Studying Chinese (2) – the importance of reading

I –  Chinese Breeze


When you learn a language, there is a significant stage that can bring so much reward to your learning and help you learn more effectively : it’s when you are able to read simple texts written in original language.

Even if you’re not gifted, after a year studying, say, spanish or english language, you will be able to sight-read simple texts. It’s totally different with mandarin chinese. It’s difficult and long to memorize the characters, so it’s not that easy to find simple texts you will be able to read. Talking with my mandarin classmates, we encounter the same problem : we don’t have enough knowledge even to read simple web pages, and the more you read, the more you will be able to recognize the characters.

Fortunately, one of our teacher provided us the opportunity to find reading material, according to our language levels. He was in Beijing last spring, and he could come back with a series of « Chinese Breeze » books. What is « Chinese Breeze » ? It’s a collection of little books published by Peking University Press, offering three different levels :

  1. Level 1 : 300 words level
  2. Level 2 : 500 words level
  3. Level 3 : 750 words level

Each book goes with a free MP3 CD, with two reading speeds, this is what it looks like :


A simple story, between six and ten chapters, and a few questions at the end of each chapter to control your understanding. I must say that the first pages were hard to read (…it was level 1), but then some kind of a trigger mechanism makes your reading smoother. I think you get more and more accustomed to the sentences structures, it’s a good means to domesticate the chinese syntax. I’m finished with the first volume, beginning the second (again…level 1).


II – Tian Tian Du


I tried another method this summer, a great discovery, found it by chance on the internet : it’s called « Tian Tian Du » and it’s in french and chinese. It’s divided in lessons, so it might appear more scholar, but the texts are really pertinent, the vocabulary more connected to the contemporary world :


After the text in itself, there is a section that details particular expressions or grammar points, then you find exercises :



It’s really a good method, each lesson requires approximately ten days.

All in all, these two different ways of approaching reading in chinese made me gain in confidence in my ability to read. I’m not saying that I can read more easily chinese webpages, even less that I can read chinese news (a few more years of learning will be necessary), but it’s definitely worth the time spent, and, at some point, a pleasure.