Books and reading go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Well, usually—but you’re not going to find any books here.
Today we’re sharing some fresh new ways you can practice reading in Chinese.
From websites to online media, the Internet offers a nice alternative to those of you who are intimidated by reading a full book in Chinese, who want to spice up your reading routine or who simply aren’t that into books in the first place.
No matter your reasons for taking a break from the books, we have five cool alternatives for practicing reading.
Tips for Effective Chinese Reading Practice
Before you start reading, it’s worth knowing first how to make the most of it. Here are a few tips for making your reading as effective as possible:
- Be sure to spend some time reading your text aloud, in order to associate phonetics and tones with a word.
- Keep a dictionary (book or app) nearby, and look up the unknown words which are essential to understanding your text.
- Write down any unknown words into a list of new vocab, and review regularly.
- Keep to your difficulty level; if you don’t know more than 30% of the characters in a text, find something easier.
Armed with these reading tips, let’s check out the five easy ways to practice reading Chinese online.
5 Ways to Practice Reading Chinese Without Opening a Book
1. Chinese News Websites
Some of the best sources of reading material online are Chinese news websites. There are vast numbers of these sites to learn from, both in Simplified and Traditional Chinese. Furthermore, among these are sites which cover basically every niche imaginable, meaning that you can always find something which piques your interest.
If you’re a beginner, a great way to practice reading on these news sites is by reading the headlines. While the body text itself may be long and complicated, the headlines for each story should be relatively easy to read and translate. Despite this, there’s still a lot of uncommon vocab which appears in these headlines, meaning you’ll still be learning something new every time you read.
For those of you who are looking for more of a challenge, one fun test is to read Chinese news tickers. These scrolling text feeds—which often appear at the top of sites—have short pieces of information which can only been seen for a few seconds. By practicing reading this info accurately, you should be able to build up your reading speed to that of a native speaker.
Suggested news websites:
- CCTV (中国中央电视台- zhōng guó zhōng yāng diàn shì tái) — Features live news tickers
2. Social Media Posts
Another area of the Chinese Internet that’s ideal for reading practice is Chinese social media. These sites, like their international counterparts, feature a large number of postings written at a reasonably simple level. Sentences are generally short, and the vocabulary used in posts to social networking sites is generally quite basic.
This being said, these sites are also full of Chinese Internet slang, which to a foreigner can be quite difficult to read. But don’t take this as discouragement; this slang is actually easy to decipher once you understand it.
To foreigners, Chinese social media isn’t well-known, but here are some suggestions for sites to join and start practicing your reading with your newly-found friends.
Suggested social media websites:
- Weibo — Similar to Twitter, this social network allows its users to post short updates with a limited number of characters.
- WeChat — The largest social network in China, WeChat (also known as weixin) combines the best of several mobile-networking apps—like WhatsApp, Instagram and Viber—allowing Chinese people to send messages, videos and other content to their friends and followers.
- RenRen — The so-called “Facebook of China,” RenRen is also incredibly popular. It allows users to create profile pages and post status updates, while at the same time message their friends.
3. Online Video Subtitles
Beyond news websites and social media, Chinese online video sharing websites are another great way to practice your Chinese reading. While watching a video might seem counterintuitive for reading practice, the thing to remember is that almost all Chinese video content comes with character subtitles.
Indeed, due to the use of varying accents and local dialects, these subtitles are critical for the show to be understood by many Chinese people. For this reason, reading Chinese subtitles alongside video content is a fantastic opportunity to practice reading text at a rapid pace.
The two main sites on the Chinese-speaking internet for video sharing are Youku and Tudou. Both of these sites are very similar to YouTube and Vimeo. However, unlike their international counterparts, Youku and Tudou both host a large amount of broadcast content, including news, TV series and movies.
An even easier way to learn Chinese through videos is with FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.It’s tailored for all different learning levels—from complete beginner to native—so there’s entertaining content for all learners.
4. Virtual Maps
Another unique online location to practice reading is within online maps. Both Baidu and Tencent (large Chinese search and web portals) have detailed map offerings, which are heavily annotated in Chinese. Through reading these maps, you can practice identifying tricky toponyms, as well as rapidly learn characters for common geographic features like lakes, rives, roads, mountains and bridges.
Taking this idea further, you can explore whole cities in China through Tencent’s Street View capability. This function, which provides a user with detailed images of Chinese cities from street level, is in many ways the ultimate test of your reading ability. Without looking up words, attempt common tasks such as reading road signs or advertisements, in order to see just how well you would do in a “real” Chinese setting.
Online maps also offer a fun game to play with your exchange partner or a Chinese study buddy. Have your partner choose a starting point and a destination and put it into the online map for directions. They should then send you the address of the starting point and the directions (copy/paste), but not the destination. By reading the directions and following the route on the map, can you figure out the destination?
5. Restaurant Menus
Using restaurant menus for reading practice might seem a little far-fetched, but hear me out. Many restaurants in China list their menu online, and these can easily be found by searching the Chinese word for menu (菜单 – cài dān) in Google or Baidu.
Once you find some menus, attempt to decipher as much as possible without outside help. Some good examples of these kinds of menus can be viewed here, here and here.
Why is this useful? The truth is that menus and Chinese food vocab in general is one of the more confusing aspects of learning Chinese. Many products are obscurely named, and others use very uncommon characters. Learning what these words and characters mean in the context of these menus is an important skill, should you want to spend even just a few hours in China.
Now that you know some interesting and unique opportunities for reading practice that exist online, there really is no excuse left to avoid getting started. So what are you waiting for? Start your reading practice today!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.