Do you find it hard to retain your Chinese language skills?
Would you like to constantly improve your Chinese vocabulary?
We’ve got the perfect solution for you!
Novels are the best way to practice your language skills when you’re no longer a beginner and can more or less understand Chinese characters without the help of pinyin or zhuyin.
Why You Should Start Reading Chinese Books
True, you may get bored at times especially when you’re not an avid reader to begin with. You’re not alone. But you know what the best part is? This is not compulsory! It’s not like you’re in school and you just have to finish these textbooks or else you’ll fail the subjects.
You can pick out any book you like, whether it’s sci-fi, autobiographies or romance novels. There’s a whole array of books to choose from. It’s just like picking out a novel from your corner bookstore. The only difference is that it’s in Mandarin.
Still not convinced?
Well, here are five reasons why you should start reading books in Chinese:
- It enhances your vocabulary. When you start learning Chinese, you tend to look for words that you can use – conversational pieces, business, travel, etc. You tend to skip on topics that you think you won’t need. But with a whole book filled with Chinese texts, you get to learn a variety of characters which not only expands your vocabulary, but also enlightens you not to stick to a specific topic.
- It helps retain your learnings. It’s a common problem for us language learners to forget what we’ve learned as time progresses. To avoid this, it’s best to pick up a book from time to time.
- It helps improves your sentence structure. Books provide you a variety of sentences – narrative, descriptive, informative, conversations. You’ll be able to pick up a lesson or two from reading, particularly on the different ways of positioning your characters.
- It’s fun! You get to pick your favorite subject and have fun while reading. Grab a copy of the latest novel of your favorite author translated in Mandarin.
- You can do it anywhere, anytime! It doesn’t have to be in front of the computer or in the library.You can be sitting on a park bench or sunbathing by the beach. You can read and learn Chinese anywhere.
Tips on How to Learn Chinese Through Books
Worried about the difficult vocabulary? Scared that you’re not up to it? Don’t worry! Here are five tips that will help you get started in your Chinese reading.
- Read out loud. When you pick up a Chinese book, the first challenge you’ll have is not to get bored or sleepy. No matter how much you love to learn Chinese, it’ll take some time getting used to reading, so read the text out loud. It helps you concentrate on what you’re reading. It’ll also help you practice your Chinese pronunciation.
- Look for context clues. Instead of searching for the meaning of the characters each time you stumble upon an unfamiliar word, look for context clues instead. That way, you’ll get to really enjoy the book. You need not know every single word the first try, just breeze through them and eventually you’ll understand what they mean.
- Stick to the Chinese text. Don’t depend on the English translation. You’ll wind up reading the whole novel in English and the next thing you know, your Chinese novel is left unread. Only the first page is read. Trust me, I’ve done it before and it’s not useful at all. You can use it occasionally for reference but it’s better to stick to the Chinese text alone.
- Use them alongside FluentU. Books are great, but your learning needs to be balanced out with audio and visual elements other than text. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
- Skip the intro. Go straight to the conversation pieces. I personally love fiction. Not because of the stories but because it has the most number of conversation pieces available. If you’re just starting to read novels, I suggest you skip the intro. The first chapter usually has the most descriptions and you’ll surely get overwhelmed by it. You’ll end up giving up due to the unfamiliarity of the characters. Start with the second chapter, you won’t miss out a lot anyway. Then go back to the intro when you got the hang of it.
- Never give up. Read and reread until you get it. Practice makes perfect! It’s such a cliché but still very much applicable to all of us. Don’t fret when you find it hard the first try. You’ll eventually enjoy it.
10 Mandarin Chinese Novels to Get You Started
Now that you’re fully convinced of the benefits you’ll get from reading Chinese books, let’s get to the next step – choosing the right book. Since some of you may be unfamiliar with the titles and the authors, we’ve compiled a list of novels to get you started.
All the novels mentioned have English translations. I’m highly against reading the English version side by side with the Chinese text, but if you insist, they are available. Remember that you need to have a good command of your pinyin and zhuyin before you start reading. Why? These ten novels are pure Chinese texts; there’s no pinyin to help you. So if you’re an intermediate or advanced learner, read on.
1. 小时代 1.0 (Tiny Times 1.0)
Written by the famous young author 郭敬明 in what appears to be the first of a series, Tiny Times 1.0 explores the lives of the rich and wealthy. Centered on four female university students, it gives a materialistic view on how they deal with friendship, family, work and their future. If you’re a fan of Sex and the City and Meteor Garden, then this one’s for you.
2. 狼图腾 (Wolf Totem)
Depicting the Mongolian tribe as the wolf and the Chinese farmers as the sheep, Wolf Totem provides us with a realistic view on the lives of the people belonging to two different nations. It gives us a preview on each of their culture, lifestyle and beliefs.
3. 山楂树之恋 (Under The Hawthorn Tree)
This one’s my personal favorite. It’s a Romeo and Juliet romance set in modern China. It gives you glimpses of the Cultural Revolution which serves as a stark contrast to the pureness of the first love experienced by the two leads.
4. 解密 (Decode)
If you’re all about cryptology, secret service and thrill-seeking adventures then, be sure to pick this one out. It depicts the story of a genius who was recruited by the Chinese secret service and praised because of his extraordinary skills but later on shunned due to a simple mistake.
5. 杜拉拉升职记 (A Story of Lala’s Promotion)
This has essentially become the handbook for Chinese working women. It tells the story of Lala who stuck to her principles and worked the hard way up the corporate ladder amidst office politics, jealousy and harassment. It’s an inspiring story that will teach you a lesson or two about the corporate world.
6. 统万城 (Tongwan City)
Tongwan City combines fragments of China’s history and religion. Comparing the patience of a Buddhist monk and the recklessness of a Hun warlord, it teaches us the most effective way of building an empire, one that will last to become a legacy.
7. 玉米, 玉秀, 玉秧 (Three Sisters)
Written by the highly acclaimed author, 毕飞宇, this particular novel gives us a glimpse on the struggles of Chinese women. Using the three sisters as leads, it explores the roles of Chinese women in society, their social standing and the courage that they have to muster to fight discrimination and make a name for themselves.
8. 三体 (Three Body)
For sci-fi lovers out there, this one’s for you. The first novel in a trilogy, Three Body tells the story of an alien race struggling for survival and the search for their last hope to save their race, eventually landing on Earth.
9. 尘埃落定 (Red Poppies)
Using the poppy seeds as its focal point, the novel revolves around the lives and feudal wars of the Tibetan clans prior to and after they opened their doors to opium trade.
10. 丁庄梦 (Dream of Ding Village)
Based on a true story, this novel depicts the chaos that happened in China when the AIDS crisis broke out as a result of blood selling businesses.
That sums up the list. Seen something you love to read? I’m sure you did. Now, you can start learning Chinese with books. Just remember the tips we’ve mentioned above and you’re all set. Enjoy!
And One More Thing…
Since you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously serious about learning Chinese.
FluentU can help.
FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from dramas, TV shows, commercials, music videos and more. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos, as you can see here:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how they’re used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU’s Quiz Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.