Selecting extensive reading materials

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Bao
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby Bao » Fri Jun 03, 2016 9:32 pm

It may be nice to put a number on the threshold at which you can 'understand' or 'enjoy' a text, but that really depends on the author's style and the kind of words you don't understand. Rather than counting words Soffía's advice is much more useful; after a couple of pages you should know whether you can follow the story and enjoy it well enough.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby Cavesa » Sat Jun 04, 2016 11:13 pm

I have several problems with the 98% theory.

1.The more you enjoy the content, the easier you get over the struggles. Years ago, I read a book I understood only about half of at the beginning and much more by the end. I simply wanted to read it so bad. So, high omprehension and enjoyment are not necessarily tied together.

2.Should you wait till 98% comprehension to begin reading, how are you gonna get there? Memorize a dictionary? Nope. You improve your reading by simply reading.

3.The 98% theory doesn't take into account the differences between various target langauges. I could start reading a normal book in Italian after two months of learning with not that high comprehension during the first page or two. But I improved extremely fast due to knowing related languages. Had it been a very different langauge, I would have stayed at the initial level for much longer.

4.If you already understand 98%, it's great, you are having as much fun as in your native language. But where is the challenge? Where is the important moment of leaving the comfort zone? What are you actually learning?
.......
How do I select extensive reading material:

1.The fFirst book is likely something I have already read or something I really do not expect to be hard. A good quality translation will do. Translations tend to be easier in general and some can be well worth reading even later. Authors writing for young readers are often a good choice, depends on how enjoyable and clever are the books for me, despite my age.

2.Am I likely to enjoy the book? This is the most important part. Learning a language is difficult on its own. With books you dislike, it is damn worse. Don't be afraid to give up on a book you do not enjoy, I have already done it a few times and never regreted.

3. I open the book somewhere (if I have access to a copy. harder to do with books bought in eshops sometimes). Then I read a bit here, a bit a few pages later. Do I find the level appropriate? Could I follow the story, despite not understanding everything?

4.I love to ask around and read logs of fellow learners. And tools like the library thing or good reads are not bad to introduce me to some native books. Asking outside this forum has, however, proved difficult. I was always sent to graded readers and courses, instead of books of easy genres, authors writing for teenagers and such things. I don't know why it is so hard for some people to imagine you could simply skip those boring steps, while learning a langauge related to one (or two) you already know.

5.I usually do not waste too much time wondering whether the book isn't too hard. If it proves to be too hard, I will put it back on my "to read" shelf and read others first. Really, it doesn't matter, if you choose one or two "wrong" books. You'll need to read thousands and thousands of pages, that means dozens of books. You would be extremely lucky to choose all of them correctly at first attempt.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby paz » Sun Jun 05, 2016 10:07 am

I found this project, that from my point of view is quite interesting. They created a Readabilty Catalog of Project Gutenberg eBooks, I quote:
This website determines vocabulary difficulty by a more direct measure than the conventional readability formulas. Earlier researches found that the vocabulary difficulty of a text correlates with its text comprehension (eg. Schmitt et al. 2011). This website investigates vocabulary of a text with a vocabulary frequency list. The investigation process used in this website is similar to that described by Nation (2006), where this website only counts words included in the word family list and this website omits words with diactrical marks.

Since the ebooks are from the Project Gutenberg, everything is free!
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby Cavesa » Sun Jun 05, 2016 1:28 pm

I think the attempt to sort Gutenberg books in that way is a good one and possibly useful.

However, I'd say we might be focusing on vocabulary too much here. The difficulty lies in other areas as well. Grammar. Style. How old the book is. And let's not forget that some easy books include quite a lot of colloquial or otherwise unusual vocabulary, while many frequency lists are based mostly on standard literature and newspapers. An example: a medical textbook is highly unlikely to contain mostly words from frequency lists. But it is gonna be significantly easier for a student or doctor, at intermediate level in the language, than any novel. Or books for older kids (like those by Erik l'Homme): some colloquial vocabulary and style, some fantasy specific vocabulary. The book may not rank as easy, if you analyzed how high % of the words used is high on a general frequency list. But the overall style, grammar, direct plot, all that makes it very intermediate friendly.

So: yes, it's great people are trying to find such tools and they might be useful in some ways and there is huge space for future development. But I will always trust much more the "open and try" method than any frequency list comparison.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby Montmorency » Sun Jun 05, 2016 3:39 pm

paz wrote:I found this project, that from my point of view is quite interesting. They created a Readabilty Catalog of Project Gutenberg eBooks, I quote:
This website determines vocabulary difficulty by a more direct measure than the conventional readability formulas. Earlier researches found that the vocabulary difficulty of a text correlates with its text comprehension (eg. Schmitt et al. 2011). This website investigates vocabulary of a text with a vocabulary frequency list. The investigation process used in this website is similar to that described by Nation (2006), where this website only counts words included in the word family list and this website omits words with diactrical marks.

Since the ebooks are from the Project Gutenberg, everything is free!


Interesting, but be careful. Don't all those numbers refer to the English translations of the books (when not in English originally)? Perhaps measures like words per sentence, etc, would still be valid for the non-English version, but (presumably) the vocabulary-based measures might be way out. Useful for non-native-English-speakers perhaps (as I now remember you are @paz :-) ) but less so for those of us who are native-English-speakers.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby iguanamon » Sun Jun 05, 2016 3:39 pm

paz wrote:...How do you select extensive reading materials? I would like to build up my vocabulary in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese and I was wondering how to choose the next books.

Do you follow the 98% rule? How do you determine the vocabulary size? And how do you determine the vocabulary size of a book?...

...I've already watched the videos by Prof. Arguelles, and I would like to know your strategies, especially with languages other than English

There's a Buddhist koan I like that informs my language-learning process: When you meet the Buddha on the road, you must kill him. To me, this means that you must not place your faith so much in any particular someone or something that you lose yourself in the process. You must find your own way. Others can guide you, but self language-learning is highly individual by definition.

Many people come here having gone through the youtube polyglot videos of people like Professor Arguelles, Luca, etc. There's nothing wrong with this but when one places too much faith in any one of their specific dogma- like Professor A's "98% rule" then that's where they may run into problems.
Cavesa wrote:...The 98% theory doesn't take into account the differences between various target languages. I could start reading a normal book in Italian after two months of learning with not that high comprehension during the first page or two. But I improved extremely fast due to knowing related languages. Had it been a very different language, I would have stayed at the initial level for much longer. ...

This is so true, I find with my knowledge of five related languages, I can understand and read a lot of French and Italian already. If I decided to learn these two languages, I would definitely start with reading native materials and early listening to native audio... along with a good basic course.
Cavesa wrote:....If you already understand 98%, it's great, you are having as much fun as in your native language. But where is the challenge? Where is the important moment of leaving the comfort zone? What are you actually learning? ...

Yes! That's why I never bought into Professor A's 98% rule. If you have a strong foundation in basic vocabulary and grammar (easier for a closely related language) a lot of vocabulary can be deduced through context and confirmed via dictionary look-ups- significantly easier to do with an e-reader's pop-up dictionary.

Using simple parallel texts for short articles or readings is a great way to get into reading early and challenging yourself to make your own connections.

For selecting extensive reading in the beginning to low intermediate levels, I like to read short news items, magazine articles or blogs. In this case, it doesn't really matter if the topics aren't of great interest to me. What matters is that I get exposed to a wide range of vocabulary about different subjects. Because the material is short, two to twenty pages maximum, it's not going to "kill my soul" if the topics are "boring" to read them. I don't obsess over any given text- squeezing the last drop out of it. I move on to the next one. I read a seventeen page pamphlet on a fictional raindrop's voyage through the Everglades National Park in Haitian Creole. It wasn't a riveting read but it helped me to learn the language. When I was actively studying Haitian Creole, I had read short news items in Haitian Creole, tweets, the first five books of the Old Testament (recent translation) and parallel texts of interviews with Voodoo priests. For books, I like Cavesa's approach of trying it first. If it is too hard, I'll read it later.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby AlexTG » Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:59 pm

Cavesa wrote:4.If you already understand 98%, it's great, you are having as much fun as in your native language. But where is the challenge? Where is the important moment of leaving the comfort zone? What are you actually learning?

I was generally nodding along to your post, but I think this bit is way off the mark. At 98% comprehension you'll be hitting 5 unknown words per 250 word page. It may be comfortable, but you'll still be learning plenty.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby reineke » Sun Jun 05, 2016 6:16 pm

At 99-100% coverage you will be hitting a lot of words you already know (or you think you know). You will be reinforcing what you already know, learning different shades of meaning, learning how to use these words in different contexts...
I don't believe it's necessary to purposely fine-tune one's reading to around 98% and I believe that you can learn a lot on both sides of this threshold.
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby Serpent » Sun Jun 05, 2016 6:24 pm

With Prof Argüelles we should keep the context in mind. His main goal is truly appreciating the literature in the original, including old works. He did say himself that he uses graded readers where he understands 80%, ie 4 words out of each 5. That's at the intermediate level or so. As far as I understand, the 98% figure is for a higher level, for when you actually learn all the nuances and whatnot. By appreciating literature he may well have meant academic or at least serious analysis, reading and understanding the footnotes etc. Many of us have a more hedonistic approach to books, I think, and that's totally fine :D
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Re: Selecting extensive reading materials

Postby Cavesa » Sun Jun 05, 2016 6:25 pm

AlexTG wrote:
Cavesa wrote:4.If you already understand 98%, it's great, you are having as much fun as in your native language. But where is the challenge? Where is the important moment of leaving the comfort zone? What are you actually learning?

I was generally nodding along to your post, but I think this bit is way off the mark. At 98% comprehension you'll be hitting 5 unknown words per 250 word page. It may be comfortable, but you'll still be learning plenty.


Ok, but those will be quite infrequent words (and harder to learn due not being encountered that often), do you really think you should wait and learn all the "normal" vocabulary first, before starting to read? That is my problem with the 98% theory: it makes people actively avoid the most direct way to improve their reading (and subsequently other skills). And I really can't see many ways to get to the 98% without reading, than dictionary memorisation. It makes as much sense as telling children to read several books about cycling before actually trying to ride a bike.

I prefer to learn part of the usual vocabulary from the books (including colloquial vocabulary, some books are actually good preparation for real talking), that is the challenge, that is actually very important for my learning process, not those last few words, which I'll understand from the context but perhaps won't use myself. And I find it weird to actively avoid the highly pleasant part of fast improvement.

I agree with Reineke about the reinforcement, my point was not "reading with too good comprehension is useless for learning", it was "avoiding to read before the 98% is a useless complication and slowing of the learning process".
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