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What textbook exercises do you find helpful? And how do they help you?


becky82

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I've had the idea of writing a (late-intermediate/advanced) textbook in the back of my mind for a long time now.  Recently I've been trying to make another push for the HSK6, revising and studying textbooks, and paying attention to what exercises I find (un)helpful.  Honestly, many textbook exercises I find unhelpful, and I won't want to emulate their style.  Sometimes they're mindlessly easy, and sometimes they're demoralizingly hard; sometimes it's very hard to pinpoint what the author is trying to teach the student (it's like they wanted to use up space, and didn't know what to put there).

 

The ones I find helpful are:

  • fill in the blanks, both for sentences and paragraphs [provided the task is to recognize collocations],
  • list the words you know using a certain character [provided there are answers given which list all the such words worth learning (and ideally a target number of words); this facilitates active recall],
  • the "why is this sentence wrong" grammar exercises are sometimes okay [provided you actually learn about a grammar mistake that you might make],
  • I like 看图写话 (describe an image) exercises [practice constructing sentences using certain vocab],
  • one textbook I have lists questions that use each chapter's vocabulary, which your teacher could ask you [experience listening/replying to questions using certain vocab],
  • additional reading which re-uses the vocabulary of the main text [more exposure; using vocab in new contexts],
  • I don't mind translation exercises in either direction [grammar practice].

 

Generally, if I can pinpoint "what am I learning here?" or "what's the take-home message?", then I find the exercise useful.  If it's unspecific "it's just practice", it doesn't make much sense to me.  I also feel like it shouldn't stray too far from the chapter's vocabulary.  I feel the exercises must have given answers, otherwise I feel "left in the dark".

 

Question: What textbook exercises do you find helpful?  And how do they help you?

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I think it depends on how well the book is suited for independent learners and how interesting the content is. Because some books I will do everything and others I won't want to look at. I remember using ASSIMIL for another language and it even had jokes, didn't do the exercises except answering orally.

 

*Hanban- Just the vocab exercises. I will read the culture passages along with the dialogues. I try to avoid using this book honestly. I don't know why lol. [Culture specific knowledge, Varied Repetition, Active Recall]

 

*Vocab Specific Book- I will do it all, similar to mini HSK vocab/writing tests. [Varied Repetition, Active Recall]

 

*Reading Specific Book- Everything and it is not too boring. [Varied Repetition, Active Recall, Reading Skills, Components Knowledge, Cultural Knowledge]

 

*Flashcards- Although not a textbook some learners learn with ANKI+Sentences mainly and don't do textbooks. I use Pleco though but not Multiple choice anymore. I care the most about recognition so prefer Self Graded, Tones and Fill in the Blanks. [Active Recall, Varied Repetition]

 

If you are working toward the HSK 6, couldn't you just read natively for 3 years and then pass it? Perhaps you have already passed it but want to take it again. Essentially you would have a form of spaced repetition (through reading), varied repetition (through reading) and active recall (from your vocab knowledge). I am a minnow compared to you. Although I think I could pass HSK4 today, I will give myself some time.

Edited by Rajesh Koothrappali
too wordy
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I get upset when a textbook uses vocabulary and grammar in the exercises for chapter 5 that are not actually introduced until chapter 9 or 10 or 11. Careful review and editing are important. Sometimes it seems they get slighted. 

 

I like being tasked with using new vocabulary properly in made-up sentences. Am a believer in the old saw that "If you can't use the word correctly, you don't really know it." (Worth noting, that I use these exercises with a one-to-one live teacher. Not sure whether they would be so useful for someone who just used the textbook to self-study.) 

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That would be awesome if you wrote an int/upper int textbook! Sometimes laowais also know what laowais need.

 

I have always wished there were more exercises aimed a natural intonation and pronunciation.

 

I wish there were more role play exercises. Excerises where you give and get information from a partner or the teacher

 

I like :

 

-Retelling paragraphs in your own words or using specific grammar to retell

 

-Describing pictures/inventing stories from pictures

 

-Translation sentences

 

-Listening where you need to answer questions afterwards

 

-Readings where you have interesting discussion questions after

 

-grammar drills where the structure is repeated many times only changing a few words

 

What I dislike more than anything is learning a new word and the teacher saying : now you make a sentence with that word. What am I supposed to make the sentence about? What’s the point of making this sentence? Damn, this lame activity has always irked me. It is an LTL standby. I will throw it back at them and there will be a surprising amount of umming and erring. This is more of a teaching complaint than the book itself though.

 

My biggest complaint with Hsk Standard course book 4 is it just was not interactive enough. The speaking activities were too difficult for me. I thought it was a  good source of input though. Also some good insight on the chinese way of thinking.

 

Please write your textbook(or put it online?), it would surely be a rewarding project.

 

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Thanks everyone, that's really helpful.

 

On 1/14/2024 at 1:25 PM, suMMit said:

Please write your textbook(or put it online?), it would surely be a rewarding project.

 

I'll probably just upload it online somewhere, if it happens.  We'll see.  (I'm also re-preparing for the HSK6, so that's eating up most of my time.)  Professional copy-editing and publication costs are pretty steep, and likely beyond my budget.  I might put a "buy me a coffee" link in there or something like that.  It's kind of a "graduate thesis".

 

On 1/12/2024 at 9:41 PM, abcdefg said:

I get upset when a textbook uses vocabulary and grammar in the exercises for chapter 5 that are not actually introduced until chapter 9 or 10 or 11.

 

I'm tempted to try a "independent chapter" approach.  Basically, each chapter should be standalone, and can be studied in any order.  (Although if a HSK3.0 textbook series comes out, I might follow the order in those textbooks.)

 

I might post a draft of one chapter at some point.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This is where I'm at:

  • I've been submitting my writing daily on 65Words.  I think my writing is technically okay, and doesn't have gaping big errors.  There's probably occasional typos in what I submit, and other more minor issues, which, if I were to write something textbook-like, I'd eliminate through proofreading or maybe even asking one of my former teachers for help.
  • I get the feeling the topics I choose to write about are of more interest to language learners than, say, Zhang Jing buying a fridge.  And I get the feeling my background mental assumptions are more in tune with native-English speakers.
  • I also get the feeling that my writing style may be well-suited to language learners; after all, the audience I want to write for is basically "myself, but 2 or 3 years ago", so if I use a word or grammar structure, then it's likely that a HSK4 or HSK5 student, if they don't know it already, is able to learn it, and likely will learn it in the near future (because I did, and I'm not much further ahead).
  • One thing I noticed from my 65Words submissions is that I write about a very broad range of topics.

Recently, I've been watching Prof. Krashen videos on YouTube, and in particular I've been looking at his Optimal Input Hypothesis; there are four elements of optimal input:

  1. it's comprehensible (i.e., the student is capable of understanding it);
  2. it's compelling (i.e., the student is so engaged in the plot that they forget they're even reading in Chinese);
  3. it's rich;
  4. it's abundant (i.e., there's a lot of it).

I'm not entirely sure what "rich" means, but it seems to be something like: the content actually means something (and isn't just there to use fill up space), and there's in-built mechanisms for comprehending unfamiliar content (maybe repetition in phrasing, images, etc.) so the reader doesn't stop half-way through the story and study e.g. a new word, but rather the word is inferrable somehow from the story.  It seems like it'd be best if this richness were seamlessly interwoven into the plot.

 

What I'm mulling over nowadays:

  • I feel like I'd want any textbook I'd write to lean heavily towards reading, to the point of almost being more of a graded reader than a textbook.
  • Judging from the "optimal input hypothesis", I won't want to interrupt students reading with vocabulary and/or grammar lessons.
  • I find it hard identifying what is and isn't comprehensible for a HSK4/5-ish student.  Even just identifying which words to pull out and explain is tedious because (a) the HSK 2.0 to HSK 3.0 reform, (b) a lot of words have multiple forms, and it can be challenging to figure out what level they are, (c) some "hard" words are basically the same as in English, and some "easy" words are harder than they appear, and (d) the student can quickly look up words in Pleco or via a popup dictionary anyway.  And sometimes, it doesn't matter if something is unknown if it's not related to the plot.
  • If I force myself to use certain words, my writing quality drops.  If I just let it flow naturally, it's much better.
  • To talk about anything interesting, especially in depth, requires vocabulary outside HSK1-5.  To express things naturally sometimes requires using grammar flexibly.
  • Would it be better to write an ongoing story, or a whole bunch of articles?  I'm leaning towards the latter, since a student could skip any articles they're uninterested in.
  • I don't know traditional characters.
  • I like science, and I find scant language-learner-friendly science content around.
  • The textbooks I study seem to all copy/paste articles from elsewhere.  I.e., the articles are not written by the textbook authors.  I don't really want to do this.
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Hi Becky82,

 

2.) compelling (i.e., the student is so engaged in the plot that they forget they're even reading in Chinese);

 

This doesn't tend to happen though honestly. Flashcards are more enjoyable, the graded readers I read were a grind. We do have to lift weights to get bigger muscles.

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On 2/11/2024 at 5:22 AM, becky82 said:

4. it's abundant (i.e., there's a lot of it).

Would a single textbook address this? And, even so, would a textbook be the best way to go about that sort of thing?

 

On 2/11/2024 at 5:22 AM, becky82 said:

my background mental assumptions are more in tune with native-English speakers

Native Chinese content is indifferent to the background mental assumptions of any one native English speaker (or of speakers of other languages, at that): isn't that an advantage for a general-purpose textbook/reader aimed at presenting the language as she is? 

 

On 2/11/2024 at 5:22 AM, becky82 said:

my writing style may be well-suited to language learners

Your own linguistic background would certainly be an asset in a classroom of English-speaking learners of Chinese. Would that still be the case if you're writing original texts for language learners in general? Any whiff of overly formal or 欧化 Chinese, however grammar-perfect or gpt-perfect, might run the risk of misleading English speakers and non-English speakers alike (for different reasons).

 

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On 2/12/2024 at 4:41 AM, sanchuan said:

Native Chinese content is indifferent to the background mental assumptions of any one native English speaker (or of speakers of other languages, at that): isn't that an advantage for a general-purpose textbook/reader aimed at presenting the language as she is? 

can avoid the pitfalls of 'assumed knowledge' that comes from chinese culture (e.g references to historical figures, folk stories, chengyu?) 

also i find this "textbook" really interesting - TEACHING BASIC CHINESE GRAMMAR | Cheng-Tsui (publishercart.com)
I have only read the samples it gives, but the error analysis sections is something that should be more widely used. 

image.thumb.png.7f7135a6ce3c257348216b3c1d036e8c.png

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On 2/12/2024 at 9:13 AM, malazann said:

but the error analysis sections is something that should be more widely used.

That is super useful, and the example of 所以 could not be more appropriate for a lot of us! I'd love to read other analysis of different grammar points. I'm going to look into this book.

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On 2/12/2024 at 3:04 PM, suMMit said:

I'm going to look into this book.

when I wanted to buy it a couple years ago, shipping was gonna be as expensive as the book itself ($65 USD!). But it honestly looks so bloody good, and a no-brainer for chinese language teachers

fun fact - I came across it in a comment reply from a cool video that was shared here:  Three Differences Between 刚 and 刚才 

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On 2/12/2024 at 9:13 AM, malazann said:

can avoid the pitfalls of 'assumed knowledge' that comes from chinese culture (e.g references to historical figures, folk stories, chengyu?) 

 

The thing is, textbook chapters (at least the ones in China) often come from native publications like 北京青年报 or 青年文摘, i.e., native-Chinese authors are writing to an assumed born-and-grown-up-in-China native-Chinese audience.  Then it's dumbed down and stripped of anything controversial.  Then the chapter's vocabulary and grammar is inserted.  The result is less than ideal.

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I doubt Krashen and Nation. 

1: They are not successful language learners themselves. 

2: They don’t have evidence of advanced knowledge of Chinese.

3: They do their research based on learning English.

4: They can distort their findings to prove their position.

5: An industry is created from their findings to create profit.

6: Rich = new, out with the old, buy more books; abundant = buy more books.

7: No studies are done on re-reading a graded reader because people won’t buy more.

8: Yet they do research on how many books you should read per 500 words in order to get learners to buy more books.

 

Why should we follow advice from people who don’t actually have the capability and knowledge of a foreign language? Especially a language that is significantly challenging to learn? Professors used to say cigarettes were healthy in order for the cigarette companies to PROFIT.

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I'd always say that the best way to learn a language at advanced level is to use it in native speaker's context. I've met foreign students in my university, and their Chinese, I'd say, is not incomprehensible (at least mostly). But the problem is, this is just not "Chinese-like". Native Chinese won't say that. But these "styles" of native speakers are so dim. Several factors devotes to this phenomenon, among which cultural background I bet should be a significant one. So choosing texts written by native speakers and covering more topics would be my advices.

BTW why not find out the textbooks of 语文 for primary school? These texts may not be that thoughtful, but they are designed for native speakers. I think "learning a language at an advanced level" means that they should catch the progress of native speakers. And primary school textbooks won't be too hard for foreign learners I bet(well, in fact I think middle school textbooks are too challenging.). The only problem may be that some stories are too childish.

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On 2/13/2024 at 2:31 AM, honglam said:

BTW why not find out the textbooks of 语文 for primary school?

 

I've done this.  The grade 3 and 4 levels of 语文 are quite suitable for language learners.  In particular, these topics actually come up on the HSK exams.  It's not a bad choice at all (although it's a bit surprising when you encounter e.g. Lenin in your reading materials).  I tried grade 7 语文 also, but that required far too much effort to understand, and I don't see much real-world use for it; it's like studying Shakespeare.  Grade-7 geography, history, biology, and mathematics was all reasonable for me.  I found grade-7 mathematics was especially useful because it started off by recapping primary school mathematics (do you know what 和 差 积 商 mean?  is 1和2的差 the same as 2和1的差?  do you know the difference between 1除以2 and 1除2?).

 

 

For those who don't know, you can study textbooks at 电子课本网, or if you live in China, you can buy them online and they're quite cheap.

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On 2/12/2024 at 11:24 PM, suMMit said:

I don't know if you've seen this video on Rita Mandarin, but they touch on this topic in this discussion (2 videos, in Chinese)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myiWRg3Qhfk&t=984s

 

@suMMit

 

I think I remember watching that series of videos. If I am correct that is the Chinese pronunciation teacher whom is also married to LaoMa Chris. From a Mandarin Companion podcast he attended some Uni in Beijing and then Tsinghua for a short program. He mentioned taking a 1-1 class for intensive reading. He later credited intensive reading over extensive. He said, "read intensively so you can read extensively". He did shadowing too. Although he didn't mention his wife, I am sure she had a significant impact on his actual speaking ability. He claims to speak 8 languages and is quite famous for his ability to speak Chinese. He claims to speak English (native), Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian, Portuguese, (forgot).

 

Bilibili caption: 歪果仁八门语言的自我介绍 | 老外真是都会好多种语言呢?

LaoMa Chris: 口语老炮儿马思瑞

 

The more I think about it, I feel intensive reading is the way to go, at least for me. I just want to know what every word means and I enjoy reading so nothing should stop me. In an emergency situation I may skim read or something but usually I need to know or be able to look up every single word. 

 

@honglam

Thanks for your comment. I think people who are extroverted have an advantage. As far as the books used in schools, I have seen them. Some have poetry which can be actually advanced in my opinion. But they are used to teach pronunciation. I understand we are not natives so we won't sound "authentic" and sometimes books we use won't help us sound authentic. 

 

@becky82

I wonder if you might consider making this as a sort of open source project? In this way natives or advanced learners could make contributions freely. I am sure someone would get political and it would eventually be banned within a month but the rest of the world would have access. Sort of like Wikipedia, which is banned. I think the book could have readings reflecting kiosks, menus and online shopping carts. I often need to read these types of things daily. Thanks.

 

 

 

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On 2/13/2024 at 7:06 AM, becky82 said:

I tried grade 7 语文 also, but that required far too much effort to understand, and I don't see much real-world use for it; it's like studying Shakespeare.  Grade-7 geography, history, biology, and mathematics was all reasonable for me.  I found grade-7 mathematics was especially useful because it started off by recapping primary school mathematics (do you know what 和 差 积 商 mean?  is 1和2的差 the same as 2和1的差?  do you know the difference between 1除以2 and 1除2?).

That's why I said middle school textbooks may be too challenging. Middle school 语文 focuses more on literature, classics and practical writing.(Since language competence is already educated in primary school. After all the 7th-graders have been living in a pure Chinese speaking environment for more than ten years.)

As for science arts & humanities, I think for foreign learners the specific language used for certain disciplines are quite useless if you don't such need.

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