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Extensive or intensive studying (listening, speaking) better?


Zhenzhunaicha
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Hello!

 

I have read a lot in this forum in the past days as I'm planning to start studying chinese again, after a long break of a few years. I do have a few questions though which I haven't found answers for yet. Also, english isn't my first language so I apologize in advance.

 

I'm planning to focus on passive skills like listening and reading first, as I've been interested in chinese novels for a while now and want to dip my toes into chinese entertainment. I feel like building passive skills first will allow me to "study" in a more effortless/fun way by allowing me to essentially just watch movies etc to learn chinese, at least when I've achieved a certain level. I have a history of wanting to start studying chinese again and getting demotivated because I haven't made as much progress as I would like to have in the last past years (so it should still take years from now on) and also because I've forgotten a lot I used to know. I hope that won't affect me as much as soon as my studying will just consist of chinese entertainment and when I have made significant progress.

 

Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of time. I would like to use the little time I have as effectively as I can, so I've been wondering... should I focus on extensive or intensive/active (deliberate) studying more? I know that the quality of studying is more important than its quantity when learning other skills, but that doesn't seem to apply for language learning as it has an input factor that doesn't exist for other skills (like playing an instrument).

 

I've been thinking about using the time I spend commuting to do some extensive listening (while listening to increasingly harder but still not too difficult audio, like what Jan Finster (?) did with TCB, I can't find the post rn tho) which would amount to a bit less than an hour on weekdays, doing anki in my lunch break for 20 minutes and trying to spend 30min per day reading while following this guide (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/62025-my-18-months-experience-of-reading-original-chinese-webnovels/#comment-485570) (I also gotta say, that that's already quite optimistic and I might have even less time on some days). I did read a few popular posts by Imron though who recommended a more active, deliberate approach to improve listening and reading abilities which might generate faster results.

 

I know, many roads lead to Rome, but I do wonder what the difference between these two methods (extensive vs intensive) is and if there's one that might be preferable? Also, how difficult the material I can use for more active listening should be... Stuff for natives might be too much, no?

 

Thank you!

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Hi Zhenzhunaicha, welcome to the forum.

 

I think if you've had a very long break in your Chinese studies then to begin with you should start with material that's rather easy for you to catch up with.  When I came back to Chinese after years of not speaking or hearing it (because I would be going back to China), I started reviewing with a long video series on CCTV called "Travel in Chinese."  It was perfect for me because it had an entertaining story line and vocabulary that would be useful to me.  It was at just the right level that was challenging but not overwhelming.  That's the sweet spot you're aiming for at first.  Later once you've caught up you can tackle harder stuff if you like.

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Just to ensure we're on the same page, and understand what the words extensive and intensive mean, I'll give a quick explanation of what these words mean to me.

 

Extensive = Understanding 98% or above of the content

Intensive = Understanding between 90% and 98% of the content 

Pain = Understanding less than 90% of the content.

 

Neither extensive or intensive studying is better, they're both good in their own ways and provide different benefits. When possible you should use a balance of both methods. Sometimes, even reading/listening pain is useful and that might be the only possible way for a while. Extensive reading and listening is possible while you're still using content specifically designed for learners, but as soon as you step into the native world, that won't be possible for a while. At my current level (I know around 3k Chinese characters and have been reading a lot as you read from my write up), I can read most middle school novels and some novels for adults extensively (know 98% of the words), and most novels written for adults are usually intensive (know above 90% of the words), and many very difficult novels are in reading pain.

I still have to read books in intensive and pain level in order to build vocabulary, because books that fall in the extensive categories doesn't provide me with enough new vocabulary, and specially not those in particular genres. However, extensive reading (when possible) is extremely useful in building confidence with known words, improving reading speed, improving ability to guess meaning of new words, improve grammar etc. 

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I agree with @MoonIvy, both intensive and extensive are probably important, and the material that works for one probably won't be ideal for the other. For listening, intensively, I think there is huge value in audio such as a dialogue or 'radio play' from a textbook and some simple software that makes it easy isolate a phrase or sentence and keep relistening until you undestand it, or until you give up and consult the transcript in the book. Finding suitable "extensive listening" material may be harder.

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Thank you all for your replies and tips! I really appreciate it!

 

On 5/5/2022 at 4:43 PM, MoonIvy said:

Just to ensure we're on the same page, and understand what the words extensive and intensive mean, I'll give a quick explanation of what these words mean to me.

When I wrote intensive, I meant material that's a bit too hard for me and that I would have to keep relistening or reading to figure out what it means (like with the last method I mentioned in my original post or as realmayo described). I guess that could even be material that you would consider to be painful.

 

On 5/5/2022 at 12:02 PM, Moshen said:

Hi Zhenzhunaicha, welcome to the forum.

 

I think if you've had a very long break in your Chinese studies then to begin with you should start with material that's rather easy for you to catch up with.  When I came back to Chinese after years of not speaking or hearing it (because I would be going back to China), I started reviewing with a long video series on CCTV called "Travel in Chinese."  It was perfect for me because it had an entertaining story line and vocabulary that would be useful to me.  It was at just the right level that was challenging but not overwhelming.  That's the sweet spot you're aiming for at first.  Later once you've caught up you can tackle harder stuff if you like.

Okay, I think I will do it similarly to that, too, and look for easier material to build a habit of listening to chinese and to re-build some confidence first before I really dive into it.

 

On 5/5/2022 at 4:43 PM, MoonIvy said:

Neither extensive or intensive studying is better, they're both good in their own ways and provide different benefits. When possible you should use a balance of both methods. Sometimes, even reading/listening pain is useful and that might be the only possible way for a while. Extensive reading and listening is possible while you're still using content specifically designed for learners, but as soon as you step into the native world, that won't be possible for a while. At my current level (I know around 3k Chinese characters and have been reading a lot as you read from my write up), I can read most middle school novels and some novels for adults extensively (know 98% of the words), and most novels written for adults are usually intensive (know above 90% of the words), and many very difficult novels are in reading pain.

I still have to read books in intensive and pain level in order to build vocabulary, because books that fall in the extensive categories doesn't provide me with enough new vocabulary, and specially not those in particular genres. However, extensive reading (when possible) is extremely useful in building confidence with known words, improving reading speed, improving ability to guess meaning of new words, improve grammar etc. 

That seems like "intensive" studying is necessary to get to a level (and to learn enough vocabulary) where you can do more and more "extensive" studying with which you can consolidate what you studied and also be more comfortable. It does sound like intensive reading/listening is where the growth lies at the beginning though and how I'll mostly have to study at first anyways. Especially if there's not a lot of suitable audio for my level anyways, as realmayo pointed out.

 

I guess I will just use increasingly harder material that's not too hard (like you/MoonIvy did) but is in "the sweet spot" and not focus that much on whether it's intensive or extensive at first(?). ... I think you all will probably not recommend already diving into native material that I would like to understand someday but is too difficult(/too "intensive") right now though, right?

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On 5/5/2022 at 7:18 PM, Zhenzhunaicha said:

I would have to keep relistening or reading to figure out what it means

That is definitely reading and listening "pain", check this out for a quick explanation of the 3 reading levels and where the ideal should be https://heavenlypath.notion.site/Reading-Tools-Tips-and-FAQ-b4d287ad630c439fb8978d33b06c1b00#f60145fd67a945efa5fc77afa8c8710d Anything that's painful wouldn't be ideal in the long run, so if possible stick with content that isn't too hard but enough for you to learn something from it. 

 

On 5/5/2022 at 7:18 PM, Zhenzhunaicha said:

I think you all will probably not recommend already diving into native material

I don't really know what your level is, but I assume you're probably not ready for native content? Going through content from DuChinese, TCB, Little Fox Chinese, Mandarin Companion or other similar graded materials for learners will be a good start to begin with. 

The plan you have sounds good, and pretty similar to what I did. I work from home (due to covid) so during my intermediate stage, I did my studying in 3 parts as well. Before work I did my flashcards. Then at lunch time, while I was making food, I listened to something, it was usually some podcast for babies (super childish but I was able to pick up a few things here and there). Then while I was eating, I would go through 2-3 Little Fox stories. After work, I read a chapter and add some new words to my deck.

 

Nowadays whenever I need to commute into the office, I try to do my flashcards before leaving the house, then I would listen to something or read on the commute.

Don't worry too much about what it's extensive, intensive, painful, they're just words. Do whatever works for you, and you find comfortable. It's all about consistency, a little bit everyday! You don't really need to spend hours and hours everyday to get anywhere. 

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On 5/6/2022 at 12:58 PM, MoonIvy said:

It's all about consistency, a little bit everyday! You don't really need to spend hours and hours everyday to get anywhere. 

 

It is definitely about consistency. A marathon, not a sprint, and only taking enough steps will take you to the proverbial finish line. But I would say it is also very much about the time spent too. You do need to put in insane amounts of time to get somewhere. If you need to spend x thousand hours to get fluent, you'll get fluent quicker if you put in two hours a day than if you put in half an hour a day.

 

But I do agree that you shouldn't stress about it and just focus on doing something you enjoy. The next step, after you've established some routines, you should start increasing your exposure to the language. Preferably by establishing another routine. That way you build it into your life and set yourself up for the marathon instead of taking a mad dash and burning yourself out three months later.

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Ok, I think I will experiment with a similar study routine as MoonIvy while focusing on making it enjoyable/sustainable and maybe try to establish other routines after, like alantin suggested.

 

One last question though: @MoonIvy, did the study routine you've described improve your listening comprehension like it did improve your reading skills, so that you could listen to native material (audiobooks, podcasts etc) after 18 months? Or did you have to put in more effort into listening beside that to be able to do that?

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@ZhenzhunaichaI would say it's about 70% reading and 30% listening? The Little Fox Chinese resource I mentioned has video, native audio along with Chinese transcript.  I discovered this a few months into my reading journey. I think I mention in my write up that I wish I had known about it earlier. Once I discovered this, I started using it pretty much religiously everyday. My listening improved massively. It helped with my reading a little as well because I was reading along with the audio. I imagine resources like DuChinese and TCB would also do the job.

Just a quick disclaimer. I love Chinese TV shows, so I've been watching those with English subs for a while before I took Mandarin seriously. Even after starting Mandarin seriously, I watched TV almost everyday. I didn't actively use it as study materials; it's just entertainment that I enjoy. However, I'm pretty sure that affected my listening ability as I got really used to listening to the language. 

 

DuChinese, TCB, Little Fox Chinese etc alone won't allow you to be able to listen to native audiobooks. The gap between these are still pretty big. What seems to work for many people and worked for me as well, was listening to an audiobook of an already read book.

 

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Since you mention getting demotivated during past attempts I will pass on something from one of my favorite teachers who knew about 15 languages. They told me to stop jumping around from language to language and only stop actively learning the one I was working on when I could pick up a novel and read it for pleasure. Not that you need to understand every word, but you can get most of it from context and not have to be looking up words and grammar. In your case that could be movies or TV shows instead of novels, but same idea. Speaking declines rapidly without practice but if you have a passive skill up to a good entertainment level (? is that a level :)?) you will retain a lot in between active learning.

I also came back to Chinese after a long time and I worked first on passive skills like listening and reading. It refreshed my memory more quickly than I expected. The posts here have great info for you so you can just dive in and enjoy.

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