How to Improve Your Reading in Chinese

Reading in Chinese is critical to learning Mandarin Chinese because reading not only helps us expand our vocabulary but also provides us with correct grammar structures and natural expressions.

What Makes Chinese Different?

For English speakers, reading in Chinese, as opposed to reading in French or Spanish, presents a notable challenge as the Chinese writing system is different from other Romance languages. If you have been studying Chinese, then you might find writing in Chinese one of the most difficult parts of learning Chinese. However, it is also the most interesting part, no?

How Can We Improve Our Chinese Reading Skills While Having Fun?

First, say goodbye to fearing Chinese characters. Look at them as friends rather than foes. Once you become familiar with Chinese by learning about them and practicing them in reading, recognizing Chinese characters will become easier and easier.

A common approach to acquiring characters is to start with a page and work with the characters on that page, which is a great first step, but also often becomes the last step students take as they are often stuck with way too many new characters that they can’t even get to the next page. Rest assured it is not your fault, it is the text.

Research shows that understanding a text without needing the help of a dictionary requires the reader to understand 95% or more of the vocabulary used in the text. To improve one’s language skills, the “input” (reading materials) needs to be one level above the learner’s level. This is important when it comes to continuing your learning journey. To make sure you can “keep turning the page”, you want to find a text that is adapted to your level so you don’t feel frustrated or lose interest easily.

How to Find Texts That Are Adapted to Your Level?

First, you have to know your Chinese level. If you don’t know your Chinese level, check out this Chinese Level Assessment guide to help you quickly figure out your Chinese level.

If you are an advanced Chinese learner, you can try to read books that native speakers read. We recommend checking out 豆瓣读书, a very popular website among Chinese natives who love to read. Not only will you find popular books and reader reviews, but you can also buy digital books to start reading on your phone.

If you are at the basic or intermediate level, then we highly recommend using leveled readers (also known as graded readers). Leveled readers are learning materials that are specifically designed for learners at a certain level. They are very effective to improve Chinese reading comprehension as most of the characters that appear in the text are adapted to learners at a certain level. In addition, leveled readers often offer additional resources to help learners learn even more effectively. You might find Chinese characters with pinyin on top so you don’t have to constantly think about how to say the word, a vocabulary list to help you expand your vocabulary bank, reading comprehension exercises to make sure you understand the key concepts, and more.

In addition to leveled readers, bilingual books are also great resources for improving your reading in Chinese. Bilingual books provided texts in your target language and your native language so you don’t get stuck with a word or phrase you don’t understand. It makes reading easier and keeps you interested in reading further.

Find Texts on Topics That You Enjoy

Once you find texts that are adapted to your Chinese level, the next step is to choose texts on topics that you enjoy. Even in your native language, you might find some texts boring. In the case of learning a language, if you can find topics that interest you, then it might just give you the extra boost to motivate you and keep you going, just like Einstein said, “Interest is the best teacher.” You might even take the initiative to study and practice and you might enjoy the learning process even more.

Make Reading in Chinese Easier

Once you find a text that is not only adapted to your Chinese level but also interesting to you, you can start reading. Check the following tips to help you read in Chinese easier:

  1. Ignore unimportant words. Even in one’s native language, there are times when there are unknown words. Sometimes, encountering new words doesn’t stop you from getting the main idea of a sentence or paragraph. Instead of having to stop every time you run into a new word, you can ignore them or even better, use the next tip.
  2. Deduce the meaning of the new word. Context is important to understanding the meaning of a sentence. When you run into a word, try to deduce its meaning based on the context. After you finish reading, check your deduction by consulting the dictionary or checking the bilingual version. This will not only help you move forward in reading but also helps you learn the new word better.
  3. Don’t try to memorize all the new words. Learning a language is a gradual process. Don’t force yourself to memorize every single new word. The more you read, the more frequently new words appear, and gradually, you will remember them naturally, without difficulty.

Read a Little Bit Every Day

Last but not least, keep on reading. Spend a little time everyday reading. One day at a time, and soon you will have improved your Chinese naturally.

Finally, if you can’t find texts that are adapted to your level or interest you, check out our Read, Practice, and Improve Club.