long breaks, but I think it collaborates my subjective observations.  For comparison, my earlier graph from 8 months ago is at:  https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/61869-listening-to-audiobooks/?do=findComment&comment=485029



1. The x-axis is the number of hours I've been cumulatively listening to audio books. The y-axis is my testing my comprehension on the audiobook of 三体 on youtube, where I count the number of times I request display of subtitles.


2. The 2 redlines are the long breaks I took, each about 2.5 months long, in which I didn't follow my listening routine.  The first break was terrible on my ability comprehension -- when I stopped I was actually doing quite well, and when I came back, I was lost in a sea of audio. 


The second break didn't show as much of a difference in the numbers, and didn't feel as bad subiectively. I stopped because I was getting discouraged.  Happily when I came back I wasn't any worse, which was quite encouraging, and gave me my second wind! ?


3. The green dashed line is when I felt a qualitative difference, just past 150 hours.  I was kind of expecting it, so it could be partly psychological, but I'm happy to get it anyways.


I would characterize it as similar to the difference between intensive reading and extensive reading.  I was always trying to practice doing other things while listening, and I wasn't making much headway before that point.  Suddenly after that point, I was much better able to listen while doing other stuff.


I was beginning to be able to listen to background speech and eaves-drop on conversations. 


Before, if there's a broadcast in the background, and I'm not actively paying attention to it , it would just equivalent to buzzing or droning in the background.  Now snippets break through from the background even when I'm not tuning in.


Now I can turn on an audio book and start clicking around on other stuff on the internet.  My comprehension still drops when I do that, but I'm able to retune back in to the important / interesting parts, like when I'm listening to a sports podcast in English. 


Listening stopped requiring as much energy, and instead not listening sometimes takes energy.  Which means I can do listen a lot more casually, and I pay attention as needed based on interest.


4. Skeptically, you can say I'm only slightly better than I was at 100 hours, before I took my first break.  From the pure numbers, you can argue both cases.  But subjectively I feel a lot better than I did then.


First, I'm listening a lot more to completely new books that I've never read in any language before.  E.g. The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig on youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tkVpx0WE6c, which I wanted to read in English, but decided to just listen to it in Chinese. 


I wasn't able to do this at 100 hours, and that's part of why I got discouraged and took my first break.  I started sampling a lot of different stuff, and hitting brick walls.  100 hours in, I was barely able to listen to books I haven't read in Chinese (but I previously read in English) such as Sapiens. 


Second, I'm much better at doing other stuff while listening, which is also something I couldn't do before at 100 hours.  That's another reason I got discouraged and took my first break.


5. I expected this sort of change around 150 hours because my experience in learning to read.  150 hours is about 2million characters, which is when I started more comfortable with reading in Chinese, when I switched from only intensive reading to extensive reading. 


Before that I had to do a lot of "prep work" prior to starting to read a new book, after that, I could basically just wing it, and stumble through.


I'm not saying 150 hrs or 2 million chars is a magic number, but I do think you need a certain amount of practice / data between you get through to the next hurdle, and it seems to be about the same reading or listening, at least for me.

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