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4 Great Ways to Practice Reading Chinese

When you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, spoken Chinese and written Chinese can feel like different worlds. 

On one end, we have spoken Chinese, with its four tones and some tricky pinyin pronunciations, which is crucial for speaking to people in person, on the phone, etc. On the other, we have written Chinese characters, which can be a bit tough for English speaking students by nature, and is important for reading emails, text messages, subtitles, signs, etc. in Chinese.

For these reasons, when you’re starting to learn Chinese, we highly recommend separating out listening and speaking from reading and writing, and starting off gaining a foundation in conversational Chinese before delving into learning Chinese characters. This also helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed in conquering both sides all at once when first starting out.

There are lots of resources out there for practicing the conversational side, but what about for reading Chinese characters?

Well, in this post we’ve compiled a list of our top 4 recommendations for different ways that you can practice your Chinese reading skills!

Of course, if you’re just starting out learning Chinese though, we highly recommend first learning pinyin and some Chinese character basics before delving into books or other reading materials. 

If you’re learning pinyin and tones, or want to brush up on them, make sure you check out Level 1 of our Beginner Conversational Course. The entire level (40+ lesson videos) is totally FREE, and serves as a crash course to pronouncing words in Chinese, as well as some basic must-know language in Chinese!

Click here to get started!

#1: Books - Graded Readers or Short Stories (Any Chinese Level)

This is probably one of the most obvious ones, but still an important one! 

Reading books that are of the right difficulty level for you is a great way to practice reading in Chinese, and learn new vocabulary along the way!

Some good options are: Chinese books that are for Chinese language learners of a certain level (either on a beginner-advanced spectrum or HSK Level 1-6), and books that are written for very young Chinese children (even if you’re an adult!).

What sort of reading materials you’ll want to try out definitely depends on your level, so it’s best to do some research on sites like Amazon and other platforms for buying books, to make sure the material isn’t too easy or hard for you.

Of course, if you have a high enough Chinese level, you could also read novels in Chinese (novels from China or English ones translated into Chinese), but the language level of those tend to be pretty high, so it’s usually better to start with something a bit easier!

#2: Comic Books (Any Chinese Level)

Another great (and fun!) way to practice reading Chinese is to read Chinese comic books

Again, some books are geared towards native Chinese speakers, while others are catered to non-native speakers learning Chinese, so be sure to check the comic books out to make sure they’re a good fit for your level and tastes alike!

We actually came out with a comic book series called Zhang Ming’s Story, which is based on the 600 most common Chinese characters that we teach in our Chinese Character Course I and Chinese Character Course II

In this 6-book series, you’ll follow the story of a guy named Zhang Ming as he goes through different experiences at work and in his personal life, all in the format of a comic! 

You can think of it as a hybrid between a graded reader and a comic book. It’s a great resource for practicing reading in full sentences in Chinese, and for gaining a better understanding of Chinese culture and life in China. The vivid comics and fun storyline help to keep you interested in what you’re reading, while you pick up super practical colloquial language along the way!

Check out the book series here

We ALSO made the books into a full online course, which brings the animations to life, along with voice acting and tons of study resources, like flashcards, dialogue replay, quizzes, and more! 

This Chinese Character Reader Course still maintains the ‘comic’ format, with text bubbles so you can read along as well! 

Check out the first few lesson videos for FREE here:

#3: Articles (Higher Chinese Levels)

Yet another great way to practice reading is to read Chinese articles. You can search for some topics that you’re interested in, like travel, beauty, technology, food, and more!

Generally speaking, most basic articles are suitable for those above HSK Level 3, so these are definitely aimed at students on the higher spectrum of Chinese language levels.

Unless you have a very high level of Chinese, we’d advise you to steer clear of formal news articles, which are often packed with super formal (and difficult) Chinese that you’re not likely to use much in everyday life.

#4: Movies/TV Shows with Subtitles (Any Chinese Level, Ideally Intermediate and Up)

Last, but certainly not least, is one of my favorites - reading the subtitles on movies and TV shows! 

If you feel that reading novels, short stories or articles can be a bit stuffy, or want to change up your routine, this is a great way to practice reading Chinese.

In most modern day TV shows (and many modern day movies), you’ll encounter super colloquial, useful language. Plus, you have the added ability to also listen to the actors and actresses speaking out loud! 

With TV shows and movies, the plots are usually entertaining and will keep you interested. You can keep a notebook (or use the ‘notes’ feature on your phone) to jot down any useful language that you want to study later as well.

Keep in mind that with these TV shows and movies, the language isn’t usually ideal for an absolute beginner - we usually recommend students around an Intermediate level and up to start really using these to practice Chinese.

Generally speaking, we recommend TV shows and movies in the comedy and romance category, as they tend to have more practical, modern language compared to categories like fantasy, drama, and suspense, as well as ancient Chinese-themed dramas and movies.

Curious about which movies or TV shows to try out? 

Check out this post for some TV show recommendations, and this one for some of our top movie picks!

That just about wraps up our list for ways to practice reading Chinese - we hope one of our recommendations can help you to progress in your Chinese language! 

Let us know in the comments below - what are YOUR favorite ways to practice reading in Chinese?