For most people, learning to read Chinese is incredibly intimidating. The characters are complicated and are easily mistaken for each other. It’s easy to rely on pinyin as a crutch and focus on other areas of study.
However, learning to read Chinese will have significant benefits that carry over to more than just reading. It will help improve your grammar and sentence structure, along with vocabulary, which will carry over into your speaking and listening skills. And, as someone who loves to read, it’s just fun to do.
Like anything, it just takes some practice. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to find places to practice reading Chinese. As you’re learning, it’s important to find texts at an appropriate level to practice with.
If you try reading native texts too early, you’ll get frustrated, spend too much time looking up words, and won’t enjoy reading. Likewise, if you read stuff that’s too easy, you won’t progress as quickly as you’d like and end up bored.
Don’t underestimate the importance of reading about topics you enjoy. Even if your Chinese level is equivalent to that of a four-year-old, that doesn’t mean you have to read texts written for four-year-old kids. You can find articles about music, science, current events and Chinese culture, among other things, written at a degree of difficulty that matches your Chinese level.
This post is going to introduce you to a variety of resources, both free and paid, that you can use to practice reading Chinese.
Like most resources, the paid ones tend to be more convenient and user-friendly. However, there are high-quality free resources to practice reading Mandarin as well. First, though, we’re going to look at the paid resources.
Making full use out of the available apps is a great way to squeeze in extra study time. It’s also likely to be the most efficient. You can instantly look up words and save them to a flashcard list to review later.
Du Chinese – Du Chinese is an incredibly well-designed app. You’ll find articles across six different difficulty levels. Every article includes Traditional and SImplified characters, pinyin and audio that’s perfectly synced to the text. There’s also sentence by sentence English translations that make it more approachable for beginner students. Articles are interesting to read and usually discuss various aspects of Chinese culture. You can also find free sample articles to read. Use the coupon code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES” to get 10% off a subscription to Du Chinese.
The Chairman’s Bao – TCB is a simplified Chinese newspaper for people learning Mandarin. It’s available as an app or online. Lessons are organized based on HSK level and center around current events – both in China and worldwide. Every article is available in both Traditional and Simplified characters and includes audio. They release a ton of content but there aren’t English translations. Use the coupon code “alr20tcb” to get 20% off any individual subscription.
Decipher Chinese – Decipher is a very similar app to TCB. Here, you’ll also be able to read short news articles that are organized according to the difficulty level. I find the app design and usability to be less intuitive than both Du Chinese and TCB. There’s a new article released about once per day which is far less than TCB and similar to Du Chinese. You can read new articles for the first couple days for free.
Beelinguapp – This app provides bilingual stories written in many languages. You can read a story in Chinese and have the text of another language included for your reference. There’s also audio for every story. Some stories are free and other ones can be purchased for $1 each. This app is really cool if you’re learning Chinese and another language. I’m a native English speaker with a high level of Spanish and learning Chinese now. Being able to study Chinese and review Spanish at the same time is extremely helpful. However, you can’t look up the words individually which is a major downside to this app.
LingQ – I’m not a huge fan of LingQ but it’s a fairly popular app. I feel like they try to do too much and then don’t particularly excel in anything. They do have a fairly large amount of material for reading and listening practice. However, a lot of it is user added content that originally came from other sources like The Chairman’s Bao, ChinesePod, Slow Chinese and others. One major benefit is that you can import your own content. Read my LingQ Review here.
Using graded readers is an awesome way to practice reading because they’re written simply for language learners – often restricting vocabulary to a set number of characters. I find them to be a major confidence boost as it feels great to read and understand longer stories.
Mandarin Companion – Mandarin Companion books are based on stories that you’re probably familiar with – The Monkey’s Paw, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Rip Van Winkle, just to name a few. They’re divided into two levels. Level one is written using around 300 unique characters and level two is written at a lower intermediate level.
Also, reading on a Kindle or a phone makes looking up unfamiliar words really easy.
The Monkey’s Paw was my first experience reading Mandarin and I started it far before knowing the recommended 300 characters. At first, I was constantly looking up words. However, by the time I neared the end of the book, I was flying through the pages. The books are genuinely enjoyable to read and you’ll find yourself “studying” far more than you intended to.
Chinese Breeze – Chinese Breeze is a graded reader series that has been around a bit longer than Mandarin Companion. There are many books spread across eight difficulty levels. Level one starts at 300 base words and level eight uses 4500 bases words. Personally, I’ve preferred the stories at Mandarin Companion but Chinese Breeze covers intermediate and higher level students better.
Learning Chinese doesn’t have to be expensive.
There are plenty of places that offer free practice reading and sometimes listening practice as well. The downside is that they’re usually not as convenient as the paid options. They’re often older websites. But, if you’re looking to save money and still practice your reading, they’re worth checking out.
Chinese Reading Practice – This is an older site that hasn’t had many updates in recent years. However, it’s a great resource for you to use. The stories are timeless and are just as useful now as when they were originally published. The creator took the time to explain many difficult parts of the stories, making it easier to use for reading practice. The site uses a pop-up dictionary and has English translations included.
Just Learn Chinese – This site has many stories from beginner to intermediate level. They’re split into small parts with many stories actually being quite long. One even has 54 parts! Most stories include audio with Simplified and Traditional Characters. Some have pinyin and English translations as well.
All Language Resources – This is my site. It’s still pretty new but there are many stories with varying lengths and difficulty levels. Many have audio included and you can read with a pop-up dictionary. I’ve also posted lyrics and translations to some of my favorite Chinese hip-hop songs.
Xiao Gushi – This is a Chinese website with a massive amount of children’s stories on it. Even though the site is in Chinese, it’s not particularly difficult to navigate – especially if you use a pop-up dictionary for your web browser (I’ll mention later). Because the stories are written for Native Chinese speakers, they’re a bit tougher than the graded readers. However, they’re fairly short and most use simpler language than you’ll find elsewhere.
National Foreign Language Center – This site is incredibly dated but is still a lot better than many of the newer sites. There are 140 articles in total in both SImplified and Traditional Chinese. There are also activities that go with the readings to check your comprehension.
Iron Mandarin – This is a new site that has several articles that you can sort by topic or HSK level. You can also see what percent of the text is at each HSK level. You can add your own text or analyze it to see the corresponding HSK level of each word.
umich – This site has a bunch of texts available to read or download from many different genres. There is classical literature, song lyrics, film scripts, children’s stories, among many others. It’s older but has some really interesting content.
Chinese at Ease – This site has many short stories for beginner and intermediate levels. They also include pinyin, vocab, English, and many have audio.
My Chinese Reading – Here’s another site that’s completely free and pretty good. Many stories explain vocab and difficult translations. Some have audio as well. There is a diverse mix of articles ranging from songs, history, science, biography and more.
Marco Polo Project – There are quite a few articles focused on diverse topics. Many can be quite lengthy and difficult, but interesting to read. You can help translate stories into your own language as well.
New York Times – You can read current articles from NYT in Chinese, English or split with side-by-side text. Obviously, it’s only suitable for advanced students. But, if you’re at that level, it’s a great place to improve your Chinese while staying informed on what’s happening in the world.
I feel fortunate to be studying Chinese when things like pop-up dictionaries are prevalent. I can’t imagine how frustrating and time consuming it must have been to look up words in a physical dictionary back in the day. With browser extensions, you can hover over any Chinese word and see the definition and pinyin. It makes any material easier to read and combines very well with some of the websites listed earlier. You should download the extension that matches the browser you use.
Pleco’s Clip Reader – Pleco is the go to dictionary app for most people learning Chinese. One free feature is that you can copy and paste any text into the Clip Reader. From there, you can look up each word, see example sentences, pronunciation and much more.
Don’t be intimidated to start practicing reading in Chinese. It’s not as difficult as many people imagine it to be. Even if you only know a couple hundred characters, you can find something suitable for your level. Not only that, you can find articles that are interesting enough that you may forget you’re actually studying. 加油