Chinese reading exercises might not have the sexy swagger of, say, watching a hip Chinese sitcom or meeting up with your language buddy for a drink. But—did you know that they can improve your language learning acquisition leaps and bounds? Read on to learn why (and how) Chinese reading exercises can boost your fluency quickly.
Why focus on Chinese reading practice?
There is a mountain of research that shows that if Chinese language students only read, it will also improve their listening, speaking, and writing skills. However, continued academic research in the field of extensive reading has shown that if we combine reading with activities that facilitate listening, speaking, and writing, students can experience accelerated gains in their overall language knowledge and proficiency.
And we’re all trying to *hack* learning Chinese, right? Right!
“Few, if any, language professionals dispute the value of extensive reading for improving students’ reading abilities, motivation to read, self-concept as readers, vocabulary, and other skills,”according to the book Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language
Stories, texts, and articles written in Chinese, that are also interesting and engaging, can be used as the basis for exceptional discussion and writing activities. The key is to choose stories that enrich readers’ lives and awareness of the world around them and, in the process, you will improve your reading and writing skills. As Day and Bamford claim:
“The beauty of extensive reading is that it leads to ‘reading gain without reading pain.’”
When students are reading books that they enjoy—and not dreading Chinese reading practice—it is much easier for a student to develop ideas and opinions which they would like to express. Extensive Chinese reading activities like the ones below are suggestions for ways you can express your ideas and opinions, all while leveling up your abilities to read Chinese text!
3 effective Chinese reading exercises
1. Writing, Re-Writing, and Adding Chapters to a Book
After you’ve finished reading a Chinese text, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, sit down and get ready to add new content to the story in your own words.
Write an Additional Chapter:What happens next? Write a brand new chapter to continue the plot or storyline in some way, including some or all of the characters you love—or maybe adding brand new characters of your own! Rewrite the Ending:Come up with a new outcome (we’d mention it here, but no spoilers!) to create a new plot that is different than the original story. Write a New Story Altogether: Select a main character, a minor character, or even an unnamed character, and tell a brand new story about their adventures. You can change the point of view, change the circumstances, add new plot elements, take them to Hawaii instead. Youcall the shots!
You can write as much or as little as you think is necessary for each of these activities, but we’ve found the students who are dedicated to writing creatively (even looking up new words and phrases to bring their chapters to life) can get the most value out of Chinese reading exercises like these.
2. Interactive Story
Who doesn’t love a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story? This type of Chinese reading practice will get your creative juices seriously flowing.
This activity challenges you, as a Chinese language learner, to develop writing, decision making, logic, and creative writing skills.
Using the actual characters and storyline from your most recent read, like The Prince and the Pauper, begin creating choices for the reader that results in different consequences and multiple possible storylines.
Based on The Country of the Blind, the main character becomes angry at the people in the village, all who are blind. He yells at them and runs out into the field where they come looking for him. The story could start at this point and begins with a choice for the reader to…
a) “You throw rocks at the men” or
b) “You run off into the mountains” or
c) “You calm down and go back to the village.”
Each choice leads to different consequences and different choices for readers and writers alike. This is an especially fun Chinese reading activity if you can get a friend or two in on the action!
3. Reading Check Ins with Friends
There are dozens of ways to discuss shared reads with your friends, but structured activities and discussion questions can help challenge your reading comprehension. You can play 20 questions (Which character am I?), predict the story (helpful when you read a handful of chapters at a time), or deep dive into questions like “What motivates this character?” “What should they have done?” “What shouldn’t they have done?”
These kinds of Chinese reading exercises can be done online or in-person and pair well with a book you both love and a tasty beverage (matcha, anyone?).
Where to read Chinese online
Finding accessible Chinese texts is easier said than done. We’ve found the following aren’t actually helpful for most Chinese learners aiming for fluency:
- Books for Chinese kids.
- Books with un-scientific level standards.
- Books with pinyin over the characters.
- Books that aren’t long enough to provide sufficient context and repetition.
That’s where graded readers come in (and where they thrive). Graded readers are story books written for learners at different difficulty levels (“grades”). They incorporate a very careful analysis of words used (corpus analysis), disciplined writing, and creative storytelling. In the end, you’re given options for books that are fun to read AND designed to fit your specific skill level.
Decades of research by the Extensive Reading Foundation shows that we learn best at a 98% level of comprehension.
At Mandarin Companion, we’ve worked hard over the last several years to build a collection of Chinese graded readers that are useful, interesting, and affordable. You can buy physical copies of our graded readers or access a digital copy via your Kindle. So if you’re trying to find where to read Chinese online, look no further! Dig through our Chinese novels for learners, find the right grade for you, and get cracking—you’ll be able read Chinese text like a pro in no time.
Breakthrough (Beginner, 150 Unique Characters)
- In Search of Hua Ma
- Just Friends?
- My Teacher is a Martian
- The Misadventures of Zhou Haisheng
- Xiao Ming, Boy Sherlock
Level 1 (Beginner-Intermediate, 300 Unique Characters)
- The Secret Garden
- The Monkey’s Paw
- The Country of the Blind
- The Ransom of Red Chief
- The 60-Year Dream
- Sherlock Holmes
- The Prince and the Pauper
Level 2 (Intermediate, 450 Unique Characters)
Reading Chinese isn’t always easy, but these tips can help!
“Good things happen to students who read a great deal in the new language. Research studies show they become better and more confident readers, they write better, their listening and speaking abilities improve, and their vocabularies get richer” (Cambridge). Prioritizing Chinese reading exercises, and reading in Chinese in general, will help you reach fluency faster than you can say 很快 [hěn kuài].