When it comes to learning Chinese, reading will help you progress in ways you might never have imagined. At first glance, learning to read Chinese characters appears to be a pretty daunting task. The complex appearance and nature of the characters can intimidate almost anyone from taking on the task of learning to read the language. I personally put off reading Chinese for years. Learning to speak the language just seemed easier and most beneficial. Now however, I take the time to read Chinese every day and do it because of the measurable progress I am seeing. I really enjoy using a Chinese reading practice app, (since my phone is always with me), but I see benefit and progress from any reading I do.
Take a guess at what percentage of a native language speaker’s vocabulary gets used in a typical day? It’s only about 10 percent! Which is really great news for the beginning language learner because it means that in a relatively short period of time they can get to a level where casual conversation comes easy. If you, however, want to expand your vocabulary to be able to talk on a range of topics (the other 90%) then you’ll want to try reading. Reading Chinese exposes you to vocabulary you would might never come across otherwise. You can select the topics that you want to learn about and choose your readings accordingly.
An increased vocabulary is just one benefit that comes from reading. If you want to achieve greater fluidity in Chinese, try reading aloud. It gives you a chance to string words together in ways that you might not otherwise. If you rely on just speaking to improve your speaking ability, your progress will be limited by what you already know. By using reading as a tool to improve your speaking you will find yourself expressing things in new and more effective ways.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. My first interest in writing came when I began texting in Chinese. Everyone recognizes a simple 你好, but what happens when the conversation gets going? (Emojis can only get you so far). What happens when they ask where you’re from, or what your hobbies are? Topics can start jumping around pretty quickly as you get to know each other over chat. Going back and forth with Google Translate or the Pleco dictionary isn’t practical. If you want to learn to write in Chinese, you should really read more in Chinese. It will make you a better communicator.
The first time I wrote a speech in Chinese it came out awkward. The reason is that I wasn’t used to reading or writing in Chinese. I wanted to express things in a polished manner, but discovered that I was only good at casual everyday conversation. Reading books and articles will make you a more articulate writer and speaker.
Am I now going to tell you that reading helps with your listening, too?! Yes I am! When you are watching TV in Chinese or listening in a conversation, it’s easy to skip over the words that you don’t know. After all, you’re just trying to understand the gist of what they are saying, and don’t want to get hung up on a word that you don’t know. However, being able to read subtitles will help you with some of the nuances and details of whatever program or show you are watching. When you are in conversation with someone you can occasionally ask them to stop and explain the meaning of a word. However, the fast pace makes it difficult to learn new words. When reading you are able to pay more attention to words that you might otherwise skip over. That means you learn Chinese more thoroughly and with your improved vocabulary your listening skills will increase.
And what about audiobooks? Reading along gives you practice in reading and listening at the same time. Audiobooks are super beneficial in Chinese language learning, as you read along with native speakers. I, sometimes, will read a story once, listen to it again while working out or something, and then go back and reread it once again. The extra review propels my learning forward.
But wait, isn’t learning by immersion the best technique for learning a language?
Yes, immersion is the best. Getting immersed in a good book? Immersion. Using fMRI scanning it has been shown that when you read a story the parts of your brain that are activated are the same as if you were having the experience yourself. How cool is that? You can immerse yourself in Chinese language and culture by reading books in Chinese.
Reading has improved my Chinese in ways I never expected. There’s a reason why children read and learn through books. Reading will take your Chinese to the next level.
This guest post was written by Ray Banks, a member of the Du Chinese team - The #1 App for Chinese Reading Practice. Ray enjoys surfing, traveling, language learning, photography and having new experiences. Ray has spent time traveling, living, and working in China and is always trying to improve his Chinese language abilities.