Tips for Reading in the Chinese Language
People from all around the world are interested in learning Chinese more than ever. Some of them do it for business purposes and others for the pure fun out of it. Whatever your reasons for learning Chinese are, you’ll inevitably come to a really challenging step along the way: reading Chinese.
When reading Chinese, you’re not dealing with letters. You can’t just learn the alphabet and start reading words. You’ll be looking at characters that look like pictures. There are over 50,000 Chinese characters altogether, but don’t worry; you won’t have to know them all. An educated Chinese person knows around 8,000 characters, and even that is too much. As a foreign language learner, you’ll probably aim for less. To be able to read the newspaper, you’ll need to know 2,000 – 3,000 characters. Can you work with that?
Let’s make it clear: we’re talking about learning Mandarin, which is the clear choice for a non-Chinese who wants to learn the language. This is the predominant dialect in Northern China, and it’s the official language of media, education, and politics in the country.
Still challenged? The good news is that it’s not as hard as it seems. You just need the right approach and you’ll definitely learn to read Chinese if you try hard enough. We’ll give you 7 tips to help with that.
1. First, Change Your Mindset
You need to shift that mindset and focus towards growth. Remember: you are not in a fixed state of mind. You can grow as long as you try. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you know at this point. The important thing is to keep learning and keep growing. Start making small steps and you’ll definitely be closer to reading the newspaper in a month than you currently are.
2.Learn as Many Words as Possible
When learning Chinese, the focus is on speech; not reading or writing. Since the reading part is a bit more challenging when compared to another language, that’s why it’s important to work on the vocabulary before trying to do anything else.
Chinese is difficult to read not only because of the characters but also because of the tonal system, which means that words are distinguished by tones. You have to know how to pronounce those tones in order to read and write properly.
3.Stick With the Simplified Characters
The traditional Chinese characters evolved from the ancient pictographs. There are just too many of them, and they are just too complicated to learn. But the Chinese are smart people. They knew that in order to adjust their culture and language to modern times, they had to simplify the way they write. That’s why they developed the simplified system of characters, so the literacy levels across the country could grow.
4. Read Manga
Now it’s getting fun, isn’t it?
First and foremost, these comics are enjoyable. If you’re interested in China and its pop culture, you’ll definitely want to dig into manga. But most important of all, manga gives you access to the “street” language, which is rarely seen in written form. When you pick up enough of the characters to start reading, these are the materials you should first explore.
5. Read Online Newspapers (Start with the Headlines)
Most Chinese newspapers have good websites, where they post fresh information. China Daily, for example, is pretty popular. So start scrolling through these online sources and focus on the headlines. They are easier to read, simply because the font is bigger and you can identify the characters more easily.
Don’t stop there! Most Chinese newspaper sites have English versions, too. So translate that page and see if you understood the headlines well.
You can’t compare the headlines word by word, since it may be free translation we’re talking about. Still, the translation will help you understand the text written in Chinese.
6. Don’t Ditch the Textbooks
When it comes to reading Chinese, it’s time to go back to old-school methods. Yes; you’ll learn the language better if you practice speaking as much as possible. You don’t even need textbooks for that aspect. But for reading, you absolutely need these resources because they directly target the needs of a language learner.
A good textbook will keep reminding you of everything you need to know in order to start reading.
7. Practice, Practice, Practice!
This is the most important tip that anyone could give you. Remember that growth mindset we were talking about? The growth should be continuous. Even when you think you know enough, you’ll have more to learn. The goal of reading Chinese will keep reminding you that you still have a long way to go.
So go! Read more and write more. Speak more. Practice more! That’s the only way to learn Chinese at a decent level. It’s a challenge, but it’s definitely a fun one!
About the author
Mary Whitman is a writer and editor at Proofreading Service based in Adelaide, South Australia. In her spare time, she likes to talk about art and sustainable development.