Getting in that all-important Chinese reading practice can be difficult. It’s often hard to find content that is suitable for your skill level while also being interesting.
When I was looking for things to read in Chinese, I used to really hate it when people suggested I read children’s books. I immediately thought, “I’m a grown man, I don’t want to read a children’s book!”
And I’m sure you feel the same.
Plus, if children’s books are all you read, you’re going to start speaking like a child!
That’s why I’m not going to suggest you read anything that’s meant for kids. In fact, in this article, I’m going to share with you five awesome ways to improve your reading skills in an engaging and interesting way.
But before I get to that, I want to quickly go over how you can make the most of your Chinese reading practice sessions:
- Use Pleco – Pleco is the best Chinese dictionary app available. You can use it to look up unknown words and then save them to a word list for review later.
- Read out loud – You don’t always have to do this but reading out loud is a good way to turn reading into an active exercise. This will help you improve your pronunciation and tones.
- Make sure you can understand what you’re reading – You don’t need to know 100% of the words in the text but just make sure you get the gist of what the text is about, otherwise it’s going to be frustrating.
- Review new vocabulary – Reading is a great way to ‘mine’ for new vocabulary words. Find out more about using reading to bolster your Chinese vocabulary in our Ultimate Guide to Learning Chinese Vocabulary.
Ok, now that you’re aware of what you should be doing while reading, let’s dive into the five ways you can easily boost your Chinese reading skills. Starting with…
Chinese Graded Readers
Effective Chinese reading practice is centered around selecting suitable materials to read. Chinese graded readers provide learners with interesting stories, while also setting a limit on new words and characters.
Graded readers are books that have been written specially for learners who want to improve their reading skills in Chinese. They are often simplified versions of well-known stories. Graded readers usually come in a series and are divided into levels. With each new level comes an increase in new words and characters, thereby providing you with a step-by-step approach to boosting your reading abilities.
How to use graded readers for Chinese reading practice:
The best way to use graded readers is to start with the simplest books (level one) and work your way up to the harder ones.
Due to there being a set limit on new words and characters, books get easier to read the further you get into the story. Look up new words as you go and write down unfamiliar characters as well. Add these words and characters to your Anki deck for review.
What are the best graded readers?
There are many different graded readers to choose from, but I can personally recommend the following two series.
Chinese Breeze is my personal favourite graded reader series. There are a few reasons for this:
- The books aren’t too long, they are usually 70-90 pages, max.
- The stories are fun and engaging
- The font used is extremely readable
- There is no Pinyin (this is a good thing and it ensures you are actually reading the characters and not cheating)
- There are four levels available which range from 300 unique words to 1100.
If you would like more information on Chinese Breeze graded readers, then check out my comprehensive review.
I like Mandarin companion much for the same reasons that I like Chinese Breeze. On top of that, Mandarin Companion was created by John Pasden, the founder of Allset Learning and author of the legendary ‘Sinosplice’ blog.
I know what some of you are thinking, “You said you weren’t going to suggest anything meant for kids!”
It’s true. A lot of comic books are written for children, but a lot are actually intended for an older, more mature audience.
There are so many mangas/comics out there. It’s just a matter of finding one that interests you!
Seriously though… reading manga/comic books is a great way to get some quality Chinese reading practice. The language used in comic books is mostly conversational and this makes it accessible to us learners.
If you’re a Japanese manga fan or a fan of comic books in general, then reading manga could be an enjoyable way to improve your Chinese reading.
On my YouTube channel, I recorded a three-part series on learning Chinese through manga/comic books. The first video is about why you should do so, the second is about how to find Chinese language manga online for free and the third is about how to find Chinese language anime online for free.
I’ve linked the playlist below, so take a look!
Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel for weekly videos.
The third method for boosting your Chinese reading skills is texting!
Let me explain…
If you have ever been to China, you’ll know that the mobile app, WeChat, is pretty huge over there. It’s basically a combination of WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook. Truth be told, it’s hard to function in China without WeChat.
When you meet someone new, it’s common for them to ask, “可以加你的微信吗?” (can I add you on WeChat?)
Anyway, my point is that when I lived in Beijing I used WeChat a lot to communicate with Chinese friends and co-workers and that really helped me improve my Chinese reading skills.
Why texting is a good way to get Chinese reading practice
There are two main reasons I recommend texting as a way to practice your Chinese reading. Firstly, when people write text messages, they usually use simple language. That’s great for us learners as it makes it easier to read.
Secondly, and most importantly, texting is like having a conversation without the pressure of having to reply immediately.
If someone says something you don’t understand, instead of feeling embarrassed and not knowing what to say, you can just copy and paste the message into any translation app and carry on the conversation.
Texting makes for a fun way to learn new Chinese words and characters.
How to find people to text with
It’s easy enough to find Chinese penpals online. You can connect with Chinese natives on sites like Reddit or Interpals. Just explain to them that you’re learning Chinese and are looking for someone to chat with.
Add them on WeChat, Skype or whatever app you prefer and just start messaging with them on a regular basis!
Lingq is one of my all-time favourite tools for Chinese reading practice!
Lingq is an online platform that provides language learners access to large libraries of written content. Everything is separated into levels and topics, giving you a quick way to find something interesting and suitable to read.
When you choose something to read, Lingq gives you the ability to look up unknown words, save known words and create ‘lingqs’, which are basically key words or phrases that you want to remember.
Lingq’s in-built spaced-repetition algorithms allows you to easily review your lingqs, making learning new vocabulary a breeze.
Chinese short stories
Reading short stories is another good way to improve your Chinese reading skills. The nice thing about short stories is that they’re short! Reading a book is often far too intimidating and it’s easy to get bored halfway through. Short stories, on the other hand, are quick to read and much less dense.
Also, there are a lot of short stories available online. It may take a bit of research to find one that appeals to you but at least there’s plenty of choice.
To get you started, I’ve linked some interest looking short stories below:
These are five of the most effective ways to practice reading Chinese. Now that you’re aware of all these methods, I encourage you to try at least one of them.