Reading in Chinese: Choosing Materials and Tackling Unknown Vocabulary

Pages from the popular Japanese comic Card Captor Sakura translated into Chinese.
Last month, I finished teaching a summer Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) course. At the end of the course, I asked students if they had any general questions for me regarding English learning. Some asked pretty much the question many other English language learners I meet in my daily life ask:

"How should I study vocabulary? Should I memorize? I heard memorization is the best method."

Indeed, in China and other Asian countries, rote memorization is used not only to cram for tests, but to tackle any content thrown at students in the variety of classes they take. I believe there is a time and place for rote memorization (i.e., math formulas), but if you want language to be memorable, memorization is the wrong road to take. 

As an English teacher who loves to use the principals of cognitive linguistics or logic to tackle language, I believe vocabulary, grammar, or any other facet of language is only retained when it's contextualized, and/or when we know the etymology or background. Whether you're learning English, or Chinese and Japanese in my case, this rings true. I remember words and phrases from memorable conversations or interesting books. Naturally, when words and phrases are heard or read in context, they make more sense. 

I'll make a post about listening to Chinese in the future; this one concerns Chinese reading. (I don't know enough Japanese yet to read books, only short comics and signs!) Again, no matter the language you're learning, I think these tips will help you. 

Record five unknown vocabulary words per page

Recently, an employee at my local Walmart (yes, they're here in China!) struck up a conversation with me. He asked the typical memorization question, and I told him a better way to brush up on English is to read and write down about five words per page that you don't understand to check the definition later. 

"But what if there's more than five words I don't understand on a page?" he asked.

I replied, "Ignore them!"


A Rainy Day in Shibuya and Harajuku (Part 1)

Barrels of sake at Meiji Shrine in Harajuku.
On my fourth day in Tokyo, I visited Shibuya and Harajuku. It was rainy and cold—as it was for most of my trip—but with rain boots, an umbrella, and a heavy jacket it certainly wasn't difficult to bare.

Although the neighboring areas of Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku are easily accessible by metro and other forms of public transportation, I elected to walk. On foot, it only takes about 20 minutes to reach Harajuku from Shibuya.

Hachiko in all his wonder.
It's raining, it's pouring!


The first place, or landmark, on my Shibuya-Harajuku agenda was the famous Hachikō statue just outside Shibuya station. Hachikō was a dog who waited around Shibuya Station for his owner Professor Hidesaburō Ueno who would meet him there after work. Unfortunately, the professor died from a brain hemorrhage and never meet his dog at the station again. Nonetheless, the loyal Hachiko waited for his owner outside the station for over nine years until he died in 1935 at age 11. 

After Hachikō's death, a statue of him was erected at the station in his memory. Over the years, the Hachikō statue has become a prominent meeting area for Tokyoites. Shibuya is an area teeming with crowds, so the noticeable statue serves it's secondary purpose well.