When learning Chinese, lots of students need to find ways to improve their reading skills. Usually with other languages, reading is one of the easiest things to improve but as characters aren’t phonetic and Chinese doesn’t use an alphabet, this can be pretty tricky.
Our favourite way to improve Chinese reading is through graded readers, which you can find our recommendations below. If you already know all about graded readers, then just skip down to our recommendations!
What is a graded reader?
A graded reader is a book or story that has been written (or graded) to meet your level of language learning. For example if you’re at a HSK2 level then you can find a book that’s graded for HSK2. It’s a way for you to get practise reading at a level that’s accessible to you. If you started trying to read an adults book in a foreign language you’d probably struggle and not get very far.
Why should I use them?
Graded readers are really useful to use if you want to improve your reading skills in a language but you’re not ready to read proper books yet. Without graded readers, you would have to resort to children’s stories which can become boring or exam papers, which although are great for the exam, don’t provide you with the enjoyment that a story does.
You also don’t want to be reading books that are much higher than your current level. If you keep reading things that are too difficult for you, you’re not going to enjoy them, and nothing is going to be going in. When something is too hard for us, our brains shut off because there doesn’t seem much point to take the information in. When something enters our minds at a level we’re able to engage with then we can take it in and we can learn.
It’s also useful to read material at the level you’re at because the information is still new to you. If you’ve learnt a new grammar structure in class, you’re probably not going to be able to remember it straight away. But if you see it written down, in a natural way and it keeps being repeated in the story you’re reading, then that new grammar point is going to solidify in your mind.
Graded readers boost your confidence as you find yourself able to complete a story in a foreign language and they help you to practise reading the vocabulary and grammar structures of the level you’re at.
If you want a more in depth look at the benefits of graded readers check out our article on graded readers here.
How should I read them?
First of all, don’t worry if you don’t know every word. You’re reading to enjoy the story and graded readers allow us to read lots and naturally.
I would recommend highlighting a word and then coming back to it at the end of the chapter if you’re not sure what it means, unless it’s going to stop your understanding of the entire page. If you don’t know some words, that’s ok. You’re really not expected to know every word you’re reading but you do want to get more familiar with the words you do know, and you want to learn some new words in the process.
Therefore when you’re reading, as long as you can understand what’s happening and you can continue with the story, it’s really fine if you don’t know all the words that you’re reading.
If I’m learning a new language, a comfortable amount of words for me to not know would be ten words per page. If I’m around this amount I don’t find it frustrating when I’m reading, and I also find I’m learning new words as I go. The amount of words that you’re comfortable with not knowing may be different and that’s ok because everyone has their own learning style.
Our favourite graded readers are the Mandarin Companion series. These books take well known stories such as Sherlock Holmes or Charles Dickens books and rewrite them in Chinese to an easier level.
The company was started by two men learning Chinese who were irritated at the lack of suitable reading material available for learners so decided to start their own series.
Currently the company only has level one and level two books. The level one books consist of 300 unique characters, with 8 books available and the level two books consist of 450 unique characters with 3 books available. But we’re hoping that they will be releasing more in the future.
Although there are 8 books available in level one (which you should check out!) we’re going to put our top recommendations here.
The only thing you need to be aware of when you’re reading this book is that you’re not going to see the names Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson. Instead, the writers have given them Chinese names, which they do in all their books and that you should be able to pick up pretty quickly.
The Secret Garden
Our other favourite level one graded reader by Mandarin Companion is The Secret Garden, but that could be because we love the English book so much.
Which you can buy here.
Obviously the Great expectations story is just a bit too long to put into one manageable bite sized graded readers, so here we have part one, but don’t worry because they also have Great Expectation part 2.
Great Expectations: Part 2
I would recommend buying one first, and seeing how much you enjoy it before buying the second one. Though I’m sure after you’ve read the first one, you’ll definitely be downloading number two.
Improving your reading in a language is just as important as other skills. Maybe not at first, but if you want to achieve fluency and really master that language, then you’re going to have to start reading. And graded readers are a great way to do this. Even if you didn’t like our suggestions, I would recommend finding some sort of book that is graded to your level, because it can and does make a huge difference to your learning.
Graded readers are also great because most of them are available on ebook which is a lot cheaper than buying a paper book.
If you would be interested in looking at other ways to improve your reading in Chinese, you can read our handy tips article here.
If you have any other recommendations or Chinese graded readers, please let us know. We are always looking for ways to make our site more useful, and we would love to hear from you because you’re the whole reason this site can exist.