You’ve probably read lots of blogs with tips, tricks, hints and “hacks” that will magically make Chinese learning easy.
You know, snap your fingers, click your heels together, say “I want to know fluent Chinese!” three times—and voila!
But among those bloggers, precious few talk about what’s almost certainly the hardest part of Chinese: reading.
It’s like, “Hey, let’s just gloss over the fact that learners will need to learn 1000s of complex Chinese characters to reach their goals.”
Many learners find themselves struggling to read the passages in their textbooks, let alone real works of Chinese literature. Characters are hard to remember and even harder to commit to long-term memory.
I’m not going to lie—I kind of wanted to ignore this tricky fact of Chinese learning too. But, together, we’re going to soldier on through.
How then can a learner start reading Chinese books, while at the same time improving their character recognition?
Easy—with Chinese audiobooks!
Chinese Audiobooks: Everything You Need to Know
What Are Chinese Audiobooks?
Chinese audiobooks, much like their cousins in English and other languages, are lengthy recordings of the text of an entire book in an audio format. These books can either contain a single voice reading all of the text of book. Some higher-quality productions feature multiple voice actors playing the role of different major characters.
Audiobooks can be an entertaining way to improve both speaking and reading
The great thing about Chinese audiobooks is that they are both an entertaining and effective way to practice your Chinese reading. Not only do you get to read what will (hopefully) be an interesting and insightful book, but also, done correctly, using these audiobooks can help you remember the sounds and meanings of a wide variety of uncommon Chinese characters.
Audiobooks can very often be streamed for free online
Another advantage of using audiobooks as a study method is that they can be easily found online—often for free. While the legality of this for some contemporary works is questionable, there is a huge amount of Chinese-language literature out there which is either open-source or too old to be covered by China’s weak IP laws. Alongside this easily streamed or downloaded audio, it is also generally quite simple to find the accompanying e-book text, making reading along equally easy.
Where Can I Find Chinese Audiobooks?
Where should you go to find such content? The Chinese Internet is a veritable labyrinth, even for native speakers, and knowing the best sites to use is a trick in itself. With that in mind, here are some quick tips:
Use Chinese audiobook search websites
While you do need to know some written Chinese in order to navigate audiobook search websites, you really don’t need that much at all.
In fact, the only real critical piece of character information that a prospective learner needs to know is the Chinese name of the the book they wish to download. Alongside this, knowing the name of the author and which version you want to download is also sometimes quite important.
So, let’s have a look at two great sites, both of which have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of titles, ranging from Chinese classics like “Journey to the West” all the way to sci-fi, fantasy and contemporary crime thrillers.
有声听书吧 — Yŏu Shēng Tīng Shū Ba (ysts8.com)
To download audiobooks from this website, the first step is to enter the name of the book you are searching for in Chinese characters in the search box in the top-right corner of the site.
Should the site have audio for this book, on the next page a light brown colored box containing the name of the book, the author’s name and edition information will appear. After clicking on this box, you will be greeted with a large number of links to .mp3 files, each with a number. Download these files, and listen to them in the numbered order to enjoy the audiobook.
畅想听吧 — Chàng Xiăng Tīng Ba (cxt8.com)
Similar to the previous site, the first stop when using cxt8.com is to search for the name of the book in the box in the top right hand corner of the site. Once this is done, you will be confronted with a list of search results. Click on the one that most closely matches your search. Then, on the next, page you can either click on 播放 (bō fàng) to stream each chapter, or 下载 (xià zài) to download.
Try out a great smartphone audiobook app
有声小说 — (Yŏu Shēng Xiăo Shuō)
If you are using a mobile device, and you want to listen to Chinese audiobooks on the go, you needn’t look farther than Yŏu Shēng Xiăo Shuō (有声小说).
After this app is downloaded, a user simply taps the “search” icon, and enters their book name in Chinese. Then once again they will have to select the book from a list of possible matches, and then hit the 听说 (tīng shuō) button to begin listening.
Similar to the sites detailed above, this app gives a user access to a wide range of thousands of audiobooks, across almost all genres.
How to Make the Most of Chinese Audiobooks
So now you have hopefully found and downloaded an audiobook and are ready to begin listening. But wait—successfully learning Chinese with audiobooks is about much more than just listening. While hearing the audio of a book can help some parts of your Chinese, you will get a much greater benefit from these resources if you follow a few simple tips.
Make sure you have the text of the book you are listening to
The most important thing that a learner must have alongside the audio of a book is its full text in Chinese. As you listen to the audio, it is incredibly beneficial to simultaneously read the story in Chinese characters. By doing this, a learner can slowly build up the association between pinyin syllables and Chinese characters. This is especially useful for the majority of learners whose listening/speaking level is significantly higher than their reading level, as it allows them to use their strength in one area to compensate for their weakness in another.
Finding the accompanying text to an audiobook can be tricky, so try to find a language learning program that has interactive subtitles in both Chinese and English. For this I suggest FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Take note of recurring words you don’t know
Another important tip a learner should take into consideration is taking note of unknown words and characters. It is highly likely that on any given page of a Chinese book, there will be at least one word with which you are not yet familiar.
When one is found, that’s when you should pause the audiobook and write down the word’s pinyin and characters before resuming the recording. Then, either at the end of the chapter or after every few pages (depending on the number of unknown words you have come across), you should search for the meanings and learn the unknown words before continuing.
Listen to a wide variety of books to learn a wider vocab
Just as reading/listening to a large amount of literature as a child is important to building up your vocab in English, the same goes for Chinese. Through listening to audiobooks from a wide variety of genres, a learner can discover a huge amount of new vocab. For instance, a crime novel might teach a learner a wide amount of contemporary slang as well as law/justice related vocab, while a sci-fi novel might teach scientific and mathematical based vocab.
Suggested Chinese Audiobooks for Every Level
While Chinese audiobooks are probably beyond the level of a first-week beginner, with a few months of Chinese learning behind you, there’s no reason you can’t get started. Indeed as you progress further with your Chinese, more and more possible listening options open up. So with this in mind, here are a few suggestions for Chinese books tailored to different learning levels.
Beginner: “The Besieged City” (围城 – wéichéng) — Sinolingua Abridged Version
This simplified version of Chinese classic novel “The Besieged City,” also commonly known by its Chinese name, “Wéichéng” (围城), tells the story of middle-class Chinese man in the 1930s who returns from abroad to face a marriage he doesn’t want. As well as being quite funny, this novel is a great starting point for Chinese reading due to its simplified nature and accompanying learning materials.
Moderate: “Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong”(毛主席语录 – máo zhŭ xí yŭ lù)
Alongside the Bible and the Quran, “Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong” (also known as “The Little Red Book”) is one of the most read books of all time. It gives an interesting insight into the ideology of revolutionary China, and how that how shaped the perspectives of present day China. From a learner’s perspective, it is relatively easy to read, as it was targeted at the semi-literate peasant class in the mid 20th century.
Advanced: “Three Body” (三体 – sān tĭ)
Probably the most popular work of contemporary Chinese science fiction, “Three Body” (三体 – sān tĭ) by Liu Cixin, follows an the invasion of Earth by a desperate alien species. The 3 part series is highly regarded in China, and is a must-read for students looking to learn advanced sci-fi vocabulary.
Download a book and dive into Chinese literature.
Yes, your reading might not be that good, however with audiobooks you no longer have an excuse to neglect Chinese literature. There are countless thousands of audiobooks out there, all of which deserve to be given a shot, and all of which stand to improve both your reading skills and your overall vocab.
So what are you waiting for? Download a book and dive into Chinese literature!
And One More Thing...
If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.
FluentU 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.
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 customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.