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My 18 months experience of reading original Chinese webnovels


MoonIvy
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@MoshenIf I was to start again, I would still start with children's content but I would start a bit later. Knowing what I know now, I would definitely complete the stories that I find interesting on Little Fox Chinese, and maybe buy DuChinese premium for a month or two before starting. Interest is a difficult one, I personally found most of them to be quite interesting. They reminded me of similar stories/books that I loved as a child, so it was extremely nogistic. 

Having compared some learner reading materials (i.e. Little Fox Chinese, DuChinese, Mandarin Comparison), they are still miles away from native adult novels. Creators of reading machine for learners would write this with the learner in mind, they would use only certain grammar structure/writing style, stick to certain words and be sure to repeat words through the story. However, authors that write native adult content are writing for a literate adult, they don't need to care about sticking to certain words, and they will use whatever word, chengyu, grammar structure, writing style they feel like. I'll quicky also mention the length of original native adult novels, nothing out there for learners can even compare to this! Having said all that, so far, I've found young children's books to be the middle ground between content for learners and native adult novels. They are longer than content for learners, uses a decent amount of common chengyus, more advance grammar, but still relatively short, with shorter chapters, sentences and paragraphs. 

Some people are able to go from something like Mandarin Comparison to adult novels straight away, but I couldn't. Just the length (total length, and chapter length) of adult novels were already off putting enough for me. It was extremely satisifying to finish a book every 2-3 weeks. For me, this was a big motiviator during an extremely difficult period.

I only really spent 9 months on children's content, and for me, it was 9 months well spent. I only had to deal with it for 9 months, and now I never have to do it again.

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Thank you for the post. I followed the exact same path (giving up on textbooks, tons of children stories on readibu and then adult webnovels) with one major difference - I have not made even a single flashcard. My progress has been so rapid and beyond my wildest dreams that you will never ever catch me with a flashcard or a word list. I think it's a hindrance. Perhaps it's only possible to advance without flashcards until you mastered the most common, say, 5,000 characters, and afterwards I will see the use in flashcards of the "rare" characters. But until I'm there (and I suspect it will not take long with this method), no flashcards for me. 

 

flashcards or no flashcards, this method can replace many years of boring and many times fruitless study with perhaps a year and a half of fun cultural reading. 

 

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On 3/4/2022 at 6:54 PM, MoonIvy said:

I thought I’ll share with you my experience of spending 18 months reading original Chinese novels everyday, novels I had previously never read in any other form.

Thank you for this great write-up! It clearly worked really well for you and the way you explain it, anyone can see what you did and choose to follow in your footsteps.

 

Aside from this write-up, I just want to say I'm glad you came to the forums. Web novels are bigger and bigger these days and it's great to have someone aboard with clear expertise and experience with these books. I hope you stick around!

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  • 2 weeks later...
I posted the original post in various places and received some questions. Here's the follow up of the previous write up.

How much time did you spend on reading and reviewing words each day?
The amount of time I spent each day changed over time.

When I first started with the children’s stories, I spent only 10-15mins each day reading one short story. During this time, I only added 5-10 words a day to my deck, so my daily review count was quite low. I can’t remember how long I spent on these, but I don’t think it was more than 15mins.

 

After I moved onto children’s books, I started to increase my reading time 30mins a day. Due to reading more, there were more new words to learn. I limited myself to a max of 20 new words on most days. That quickly racked up my daily review count. I remember spending 20-30mins most days on reviewing words.


Nowadays, my reading time varies, but it’s usually between 30mins-1hr, sometimes can go up to 3hrs if I’m in a bingeing mood. As for new words, I only add around 5-10 a day at max, which has massively reduced my daily review count.

 

Were the children’s content useful?

I believe this is one of the aspect many people care about. Children’s content is by all means not the only way. However I do feel that, as of right now, books for children are a very good way for learners to bridge the gap between content for learners and adult novels, particularly for fiction lovers.


Just to show you what I mean, I’m going to use the very popular Mandarin Companion books as an example for content for learners. I’ve met a few learners who, after finishing all of Level 2 MC, were under the impression that they were ready for adult novels, only to be completely demoralised after struggling to read and understand the first paragraph.


Each Level 2 MC books contains around 450 unique characters and have around 10k-13k total characters. All MC level 2 books pull from the same pool of 450 characters, more information here from the podcast by the creators of Mandarin Companion.


DuChinese is slight more difficult than Mandarin Companion in terms of level. Their advanced lessons each contain around 450-600 unique characters. But the lacks the endurance practice that Mandarin Companion provides.


Just to give you an idea of the gap, many modern, slice of life, romance Chinese novels (usually considered to be the easiest genre) will contain around 2,100 to 3,000 unique characters. Length wise will vary, but on average they’re contain 150k-250k characters in total. Just from these simple stats, you can already see the gap is huge. I haven’t even touched on other aspects like grammar and sentence structure.


In comparison, some original children’s books for very young children, such as 秃秃大王 by 张天翼, has around 1,000 - 1,500 unique characters and around 10k-20k characters in length, which although still a challenge, is it much more manageable than an adult novel.


All the children’s books I read were all generally very short, and I was able to finish one in 2-3 weeks. Finishing a book every 2-3 weeks was a massive motivator for me. Motivation is an extremely important important aspect when learning a new language.


If you were to start today, would you still read children’s stories?

This is actually a difficult question to answer. Without experiencing it myself, I wouldn’t know if a different path would have worked. For me, the most important aspect wasn’t necessary the result, but the journey.


Reading those shorter children’s stories kept me motivated due to the shorter length, and the ease I read them with. I was able to keep up with reading children’s content without any breaks for 9 months before I jumped into some easier adult content. If it were other content, I really don’t know if I would have been as motivated.


For me, it worked, so in short, I probably would do it again.


However, I would suggest something a little different for those reading this and wondering how to start bridging that gap from graded readers to native novels. That would be to go through most of level 3 to 5 of Little Fox Chinese stories. As these are content created for learners, they purposely repeat certain vocabulary and grammar structure, making them more accessible than jumping straight into native content.


I did an analysis of all their Level 5 stories and found that, as of today, it contains around 2,500 unique characters. The writing style of the level 5 stories are quite similar to many children’s book, so it’s a perfect stepping stone.


Did you make any mistakes?

For me personally, there weren't any major mistakes or any parts where I felt I wasted a lot of time and gained nothing out of it.


However, I felt that I jumped into long webnovels a bit too early. At the time, I was really desperate to read something adult, and I decided to read this extremely long 1.2mill character webnovel. I don’t regret reading it, but it was just the wrong timing. I should have waited a bit longer, and tried a bit harder to search for shorter webnovels.


Luckily, members of 看剧学汉语 Discord and I have since found some shorter and easier adult webnovels, that are very approachable for someone with knowledge of the most common 1,800 characters.


What about listening, speaking and writing skills?

I didn’t go into listening, speaking and writing in my previous post, but surprisingly I received many questions regarding this especially listening. It seems that many learners want to know if reading can help with other aspects of language learning.


In short, reading alone can’t improve your listening, speaking and writing skills if you don’t practice those as well. By reading, you will not magically be able to listen to an audiobook if you’ve never heard the words being spoken by a native, at a native speed.


However, what reading will do is provide you with the vocabulary to aid in your listening, speaking and writing.


If and when possible, you should try and practice all four skills at the same time. If this isn’t possible or that it’s too overwhelming, focusing on reading and listening first would be extremely beneficial. You can always practice speaking and writing afterwards. At the beginning, input over output!

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  • 1 month later...

Thank you for sharing your experiences MoonIvy, this was an incredible write-up! It’s motivating to see others use extensive reading successfully, it is such a powerful approach, both in terms of effectiveness and enjoyment as @KupGriye mentioned.

 

Fully agree that the jump between “advanced” graded readers and native content is massive, something I’m still working hard to bridge. I also found children material essential for this gap. I’ve met  resistance around this, but imo a little open-mindedness goes a long way for language learning. I’m finally starting to feel “on the other side” of the bridge, onto my third adult novel, 活着.
 

Sprinkling a few web novels into my reading list would definitely shake things up in a good way, so I’ll have to have a look through  your list.

 

edit: two questions.

 

1) What are your thoughts on using mono-lingual dictionaries?

 

2) Any desire or plans to go to paper? (Realize this may not be applicable with web novels)

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On 4/21/2022 at 9:51 PM, Dr Mack Rettosy said:

1) What are your thoughts on using mono-lingual dictionaries?

I like them. Reading in Chinese and looking up unknown words in Chinese is the ultimate goal! However, I definitely wouldn't recommend using it exclusively at the beginning, something that it worth slowly dipping into. I'm been using 微信读书 (a native digital book/webnovel platform) quite a bit lately, so been trying out their inbuilt cn->cn dictionary. I find it's pretty good and explains words very well.

 

On 4/21/2022 at 9:51 PM, Dr Mack Rettosy said:

2) Any desire or plans to go to paper? (Realize this may not be applicable with web novels)

You'll be surprise the number of webnovels that recieve a physical published version. You'll find quite a good amount of recent published novels originated from a webnovel. Sometimes the webnovel version will get updated to match the edited published version. In terms of whatever I'll buy physical books, it'll be very rare. I stopped buying physical books 10 years ago when I got my first Kindle (English books btw). I recently bought a new Android eReader (Boox Leaf), which I'm using for the Chinese digital books and webnovel platforms. So I get my Chinese webnovel (and published books) on a paperlike screen, who need physcial books? Having said that, I will buy some books in physical form if I really really love it, and want a copy of it to look pretty on my shelf. Getting physical Chinese books in my country is SO expensive! I'll give you an example, 幻想农场 (which I talked about in my initial write up), cost around $4 to buy from the webnovel platform, and the physical version (renamed to 不离, and splited into 2 books) is $14.27 each from BookDepository, that's a total of $28.54 .... 7 times the price. I really really really have to love it to spend that money.

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