6 Ways to Improve Your Chinese Reading Skills

You shouldn’t believe anyone who tries to tell you that learning Chinese characters (simplified or traditional) won’t take work.  But, that doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting.  In fact, that’s one of the keys to being able to remember characters longer.  When you add repetition and consistency to that interest, you’ll be surprised how much your memory can improve.  It’s time to ditch those flashcards. Below are 5 ways to learn, practice and improve your Chinese reading skills.

1. Books

couple reading booksOf course, the first, best, and most obvious way is to read books in Chinese. Traditional or simplified characters, it doesn’t matter.  And, if you’re thinking of skipping this tip because you aren’t advanced enough…don’t.  Reading books in a new language can be just like it was for your first.  You didn’t start with classics.  You started with children’s books.  Work your way up to a translation of your current favorite, using translations of your old ones.  You know the stories, so it will be easier to guess the meanings of new characters from their context.

2. Subtitles

So, you’re watching your favorite show. Why not turn on some Chinese subtitles?  If only to begin to understand some slang or some idioms that you want to learn.  If you’re a more advanced speaker, watch your favorite Chinese shows with subtitles on.  Learn to recognize characters as they are said and improve your reading speed.

3. Pictures with explantions

At the very beginning, it is impossible to avoid the brute force memorization that comes with learning characters. But, there are a lot of tools out there to help you.  Cute photos with characters that help you to see the character in a context that helps you remember its meaning.  For traditional characters, Chineasy is a great method.  For simplified characters with more pop culture references and the addition of mnemonic devices to help with pronunciation, Link Words is your best bet.  The cute little pictures will stick in your head like glue and there’s a new one every day.

4. Homonyms and synonyms, antonyms and heteronyms

It’s easier to learn when you can learn in clumps. Memorizing 30 characters?  Super hard.  Memorizing 6 groups of 5?  Way, way easier.  You can clump based on topics, part of speech, or anything else you fancy.  Our suggestion?  Synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, and heteronyms.  Looking at these kinds of words in groups allows you to learn to discern meaning from the functional parts of a character, to see what makes it different to its other “-nyms”.  It helps you find your own ways to remember the meaning.

5. Creative writing

Using the characters you know is just as important as recognizing them. Creative writing, whether it’s a fake weather report or a novel, forces you to put words together in ways you didn’t learn in a classroom.  It both necessitates and allows for improvisation and new contexts.  All the better if you can think of a situation you can’t say.  Then you have found a new vocabulary set or grammatical structure that is actually useful to you.

6. Articles (you want to read)

This tip really ties in with our key ideas about learning to read. Pick a few pieces on a topic you’re interested in and you cover repetition and interest.  Do it a few times a week and there’s consistency.  If need be, open the same pieces in different tabs and translate it.  Keeping the original separate will give you the time and space to puzzle out the meaning, but the other tab will definitely work as a handy cheat sheet.

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