Content difficulty and interest level -- choosing the right content

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of insight on this, so I’m posting this here to get your opinions.

Although my Chinese is probably a low B1, a couple months ago I found that I couldn’t really stand the lower level learning materials anymore. Pretty much nothing in the Beginner 2 learning category was interesting to me so I had to make a choice: deal with boring topics or deal with difficult content. I’ve discovered that I’m willing to personally deal with a lot of language I don’t understand well (but am interested in) when I’m reading and listening.

In the past week, I’ve also started to indulge in the advanced material on here, despite probably not really being there. The advantage of this is the materials are often 30+ minutes in length, and in a podcast form you start to pick up on some language that starts to repeat many times and might never come up in a shorter conversation.

Now I’ve never actually learned any language past B1 so I’m not the right guy to ask about what’s optimal. I hope to get up to B2 in the next year, but we’ll see. Do other language learners have advice on the difficulty level vs. content interest? Is it suboptimal to listen to stuff several levels above your own?


Steve once mention that comprehensible input with an i+1 approach is relatively slow so he would approach content that is more tougher but the comprehension was less. I usually listen around a 60% comprehension to get the balance of challenging but comprehensible enough in which I can sort of guess the meaning. In short, about an i+2 or i+3 approach. The exposure to different vocabulary is higher but the difficulty is harder to get through.


A. Content is interesting due to one of two reasons:

  1. If written for beginners, it is written well and engages the imagination of an adult learner. A story can be basic in language, but well told in style – Assimil is a great example of this.
  2. If written for native level speakers, the sky is the limit as far as genre, style, etc.

B. Content is comprehensible due to one of two reasons:

  1. The difficulty level of the content reasonably matches the ability of the student, or
  2. The content can be made reasonably comprehensible either by an available translated text, or by an available translation method, such as LingQ lookup.

All you have to do is match A and B to your language level and general interests and you’re good to go. For example, you can match A1 to B1 and start with Assimil or something similar. Or you could match A2 to B2 and jump right into native books by doing comparative reading between a NL and a TL edition of the same book.

I’ve never had a problem with finding the right content, all I had to do was find the right way to make it comprehensible.


Well I think it’s not hard to find something that’s “good enough” on Lingq but this kind of material always pales in comparison to what I’d be interested in if I could just consume some content in English.

I started with Pimsleur and also went through Assimil many years ago and as far as language materials go they’re quite good. But I’m at a point where nothing designed for language learning is of much interest.

I think it has to do with authenticity. The speaking speed has to be natural and the material has to be something the speakers seem to want to talk about. It’s 1000 times easier to find something if you just ignore the “level” of the content.


I find that having interesting but more complicated material is more beneficial for me. I have quite a high tolerance for unknown words if reading through LingQ and i actually enjoy the activity of reading, because im interested in the content. If the content is too simple and boring I find myself just skimming and not properly reading, because im not interested.


Yes, exactly. If you’re at a point where “nothing designed for language learning is of much interest,” that just means you need to start tackling native level content and you just have to find a way to make it comprehensible. Using a combination of comparative reading (NL and TL text of the same material) and LingQ interface to look up individual words, any native level content can be suitable for any any level student.


I’ve actually picked up a few bad habits of blue word hunting (with Chinese) and kind of ignoring the text I know, because reading is such a frustrating experience with the characters. But I’m working on fixing that. Now I’m reading before I listen. And like you said if it’s too boring to read then I should be looking for something more suitable.


Reading native content is a great habit to get into as soon as you can, and, nowadays, it is relatively easy to read native content (since you can look up unknown words straight away).

A bit of advice, if I may, on skipping “low level” material.

As an adult, you won’t often get strong exposure to the same high frequency words and simple, basic phrasing - as compared to how native speakers gain exposure.

I found once I had a method/habit of relatively painlessly gaining strong exposure to thousands of basic phrases on a regular basis - my ability improved greatly. I could engage with native content as much as I liked , while also ingraining “the basics”.

For example, ask yourself could you reproduce these phrases - naturally, with tones and pronunciation correct, and without thinking:

Wake up, Are you up, Get up, Don’t just sit on the bed, Did you sleep alright, Put on your shoes, Tie up your shoelaces, button up your shirt, zip up your zipper, brush your teeth, brush your hair. You’ll be late. Pack your lunch. Grab your bag. Have you got all your books. Take my hand. Cross the street with me. Have a great day. Play nice with the other kids.

There are thousands of basic phrases that native speakers get strong exposure to. Native speakers hear these thousands of phrases - and subtle versions of them - many, many hundreds of times.

Reading native books, news websites and listening to native TV, podcasts, youtube etc - is fantastic - it is the best method to really “broaden your learning” and to keep yourself engaged.

However, you’ll also find that you won’t be “natural” until you work out a way to get the “low level” “basic stuff” well-ingrained.

My best advice : jump into native content as soon as you can , but also don’t underestimate the power of “ingraining basic phrases” and maintaining strong exposure to “the basics”.

I’ll just give a personal example of my Chinese “learning” (for want of a better word) from yesterday. I don’t live in China, and I don’t have a lot of spare time in my days - I did two “activities” yesterday :

Firstly, in the evening, I watched this tv program → 【圆桌派 第五季】EP5 边界:“你PUA我!” | 窦文涛/周轶君/马未都/许子东/邓亚萍/陈佩斯/陈晓卿/任长箴/李松蔚/肖全/尹烨/刘子超 | 优酷纪实 YOUKU DOCUMENTARY - YouTube

This is one of my favourite programs at present, and the level is pretty easy for me. I paused it maybe 20 or 30 times to look up a word - so there’s only a very low percentage of words that I don’t know in these types of shows.

Before going to bed, I spent 15 minutes reading elementary-level dialogues from Chinesepod. I easily went through 100 or so, and I’ve read these many hundreds of times already. I don’t really get bored doing this, it is a short time period, I’m in the habit of doing it, and I’m always surprised that I notice something “new” when I do this.

That’s it, about 1.5 hours total for the day. But I have personally found this combination of “native” + “the basics” to be really powerful.


Thank you for this. I should also point out the irony that it was a course you shared (advanced 2 – radio chat transcripts) that I started listening to that convinced me to not be too concerned with the difficulty level. These natural dialogues are just a lot more appealing right now. I also enjoy the (mostly cheesy) Taiwanese dramas on Viki. I’ve worked out a couple of ways to turn those directly into anki cards with mpv player.

Your point on the basics is also well taken. I’ll see what kind of “basics” drilling I could work into my routine. I do enjoy clozemaster, which is just a bunch of fill-in-the-blanks. It’s sometimes easier to tolerate the massive challenge that is Chinese characters in small doses. That might be enough for now.


I personally listen and read about things that I am interested in without understanding much. I am learning german for now, and as I love books and watching and listening to a lot of booktubers, they are talking about books, or doing vlogs about reading. I usually don’t understand much, but the point is getting familiar with the language as much as possible.
If you are refering to the lessons here in LingQ, you can do only one boring lesson of your level and not more :wink: