Chinese Resources

Friday, January 25, 2013

News Reading Challenge: 新聞閱讀挑戰

Winter break used to be about catching up on video games, TV shows, and movies. It used to be about finding a job over break that would put some cash in my pocket. These days, however, winter break is the best opportunity for me to spend heaps of time improving my Chinese.

As the title suggests, one area I'm working on is my news reading ability. After an intense discussion with Olle from HackingChinese, we've outline a few goals for taking our Chinese to the next level in a short period of time. Our short-term/ semi-long term goals are identified as the following:

  • Pass TOCFL (and later the HSK)
  • Be able to produce academic text in Chinese
  • Be able to participate in academic discussions
  • Be able to explain Chinese (grammar, vocab etc. in Chinese)
  • Expand vocabulary beyond current comfort zone
  • Be able to write 5000 characters
 Identifying goals was an important first step, but we also needed to figure out why we weren't already able to do the above mentioned goal, which meant identifying the things that are currently lacking, and then (naturally) coming up with a plan of action.

After taking the TOCFL last year, I already knew where my problems were regarding reading, but I was missing the latter--a proper plan of action. Thankfully, that has all changed, and I'll be ready to face the exam with the confidence and reading speed that I'll need.

So how am I going to do it? That is what my "News Reading Challenge" is all about. Here are my personal goals for this challenge:

  • Read articles in as many different areas as possible
  • Read for speed (pretend it's an exam)
  • Read for content and/or language
  • Plug obvious linguistic holes (but only important ones)
  • Quantity > Quality
In order to accomplish these goals, Olle and I have decided that reading 5 articles a day for speed is an excellent challenge. With lots of other things on my plate, this also is something that I can finish in less than two hours. In order to eliminate too much personal bias, we have decided to stagger the articles we personal choose, so one day I pick five articles, and the next day they are provided by Olle. The articles, all written for native speakers, a selected from the following sources:
Once the five articles have been selected, we head over to the ZH Tool Kit, for a character count. The application also provides a word list, but we are really just after the number of characters that appear in the text we've selected. After that we read. Since we are using this challenge as a way to A) improve reading speed and B) prepare for an exam, we've been timing how fast we can read the article accurately... that means no dictionaries, and now slowing down to work through characters we "might" know. Once I've read the article I record the time it took me to read it and move on to the next.

26.3 minutes of reading with an average speed fo 136.06. It's slow, but a great benchmark.
After reading for speed, it is time to "plug obvious linguistic holes." I'm sure Olle has his own method for doing this, but I prefer to take the text and plug it into Chinese Reader for Mac, an app created by Skritter user Byzanti, and give the article another read. 

This time I look up everything I didn't know the first time, and actually read for details. The great thing about this app is its integration into Skritter's API. Any words that I want to study on Skritter are added with the click of a button. The think I really like, however, is the ability to sort words by occurrences and frequency. While it's not my only guide for what words I should already know, it makes selecting "important" linguistic gaps much easier. 
Chinese Reader's summary interface
After that I can call it quits for the day and move onto another task. Over the past two days I've added 60+ new words to Skritter. Hopefully by the end that number will be reduced. And of course, I look forward to seeing my average reading speed drop dramatically.

I look forward to sharing my results after classes resume on the 17th. I have a feeling the are going to be quite dramatic!

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