The first steps to improving your Chinese reading skills can be intimidating.
You may be thinking—why bother with reading when you can’t even recognize half the words?
The more you read, the more words you will begin to recognize.
No matter what level you are at, try to spend at least 20 minutes a day improving your reading.
If that sounds impossible, hang on! We’re going to ease all your worries by showing you exactly how to improve your reading skills with easy Chinese books.
How to Choose Which Chinese Books to Read
Obviously you won’t be able to start out with intense novels. Content is crucial when you first start out because you can quickly get put off if you understand nothing from what you are reading. Ideally, you should be able to pick up general meaning from the context and have room to improve on vocabulary.
Here are some tips to help you decide on a book.
Choose Content Based on Your Interests
This may seem obvious, but if you aren’t interested in the topic and are only reading it to improve your Chinese, you will most likely get bored rather quickly. Think about it: If you’re not willing to spend 20-40 minutes a day reading something in English, it will be just as hard to make yourself do it in Chinese.
So if you enjoy reading the news, go online to a Chinese news site such as Baidu. If you like romance, browse through a list of reviews of Chinese romance novels on a site such as Shu Sheng Bar before buying.
Find Translated Books You Have Already Read
There are countless translated English books in Chinese that are a perfect way for you to get started. You can find many condensed versions that will often include pinyin, and are perfect if you are looking for an easy Chinese book to read.
Particularly in beginning levels, if you are reading a story line that you are familiar with, you will be able to learn the words at a faster speed.
How to Improve Your Chinese Reading Skills with Easy Books
Pick a Book at a Slightly Higher Level
When you choose a book that is slightly higher than your level of Chinese, you will have room to learn. Pick whatever book you want if you are simply reading for leisure. However, if your goal is to improve your Chinese reading skills, you should focus on something a little more difficult.
Keep a Notebook and Dictionary Close
You want to be able to use this time as a way to acquire new vocabulary. Have a notebook and dictionary tool beside you while you read and write down any unfamiliar words.
This is an excellent way to learn through context, and you may find that it will help you remember the vocabulary better. Take a few minutes after you read to go over the new words you learned, and consider making flashcards to engrave them in your memory.
Vary Your Reading Pace
When you are practicing your Chinese reading skills, make sure you vary from reading quickly and slowly. Reading quickly will improve your overall reading skills, and you will be able to understand the general meaning of the book. However, you also want to make sure you are taking time to understand every character. Since the Chinese language is vastly different from English, you want to know not only every character combination, but also each character as it stands alone.
One way to achieve the most of your reading time is to start out with a quick read of a few paragraphs. Mark any characters, phrases or sentences you may not understand. Then go back through each sentence. Really pay attention to each character and test yourself for the meaning. Even if you understand everything you are reading, use this as an opportunity to learn some new characters.
Other Resources to Improve Your Chinese Reading Skills
We’ll provide recommendations of easy Chinese books below, but here are three additional resources to help you get better at and more comfortable with reading in Chinese.
Chinese readers do all the book searching work for you. They usually compile a list of books in Chinese and are designed for the student. It will include new words and reading comprehensive questions at the end to ensure you understand the material.
There are many Chinese readers that are catered toward those who have a primary Chinese reading level, and here are our recommendations.
FluentU allows you to easily watch videos while you read and interact with the subtitles. Subtitles are an excellent way for you to practice your reading skills. If you are unsure of a word, you can just hover over a word to pause the video and instantly see the definition, image and read other sample sentences.
Being able to read and listen at the same time enforces the pronunciation and character learning, which are two of the more complicated components of the Chinese language.
Better yet, FluentU is more than just subtitled videos—it’s a complete online language learning platform! That means you can get in your desired reading practice, and then use FluentU’s interactive “learn mode” to learn new words based on what you already know—so it’s super personalized and extra effective.
Chinese Reading Practice Website
A woman who was learning Chinese herself started ChineseReadingPractice.com when she realized there was a lack of online resources that catered towards Chinese reading.
This website is a great tool, whether you’re a beginner or advanced learner, since you can choose your level. You can also browse through the list of categories including books, recipes, jokes and textbook passages. It’s also an excellent resource because it offers a direct translation of the texts. If you get stuck with any words or phrases, you can automatically find the answer you are looking for right there on the website.
7 Easy Chinese Books to Improve Your Reading Skills
All right, so you’ve got the resources, you know your mode of attack, but which book should you start with?
Here are some places to find easy books that are timeless and loved by many.
Chinese Folk Stories
Chinese folk story books are a great way to start reading Chinese. Folk stories are typical in elementary Chinese school textbooks, and you can easily find books or websites where you can start reading them.
These stories are the perfect way to not only learn Chinese, but also to understand Chinese history and culture. Stories about origins, gods and legends are quite common. They also are often composed of morals. Many stories also help explain the origins of Chengyu (Chinese idioms).
A few favorites include:
1. “Cao Chong Weighing the Elephant” （曹冲称象 cáo chōng chèn xiàng）
Cao Chong was the son of a powerful Han Dynasty warlord. There are plenty of tales of his brilliance. The most famous one is “Cao Chong Weighing the Elephant,” telling how the young Cao Chong uses his knowledge of physics to help his village.
2. “The Peasant and the Hare” （守株待兔 shǒu zhū dài tù）
This is a story surrounded by the famous Chinese saying “shou zhu dai tu,” which means “to wait foolishly for an unlikely windfall.” It is a tale to warn those who simply wait for something without attempting to work for their success.
3. “Legend of the Moon”（嫦娥奔月 cháng é bèn yuè）
“The Legend of the Moon” is a famous tale told during Mid-autumn Festival about the tragic love story of how the moon goddess, Chang’e, ends up on the moon and has stayed there since then.
4. “Painted Skin” (画皮 huà pí)
This is a short story that involves a young man who brings an attractive girl home, who ends up turning into a ghost. Drama increases as you find out the young man is married and the wife is waiting back home. There have been several movie adaptions of this famous folk story.
Chinese Children’s Stories
If you are just a beginner and want to ease your way into Chinese reading, start out with children’s books. Since children’s books are usually catered towards an elementary level, you may also be able to grasp the context through pictures and cartoons.
Chinese children’s stories will also usually include pinyin. In the beginning, reading in pinyin is just as important for you to retain new vocabulary and to practice your Chinese language skills. Children’s stories also will contain essential vocabulary words that you can start using in daily conversations.
Some Chinese children stories you can start out reading include:
5. “Little Grass’s Silver Hair” (小草银银 xiǎo cǎo yín yín)
This is an easy story about a small grass blade who has conversations with each of the seasons. It’s an excellent way to learn basic vocabulary and there is also a playful lesson in the end.
6. “Little Cat Goes Fishing” (小猫钓鱼 xiǎo māo diào yú)
A common theme in Chinese children’s stories is to respect your elders and the lessons they teach you. This is a story about a little cat who learns from an older cat as they go fishing together.
7. “The Rabbit’s Bride” (兔子的新娘 tù zi de xīn niáng)
This is a cute story about a rabbit who chases after a young girl to ask for her hand in marriage. The grammar and vocabulary are slightly advanced, but much of the story can be grasped through context clues.
Improving your Chinese reading skills can be fun if you have the right books and resources. So start with one of these stories, and see where it takes you.
If you stay dedicated to easy Chinese books from the start, you will soon find yourself moving on to intermediate and advanced novels. Good luck!
And One More Thing…
If you like learning authentic Chinese, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos. In fact, below you’ll even see the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”:
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 a word is used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
FluentU’s Learn 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.