Image by Pen Tsai on Unsplash

Graded Chinese Content
for Intermediate Learners

Add Oil was founded by a small team in Taipei.

 

Our mission is to create the world's most comprehensible and compelling intermediate-level content, to help learners improve their Chinese.

The "Content Gap" Problem

If you've spent a decent chunk of time learning Chinese, then you probably get what the "content gap" is.

For the beginner learner, everything is new and exciting, and the tough stuff hasn't yet begun. Pinyin? Please, not that bad. Writing the characters for 1, 2, 3? Ha! Child's play. (Just you wait...)

And for the advanced learner, we know they've got it gooooood. Watching Netflix, listening to podcasts, and reading actual books! It's all possible. They can find the content they love and just start consuming it. That's the ideal.

But for the poor, overlooked intermediate learner, they are stuck slogging through dry textbooks full of impractical vocab and unrealistic dialogues (let's learn how to ask directions to the post office!). Of course, this content is at their level - but it's boring. So, when they want to escape and reach for the Chinese translation of Peter Hessler's River Town, or give Gushi FM a listen, they're immediately lost. The authentic material is just too tough.

This is the "content gap" problem, and it affects learners who fall between beginner and advanced. These are intermediate learners who are forced to choose between more level appropriate (but super boring) learning materials, or really engaging (but excessively challenging) authentic content.

The Add Oil Solution

"Some learners see Chinese content as it is and say, why;
I dream of Chinese content that never was and say, why not."

 

- Robert F. Kennedy (sort of)

Add Oil Chinese wants to step into that "content gap" and offer suitable intermediate-level material that's actually enjoyable to read. In other words, content that is both comprehensible and compelling.

 

Content that is comprehensible

Exposure to comprehensible input (reading or listening content that is just a bit above one's level) has come to be seen as a key component of language acquisition.

Here's how we make our content "comprehensible": we take Taiwan's Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) exam vocabulary lists as our standard, and carefully "grade" our content against them. That produces three levels:

1. Low-Intermediate (TOCFL Level 2 / moving into HSK 4 / 1,000 words)

2. Intermediate (TOCFL Level 3 / HSK 5 / 2,500 words)

3. High-Intermediate (moving into TOCFL Level 4 / moving into HSK 6 / 3,000-4,000 words)

For each piece, we aim to keep 90%+ of what's written at or easier than its stated level. In other words, a learner who has reached the TOCFL 3 (HSK 5) level should already be able to roughly understand almost all of what's written in an "Intermediate" piece that we publish. And for any remaining words that fall beyond their level, we will introduce and define them at the beginning of the piece, and then count them as new once - the first time they appear - in the piece.

So, as you're reading our content and determining your level, ask yourself: Am I having to stop every few characters to look something up? Do a lot of these sentences not make sense? If so, then the content is probably too hard (or, we just forgot to proofread it and it's full of errors!). But if you can make it through the entire piece with very little difficulty and no frustration, and you even think it feels kind of easy, then that's a good sign that this level of content is probably just right for you.

Content that is compelling

An under-appreciated and oft-ignored challenge in language learning is that it can just be so boring (remember the post office dialogue?). That's why being comprehensible isn't enough. Ideally, content will also be compelling. In other words, you will want to read it.

 

And if you want to read it, then you will. And you'll keep going! That's how you acquire more vocabulary, develop your feel for the language, and ultimately improve your Chinese.

But content that someone else finds interesting may not be your "cup of chá".

We get it. And for that reason, we approach content development with an open mind, embracing a trial-and-error approach. Our contributors write about topics that interest them, with the belief being that if they don't want to write it, then you won't want to read it.

But bottom line: we're open to anything. After all, that's where our motto - Read the world, in Chinese - comes from.

 

Our Future Plans

We plan to add audio for all of our content, create longform pieces that focus on a single topic and allow for greater repetition of vocabulary (how about a 10,000-character intermediate-level deep dive on the situation in Hong Kong?), and eventually move into creating original content for podcasts (true crime stories in Chinese!).

We are open to experimentation and following what works, so let us know what works for you! Get in touch if there is something you want to read, feedback you have, or even just "small wins" you want to share.

 

Follow us on Instagram, find us on Substack, or simply email us at addoilchinese -at- gmail.

Happy learning, and don't forget to add oil!

Taipei 101 image by Pen Tsai on Unsplash