Reading Chinese Like Reading Your Native Language

Can we use the same reading strategies for any language(s)?  The answer is "yes".  The same reading strategies we naturally use when we read passages in our native languages can also be applied to what we read in another language.  However, using these strategies in the new language doesn't come naturally at all, meaning we need to re-learn or re-teach ourselves how to read with these strategies when we glance through morning newspaper or product pamphlet. So, here's a quick overview of some key reading strategies. First things first. Find the main idea. Language learners tend to focus on every single vocabulary word and make direct word-by-word translations when they read. How about students who study Chinese?  They go above and beyond, focusing on every single Chinese character and lose the big picture completely. This is a hard habit to break and really slows readers down or frustrates them. Therefore, teaching students how to predict and scan for main ideas is important.  Some strategies to introduce when teaching your students: 1) Mindful of the important elements, like title and first paragraph or even the first few sentences, help us predict the main idea. 2) Have students complete a few pre-reading exercises. For example, only show the title and ask students to predict what the passage is about. 3) Give more clues, for example, the first two sentences or the concluding sentences of the passage and have students explain the main idea. 4) Have students practice summarizing each paragraph in one-sentence.   Next, understand the details, Getting the main idea is usually not sufficient for in-depth comprehension. Understanding the details is equally important.  When students focus too much on individual vocabulary words, they also miss the details.  If you teach teenagers, they are just not good at grasping details. Here are some ideas on how you can train your students to understand the details: 1) Design exercises that forces students to zoom in on those details. Some scaffolding is absolutely needed. For example, underscore or highlight what you want students to focus. 2) Ask highly relevant open-ended questions that forces students to find the related passage. First of all, you might have students brainstorm what kind of information in a certain passage could be considered as details.  Asking students to form open-ended questions about the piece they are about to read is an effective activity for this purpose.   Last but not least, dealing with new vocabulary Now, how about those vocabulary words that they don't know, but see in authentic reading pieces?  Tell them, loud and clear, "skip it first."  Then teach them how to make an inference.  Their knowledge of the basics of Chinese characters and their own vocabulary are essential. 1) Teach students how to use radicals to find meanings or make associations for new characters: Practice with character decoding (同部首不同字/拆字) and word extension(组词), word categorizing, matching, and other vocabulary exercises.  

2) Model how to use known characters to guess the meaning of a new word. 3) Model how to use context(上下文)to get the same result.  Have students practice this specific strategy by giving them new words  from the passage and give them strategies to come up with the definition.  Trust them (even though it might be difficult initially) and they will be on the right track. Giving students all these strategies they can rely on, encourage students to decode authentic materials.  You don't need to modify the words or sentences used in the article, but you can always take out a few characters and add some pinyin for the unknown phrases or words.  You simply lower students' anxiety by adding some pinyin and they can show you more about what they understand from the reading material.  Of course, you might wonder how we can assess reading comprehension.  There are a few different ways, which I will discuss next time.


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