10 ways to learn Chinese the easier way with comprehensible input
10) Use supporting media
Anything that makes it easier to understand Chinese but which isn’t language is quite helpful. This can include pictures in articles, the drawings in comic books or the visual part of a film.
A clear example is news broadcasts, which are typically much, much easier if you watch them on TV where you are fed pictures that give you clues to what’s going on. Compare this with someone blandly reading an article about the same thing.
9) Use dictionaries and translation tools
One way of dramatically reducing the difficulty of reading texts is to use a pop-up dictionary (probably in a browser, on your phone or on your tablet). The reason I suggest this is that you might feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new words in a text and one of the worst things you can do is feeling that you have to look up every single one.
Instead, use a dictionary to be able to skip words that are too hard. Obviously, you have to have a pop-up dictionary that works well in order to do this, using a paper dictionary defies the purpose of this exercise entirely. Finally, you can use translation software to understand what a text is about before you approach it. Naturally, Chinese-English automatic translations aren’t perfect, but they should be good enough to make the text more approachable.
8) Use tailored or categorised content
You can also look at any other kind of material aimed at learners at your specific level. The obvious first place to look is textbooks, but not necessarily the textbook you’re currently using, but other textbooks aimed at the same level. This will provide you with more texts without significantly increasing the difficulty. If these other books come with audio, you also have access to more listening material.
When it comes to audio, you can also check various podcasts online that targets your specific level. Simply search for Chinese + podcast and you will find lots of alterantives, but it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss podcasts in detail. Finally, for reading practice, there are books called graded readers that are aimed at students at a certain level. These are typically more interesting than textbooks and I really recommend that you try them if you haven’t. There are also learner-oriented stories and texts online, but it might me harder to find ones suitable to your current level.
7) Use familiar content
The choice of topic matters greatly for if you understand what you are listening to or reading, especially when you approach native material. For instance, if you know nothing about computers, watching a commercial about a new mobile phone is going to be very hard. Not only do you lack vocabulary, you actually might not know what those words mean in English! If you do the opposite, you can find material which deals with things you are very familiar with.
6) Revisit material you already know well
Another thing you can do which is particularly useful for text and video is to revisit something you have already read or watched in your native language. The ensures two things: First, you know that you like it. Second, you know what it’s about even before you start, perhaps even very well. Watching dubbed Western films or cartoons is excellent, so is rereading your favourite novels in Chinese translation.
You can also create this situation on the spot in some cases, such as reading about a news event in your native language before you tackle the same article in Chinese. BBC has many articles in more than one language and there are books that come with Chinese on one page and English on the other.
5) Know the gist in advance
Similar to the above, but more useful in social situations is if you already know roughly what’s going on before you read or listen to something. For instance, reading headlines or keywords before you start reading an article give you clues to what it’s about. You can take this to extremes in spoken language, where you can ask different people the same question.
You can do this with questions that have only one answer or with open questions. If you do this with many people, you will find it easier and easier to understand what they say.
4) Preview the material
Previewing is useful because it makes the material you’re going to easier because you already have some familiarity with it. This is easiest with audio, where you can simply have the audio going in the background and listen semi-attentively to it on your phone before you actually try hard to understand what they’re saying. Previewing can be done for text as well, but it requires more effort. Previewing can be regarded as a sort of warm-up.
3) Keep the focus
One reason it’s hard to listen or read to Chinese in an unfamiliar area is that you aren’t used to the way Chinese is used in that context and there will be many words you simply don’t know. Typically, textbooks jump around between different topics, but if you keep to one single topic, you will gradually learn to handle it. Read ten articles about exactly the same event in different newspapers, read several comics belonging to the same series, read the list of contents on ten different beverages. When you feel comfortable, expand to neighbouring areas.
2) Review the material later
Reviewing is an excellent source for comprehensible input, but it has the drawback that listening or reading things you’ve already read tends to be a bit boring. Thus, I would suggest using reviewing when you feel to tired to deal with new material. I typically relisten to lots of audio I’ve studied previously. Since I have studied it, I’m more or less guaranteed to understand what’s going on and I also get to refresh the relevant language content.
Of course, for this to work, you need to hold on to any audio material you study and keep it on your computer or phone, so don’t delete audio just because you’re finished with it for the moment. Reviewing text can also be done, but I find it too boring to be meaningful, but it could be done for text I haven’t read for a very long time.
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