Once you reach the intermediate stage you face the longest and most demanding part of your task. You now want to achieve breakthrough to fluency. You need to move from being able to say a few things in a limited social setting to being able to use the language as a practical means of communication in a variety of situations that you do not control. To do this requires a commitment to reading and listening to a great deal of language content. If the content is interesting you will enjoy the learning process and do well. Artificial dialogues and uninteresting “learner” content soon outlive their usefulness. Fortunately I was able to move to meaningful content quite soon in my study of Chinese.
The first novel I attempted to read without the help of a word list was Lao She’s novel “Rickshaw Boy”, a human and sympathetic description of life in Beiping, without the bitterness that I found in the writings of Lu Xun and others. It took a long time to finish the book but I felt very satisfied when I completed it. There were many words that I did not know. Mostly I avoided looking them up in a dictionary so that I could enjoy the book.
There comes a point in language learning when you have to read a full length book in the new language. In most language learning programs the learner is conditioned to deal only with short excerpts. Completing a full length book is like climbing a mountain. Nowadays, with electronic texts, it has become much easier to struggle through authentic material, look up the meaning using dictionary software, and save words and phrases for systematic learning
and Vocabulary Growth
Intermediate readers can be useful as long as you are interested in the content. Unfortunately most learners are not given much choice….
After about four months, I read only authentic Chinese content, mostly using readers which had specially prepared vocabulary lists. The subjects varied, from history to politics to literature. Suddenly a fascinating world opened up to me in the original language. The wonderful Yale-in-China series, “Readings in Contemporary Chinese Literature” offered a wide range of essays, plays, political commentary, and short stories by leading writers, thinkers and political figures of early 20th century China.