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Method Instead of Madness: One Book One Day Results

Suffice it to say, I did finish the book, and complete my personal challenge. Would I do it again? Probably definitely not. Some of the beauty of language study, at least the methods I prefer, is switching up the material every so often so you don’t feel so tired of reading it, or feel it is too tedious.

While I enjoyed the book, and the topic, it just became far too tedious. But, it was a challenge and I had to win (I won treating myself to an app store purchase in a Chinese dictionary I use, so, uh, woo? I won spending money! YEAH! Capitalism!). That said, I mentioned before about having ‘”new methods” that I used to accomplish this feat, which I think worked with some success. Without much further ado, I introduce:

The Power Lookup Method

(Fanfare, rejoicing, children smiling, North Korea getting along with the world, etc.)

The Power Lookup Method, or perhaps the Power Dictionary Method, involves making use of your favorite dictionary—monolingual or bilingual—and utilizing it to make reading articles easier. Of course, much of this was born of necessity, when I had reading assignments that had to be done and ready for class discussions. Constantly having articles marked up like this (yellow highlighting aside):


…was not very conducive to the studying. It got to taking me nearly half a day trying to finish, say, a 10-20 page article. It’s a wonder my Tadoku scores are so low! Sure I’m reading, but good lord is it taking forever.

So, I wised up and said, forget this, there has to be a much easier way to handle it. And there is. I give you the results:


Can you see the difference yet? No? Well maybe now:


Yes—again yellow highlighting aside—pages became less and less marked up. In fact, there is nearly a 90% reduction in time and work lookups made per article. So what’s the deal?

Basically, what I do now is use my dictionary and look up every unknown/hazy/unclear word that is in the first 2 pages (shorter articles; for books, like the one I just read, I shoot for 10-20 pages, depending on how much I feel like doing). I jot these down in a notebook or on a scrap piece of paper that I keep with me as a quick reference sheet if I forgot a word while reading. After those pages, the dictionary gets put aside and I only focus on reading.

This method does three things for you, which are extremely important to the rest of the work:

  • The main content of the piece is generally in the first 2-20 pages; introduction of the article, characters being introduced in a story, place, setting, time, etc. Very important information to set the story right in your head.
  • Secondly, and importantly, you can get a feeling for how the author writes. What abbreviations do they use, why do they constantly use a certain grammar/character/phrase? These are also important and make the rest of your reading a lot easier.
  • The text, then, acts like an SRS system for itself. That is, the text, as you read, will automatically reinforce the words that you’ve already looked up at the start. As long as you have a good idea of what they mean, you’ll see a wide range of uses for it in context.

Granted, a lot of this is particularly applicable to the academic pieces I’ve been reading (straight-forward introduction—>argument—>conclusion all on the same topic), but I’m also convinced this would work for a variety of other written sources. The book I read, while also in the same format, had a variety of different topics and ideas throughout it.

The initial 15 pages of hard-core looking up I did really saved me as I went through later sections. I already knew how the author wrote, so abbreviations and other weird little grammatical uses didn’t catch me off guard. I picked up a lot more vocabulary, especially ones I’ll need for my own work, without having to do too much extra studying or memorization of them.

The 1-2 hours I invested in the 15 pages of hardcore looking up (usually I only spend 30mins to an hour on shorter pieces) saved me a lot of lengthy lookups later, as well as let me breeze through the rest of the piece, while not getting every single word on the page, I had the basic foundations from the first few pages to guide me through the rest.

So, what do you think? Useful method? Insanity realized? Have a system that works better for you? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

11 thoughts on “Method Instead of Madness: One Book One Day Results”

  1. Interesting method, I’ll have to try it for my own with the books I have, mostly classical stories and short narrative pieces. In the last short story I read, the author did some describing of daily events and references to Chinese historical events. I could feel the increased difficulty each time I read the latter, especially, the characters are sometimes hard or obscure to figure out… which takes time to research. Not too mention that the author also likes to employ chengyu which are not always in dictionaries… So I have doubts the method would work with the book I use as practice.
    Here’s the book I am refering too (was recommended by one of my chinese teachers): 文化苦旅, I was reading 上海人.
    I actually have it in the printed version, but having it in digital makes it convenient to look up words 🙂 I use Wenlin but it doesn’t have the answer for everything.

    Then, I imagine you must have attained quite a level of Chinese to be able to achieve your tadoku challenge. I can hardly see a beginner being able to gulp a book in a day like that.

    In any case, I’ll organize myself a tadoku challenge one of those week-ends, and see how it’ll end up, LOL. I’ll probably start with reading one or two chapter.

    1. Ah! Wenlin, yes I know Wenlin. I’ve found no dictionary really multi-tasks well, so I use a variety of dictionaries to accomplish a task. Usually I find, especially with chengyu or some of the obscure/old phrases you mentioned, that I have to use a Chinese–Chinese dictionary to get results. Usually I use this one: (but for traditional characters, so you’d have to convert from simplified).

      I am sure there is a simplified version available from China, but I haven’t looked yet!

      Those are really interesting stories on there, actually. When I get the chance I’ll go through those a bit, they seem kind of fun!! Thanks for sharing that!

      1. Hehe, sounds like we kind of study the same way. I, too, often have to end up using multiple sources to decipher phrases. For those, I usually end up (via Google) on chinese entries from wikipedia that don’t have English translation, or baike (from baidu). It can be fun, but time consuming! Which is why I think I’ll soon try to get some help with ChineseTeachers, it’ll save me time and hopefully practice some 口語.

      2. It is definitely hard to pick just one! I usually run around between Wikipedia (EnglishChinese) then Youtube/Google/etc. Let me know how the ChineseTeachers thing goes 🙂

  2. I’m reading my first Chinese novel at the moment and this is what I should have done in the beginning! My tactic for now is not to look up any words, but everytime I read I notice vocabulary I’ve just learned at our 综合 class.

    I’m going to try this method with my next book! Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment! What novel did you decide to read?

      As I said, I tend to use this for the papers I need for class, so I hope it helps on a novel! Let me know how it goes. I look forward to hearing your results 🙂

      Also, checkout your blog, looks quite interesting! Good luck on your studies there.

      1. My teacher said that romantic novels are from the easier side, so I randomly chose 单身公主. I’ll try your method with my next book and will surely report about it in my blog when I get started. Hopefully that happend during the winter holiday.

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