Learning to read Chinese isn’t as simple as learning a bunch of words on a page. If you want better reading skills and you want to improve in an efficient manner, you are going to need to understand and use reading strategies.
- People studying foreign languages usually try one of these strategies:
- Lookup and try to memorize every word.
- Don’t look up anything. Even when you need to.
- Superficial reading: Don’t lookup anything.
- Look up frequently occurring words, e.g. the “three times rule”.
The first two strategies are inefficient. Don’t waste time looking up every single word. I’m not saying you can’t read for pleasure: if you aren’t studying, e.g. trying to improve your comprehension, and expand your vocabulary, then you don’t need to take notes. If you’re reading for pleasure, you don’t have to look words up. But if you are studying, not looking things up isn’t an efficient strategy.
Superficial reading is where you go through your reading material quickly, looking for the main ideas and concepts. Don’t get bogged down on words, sentences or paragraphs you don’t understand, and instead just try to get the gist of what you’re reading. It may sound counterintuitive, but oftentimes, you will get greater understanding from a superficial reading than one where you are constantly looking up words in a dictionary. It’s also useful to do a superficial reading before going back and carefully studying a piece.
The Three Times Rule
This rule is simple and pretty useful: Only lookup high-frequency words–words that appear three times or more. I learned this rule from my 报刊 (bàokān: newspaper reading) teacher and put it to good effect when I first started reading newspapers. I also saw this rule mentioned by Jake over on Skritter’s blog, too. Apparently this rule is popular with Chinese teachers in China.
Only Lookup the important words
Looking up words in a dictionary can take up a lot of time. It also takes you out of your reading flow. When you need to lookup a word, make sure you’re using a good dictionary (hopefully an electronic one or an online Chinese-English dictionary). And try to make sure the words you’re looking up are worth studying. If you’re reading a classic work by 老舍 (Lao She), you should probably spend less time with your dictionary.
Actions to take
- Check your Chinese reading speed.
- Get a tool to help you read Chinese.
- Read something superficially before you try and master it.
What I did last week
- Study my flashcards 4x
Update: I wasn’t expecting I’d be able to do this one, but I got it done, studying Tuesday – Saturday.
- Read at least 5 articles on Caixin.
Update: Even I can get bored of Caixin. I only read 3 articles from Caixin (but I did read a couple of other peices, including a pretty long 财经 peice.
- Start using Weibo.
Update: I didn’t do this, but I’ll double down on it for this week.
- Continue looking for audio sources that I can use to practice listening.
Update: This continues to be a thorn in my spine. The podcasts I have found are monologues with sappy background music. Not what I’m looking for at all. I might have to change my strategy and look for something else.
The Plan for next week
I’m expecting a busy week, so I’m going to make sure my goals are achievable:
- flashcards 3x this week.
- get all my reading material from 微博
Make sure your reading techniques fit your reading goals. If you’re trying to build more vocabulary, spend more time studying words that you encounter frequently. Always try to do a mix of superficial reading and close study.
How do you practice reading? Tell me the tools or methods you like to use in the comments
Leave a comment.