Using Graded Chinese Readers for Reading Practice

Chinese Graded Reader

Reading Chinese for most learners is a slow and strenuous process. It can be a frustrating exercise especially if you have limited vocabulary. Besides knowing enough words, you must also be able to recognize characters. It’s no surprise why learners rely on reading Pinyin so much.

If you want to improve fluency and reach the next level in your learning, reading Chinese will get you there faster. Reading reinforces the words and grammar patterns you know already while exposing you to new words you have yet to learn. Seeing examples of words and grammar in other contexts is a necessary component to mastering the language.

This sounds simple enough except if you haven’t learned all the words, how can you even read? You could use context to help fill in the blanks, but if you have lots of blanks to fill, then it becomes difficult to comprehend much of anything. That’s where graded readers can help provide the reading practice learners need without requiring too much mental effort.

What Are Graded Readers?

Graded readers are written for language learners and use the extensive reading approach. They are written with shorter sentences and accessible language that allow a learner to read the text with relative ease. Most of the vocabulary learners are exposed to are appropriate to their level, and any advanced words will be repeated several times to help reinforce its meaning. They serve as good stepping stones to reading regular books or other reading material.

Most of what adults read requires intensive reading, which is reading with the specific aim to understand the text. The text is denser in meaning and contains more advanced words that require looking up in a dictionary. However, the purpose of extensive reading is to read large amounts of text to develop general reading skills. The aim is reading for enjoyment and understanding every word is not important.

If we consider how we learned our native language as children, this approach makes sense. We weren’t expected to read a tome and understand it all with only basic grade school vocabulary. So, we shouldn’t set unrealistic expectations for reading Chinese.

Extensive reading is a good way to build up your reading skills and become accustomed to the grammar patterns, sentence structures, and use of words. As you read more, you’ll discover it’ll become easier to form grammatically correct sentences and find the right words to express your thoughts.

The Graded Chinese Reader Series by Shi Ji

If you’re looking for graded Chinese readers for extensive reading practice, I recommend the Graded Chinese Reader series by Shi Ji. I have read through three of the books in the series (Graded Chinese Reader 2000 Words, Graded Chinese Reader 2500 Words, and Graded Chinese Reader 3000 Words). Besides these three books, there are several more of varying levels. Each book comprises a collection of Chinese contemporary short stories and are limited to a select number of common Chinese words.

Chinese Graded Reader

The short stories contained in the Graded Chinese Reader 2500 Words edition

An audio CD is provided along with a card to hide the pinyin for learners interested in reading only the characters. The audio CD comes in handy if you want to learn the proper pronunciation of words, and the narrators do a good job of enunciating clearly. I consider this a two-for-one learning resource when I can practice two skills at the same time: reading and listening.

Chinese Graded Reader

A card to cover the Pinyin is provided

Another nice feature of this series are the review questions at the end of each story. You can use this to test your reading comprehension and turn it into a writing exercise if you are so inclined.

Any proper nouns, advanced words, or complicated phrases are explained in the margins, and a brief introduction is provided in English. The stories are interesting and provide insight into Chinese culture and thought.

Chinese Graded Reader

A brief introduction in English is provided before each short story

At the time this post was written, most of the books in the series are around $13 U.S. dollars, so they’re not too expensive. You can find them on Amazon. I get no commission for recommending this series.

Chinese Graded Reader

Notes are provided in the margins for advanced words, idioms, and proper names

Other Graded Chinese Reader Series

Below are other graded Chinese readers I have found. I have read none of the books in these series, so I can’t vouch for their quality.

Mandarin Companion is another series of graded readers that adapts well-known western classics and translates them into Chinese. Based on Amazon reviews, most seem to have high ratings.

Chinese Breeze is another popular graded reader series published by Peking University Press. Currently, there are readers for four levels although more advanced levels may be in the works. All stories are original, and based on Amazon reviews, most have high ratings.

Ways To Approach Graded Readers

You could just read the stories for enjoyment as they are intended, but here are a few ways you can maximize your value from these books.

  1. Improve your reading speed by reading through a story as quickly as possible. Answer the review questions to test your comprehension. Then, read the story a second time at your normal reading pace to see what you’ve missed. Try answering the questions again to compare your understanding from the first read.
  2. Read the story once with no audio, then listen to the audio narration when reading it a second time.
  3. Read the story for enjoyment without looking up the meaning of any words you don’t know besides the notes in the margins. On a second read, circle unknown words in the text you want to learn and add these to your flashcards for later study.
  4. As mentioned before, you can turn the questions at the end of each story into a writing exercise. Write or type out your answers and ask a native speaker to check for grammar errors. If she can read the story, then she can check your comprehension as well.
  5. If you have a private tutor or language buddy, you can use them as a study guide to ask questions about grammar, sentence structures, or words you don’t know.

Read More With Extensive Reading

Reading Chinese doesn’t have to be a chore, nor should it be avoided. In fact, you should embrace reading Chinese as it’ll help you become more proficient in the language. It can be a pleasurable pursuit when you read extensively versus intensively, and graded readers are intended for this purpose.

Extensive reading is less taxing compared to intensive reading, which allows a language learner to read large amounts of text and comprehend most of it without help. Its aim is to motivate learners to read more by providing positive reinforcement with text that is written at their reading level.

This is not to say you should devote all your reading practice to extensive reading. Both intensive and extensive reading approaches have their benefits. But, if you are struggling with reading Chinese, then give graded readers a try.

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