Finding Suitable Reading Material for Your Level

In Uncategorized by Skritter

author photoThis week on the Skritter blog we’ll be addressing the issue of where to find suitable reading material for your level. I’ve been wanting to explore this topic for some time, but the post was really inspired by following Skritter forum discussions:

Hopefully today’s post will help to address these questions and generate a larger discussion of what resources have worked for students, and where we can find them. I’ve also included relevant material that was posted on the Skritter forum, so a huge thank you to all members who’ve already contributed!
What’s your current level?
Before we start exploring resources it is important to have a good idea of what your current level is. Do you know 100 characters, 500, 1000 etc.? If you’ve finished your first year of Chinese at university, or spent a semester studying abroad in China or Taiwan, you’ll probably find yourself in the 300-500 character range. After a few semesters, or a year or so of study in China you should be near the 1000-character range, and be ready to tackle some more advanced materials. These characters might not all be a part of your active vocabulary, but you should at least be able to recognized them in your textbooks. Of course, if you’re a regular Skritter user, then just take a look at your stats and you’ll have a good idea of just how many characters you know!
Since most words in Chinese are two characters or more, the number of character you know isn’t always the best way to assess your current language level, but it should give everyone a good enough ballpark figure to find reading material that is level-appropriate.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at some resources for various levels, and where to find them.

There is no question that beginners have it the worst when it comes to finding appropriate reading material, especially for the total novice. Textbooks, or online learning materials, are probably your best bet until you hit the 300-500 character mark, at which time you’ll be able to string a lot of the characters together in basic sentences. This has been the case for a lot of Skritter users who’ve studied our Skritter 101 list or the HSK 1 list. Once you’ve broken the 300-character mark, however, you start to dive into some more interesting content.
Here’s a list of some beginner resources:
  • Chinese Breeze: The most popular recommendation on our forums is the Chinese Breeze series by Cheng & Tsui publishing company. There are 14 books in the series right now, with six of them designed for students who have roughly a 300-character vocabulary. If you don’t want to wait for shipping, you can pick up most of the series on Kindle as well! Each book costs between $3.95- $5.95.
  • Chinese Reading World: Another great resource is the Chinese Reading World created by the University of Virginia. The website offers extracurricular reading materials for both beginning (300-500 characters)  and intermediate level (500-1000 characters) students, and it’s totally free! The only catch is that the site only displays Traditional Chinese characters. If you wanna read the simplified you’ll have to copy the HTML text and put it into a site like Google Translate and select “To: Chinese (Simplified).” Also, if you click the “read phonetically”option you’ll see the pinyin!
  • Chinese Reading Practice: A website which aims to help students keep up their reading skills while learning to recognize basic sentence structures and some new vocabulary. Chinese Reading Practice has three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. There is a hover-over dictionary that provides the pinyin and English definitions of words. The beginner sections offers some children’s stories, textbook passages, short essays, and jokes. 

Once you’ve crossed the 500-character mark, the amount of materials available get a little bit bigger, but you’re probably not ready for a Chinese novel just yet! So let’s take a look at some intermediate level resources available on the web! 
  • Chinese Stories Platform: A website created by a native speaker and Chinese teacher who has a  background in journalism and publishing. Chinese Stories Platform has a series of Chinese stories geared for students with an elementary (low-intermediate) level or above. This would be a great supplement for students who are currently studying the HSK 2 list and beyond. Stories can be read in simplified, traditional, or pinyin, and come with a list of definitions and audio support. The website seems to be updated quite often, so be sure to check it out! **Note** The site is soon to be replaced by Chinese-Stories (an upgraded site with a progress app).
  • ChineseLevel: ChineseLevel is an open source project created by Herman Schaaf. At ChineseLevel you start by taking a basic reading quiz that helps determine your reading level based on word frequency research. He’s working on a ChineseLevel 2.0 that looks pretty awesome (you can follow updates on his tumblr), but the first website has a ton of great reading material for a variety of language levels, starting with elementary and intermediate and working up to full native material. 
  • Confucius Institute Online: This website offers a little bit of everything for the language student, but one thing that stood out for me was the extensive list of reading materials surrounding Chinese culture. The vocabulary can be pretty advanced at times, but every article comes with English translations and some of them, like “Legend of Mooncakes,” provide audio support for the article as well. The site also has a “News Chinese” section with Chinese and English translations. While it might not be the greatest site for the early intermediate student, it’s certainly one that should get bookmarked for later reference. 
  • 讀able Reader: This company is still very much in the development phase, but after meeting some of the team in Taiwan over the past few months I’m certainly looking forward to what they’re going to provide. They’ve only got a demo up so far, but give the link a shot and check it out. Depending on your reading level they try to provide some hints in English along with a Chinese dictionary explanations at the click of a button. Much like ChineseLevel, they’re trying to tackle the language proficiency question by finding articles that are just at (or slightly above) your current reading level. Stay tuned for more on this site in the future, but for now you can check out their website for more info.


Once you’re at the advanced level it’s just a matter of time before the entire Internet becomes your reading playground. At this point you’ve probably discovered that a large passive vocabulary (of words) is more important the simply knowing X number of characters. Below you’ll find just a few resources that might help make the transition from guided readers to full blown Chinese texts that are created for native speakers. 
  • New York Times (Chinese Edition): The New York Times (Chinese Edition) is actually created with native speakers in mind, but the website does offer one great advantage for language learners: the articles can be viewed by using the 中英对照 (for simplified only), which gives you both the Chinese and English version of the article. This site is a “must bookmark” for any serious language learner.
  • Chinese Text Sampler: Clavis Sinica has a great list of resources for language learners. Once of my personal favorites is the Chinese Text Sampler. While they don’t give any English comparisons for the texts provided, they do provide a short summary of the article in English, which can help key readers in to the general idea of the article. Topics range from Modern and Classical Literature, to film scripts and song lyrics. Be sure to check it out! 
  • Marco Polo Project: The Marco Polo Project is website that aims to help people read and translate online writing for Chinese using peer-to-peer and crowd-sourcing models of translation. The articles cover a wide variety of topics and most have been translated into English, French, and Spanish. Stay tuned for a full summary of Marco Polo project in the near future, along with an interview with the website’s founder, Julien Leyre! 
  • Translated Works: Any post about suitable reading material wouldn’t be complete without a mention about books that have been translated into Chinese. These are often a great stepping stone to actual Chinese novels because the stories are so much more familiar to the reader (especially if you’ve read the original work). If you’re living in Mainland China or Taiwan you should be able to find a wide variety of translated works at any local bookstore. If you’re living outside of China or Taiwan you can try checking out or searching “Chinese Edition” in your Amazon search bar. I picked up the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy in Chinese for Kindle and found it to be a super-enjoyable read, especially with the Chinese dictionary downloaded and installed. I’ve also got Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones in Chinese sitting at home, but I’m saving those for a rainy day 😉 
This list is by no means complete, but hopefully it will help get you started on the path toward reading authentic material. If you have any additional links, be sure to submit them in the comments below, along with the general reading level they’re associated with (beginner, intermediate, advanced). 
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next week’s post!

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