How to learn Chinese by reading

Discussion in 'Tutorials & Resources' started by xxije, Apr 3, 2018.

  1. xxije

    xxije Active Member

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    Hi everyone. I'd like to share how I learned how to read Chinese novels within the spawn of two years. I know this might sound far-fetched, but it is possible. I think there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to learning Chinese and how “it is impossible”, I can confirm it might be hard at first, but once you make it pass that first wall, you are just reading to learn. But I’ll also cover how to improve your listening skills.


    All the websites covered in this guide are not sponsored, they are simply websites I find useful.
    I do not believe in language learning apps, therefore I will not recommend them.
    I also do not believe language exchange apps can teach you the language.

    Please do not repost this guide as a copy and paste. Instead, please link to this original post.
    This guide covers how to learn Chinese by mainly reading and I cover a bit the listening aspect. I do not cover outputting.

    Introduction

    This guide will focus on Mandarin Chinese, which is the language mainly spoken in China and Taiwan. I’ll also assume you are learning simplified characters. (Most free reading material can be found in simplified, if it is only available in traditional, you can convert to simplified)
    This is also a self-study approach, so I’ll only share methods that you can use to move towards your goal. This guide is not actually teaching you Chinese.

    So now what?
    You know nothing about Chinese, no characters, what pronunciation; you have no idea where to start.

    First Steps - Pinyin

    The first thing you have to do is learn pinyin. What is pinyin? It’s a Romanization. It takes the sounds of Chinese and represents them with Latin letters.

    I find the best way to learn this is by first listening to a lot of Chinese, even if you don’t understand. After you want to know how the sounds are represented by the letters. I mainly looked up songs with pinyin and saw how the letters were related to the sounds.

    Another good idea is to find a video explaining it; there are also a few websites that explain how it works. Just remember the pinyin is not pronounced like English, it is Chinese pronunciation. There are some sounds that might exist in Chinese and not in English.
    This slightly creepy video aimed towards children helped me a lot at the start. (It covers all the pinyin) ()

    What about the characters?

    After pinyin you have to learn the characters. Characters are assembled in words; they are combined to create words. There is some meaning behind the characters, but there are many meanings. The meaning will change depending what word the character is in. Some characters are only found in specific words. Do not be scared of characters, soon they will become your best friend. Soon you will be able to look at a word and know its meaning.

    Most words are only 2-3 characters long, and every character is one syllable. Unlike Japanese, the character pronunciation is pretty consistent. There are some exceptions, but if you learn in words, it should not be a problem.

    I just wanted to say this because some people think every single character is a different word. The key is that some characters might hold that meaning, but the majority of words are combined characters.

    Learning your first words

    After reading and learning new words in sentences, leaning new characters and words will not be a problem. It will just be a question of learning new words every day.
    To make this process easier, start by only learning words (with the characters and pinyin of course). For me what I found helpful was going through the first 600 words of the HSK word list. (so HSK 1-3). The HSK is a Chinese proficiency test. The HSK 4 list also contains important words, but I find grinding too many words makes the process boring and hard. Also you don’t really know the words, since it’s just “I see the Chinese word, recall English definition.”

    Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) - Anki

    Use Anki (https://apps.ankiweb.net/) to learn these words. DO NOT USE MEMRISE. The reason why I recommend Anki over Memrise is because everything is on your computer. You can use it offline, and you can use it as a benchmark for your progress in the long run. (With the help of add-ons, I have some links to add-ons at the end of this text)


    *Quick note on making flashcards

    ON YOUR FLASHCARDS HAVE THE CHINESE DEFINITION ON THE FRONT, THE ENGLISH AND PINYIN ON THE BACK.

    You want to remember the pronunciation, so do not put the pinyin on the front.
    Before moving on I’d like to emphasize only learn the first 600 words isolated (no context), after that you want to be able to learn beyond the HSK realm, because in Chinese a lot of words are not HSK words.

    Grammar Rules

    After going through the word list, the best thing to do is read a grammar guide (https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Main_Page). Don’t memorize the sentences, read through them so you can understand what the sentences mean. Do not translate in your head when reading. Understand the sentences in Chinese. The nice thing about the grammar guide is that it uses simple sentences to help you understand the grammar point. I suggest reading up to B1.

    Starting to read - Reading Comics

    Now you have to start reading. Do not start with novels, start with comic books. You can find a lot of them on qq comics (http://ac.qq.com/). There are also Chinese translations of Japanese manga, but I prefer qq comics because they are usually web-toons, they are also made by native speakers and the speech is more natural compared to translations. You’re probably better off sticking to easier genres such as slice of life, high school, romance genres.

    Making Sentence Cards in Anki

    When I was reading comics I was writing the words and their English definition in a book. I was not using Anki, but I think it might be more efficient to learn them by adding the sentences into Anki.
    For Anki, the application might seem pointless, but once you understand how to use it, it becomes an essential asset. For me I like to use these fields: sentence, word (the one you are learning), pinyin (of the word), definition (only the word, not the sentence translated), image (of the source, or the object if a noun), audio (at the end of this post there’s a link to the add-on to generate this field; I like to generate the entire sentence into text-to-speech).

    Example: How to make cards in Anki
    I will show one example on how to make a sentence card in Anki.

    Lets take a look at this comic book panel.

    [​IMG]

    First you have to create a note type and add all your desired fields.
    These are our fields
    [​IMG]

    You also have to set the way your cards will look. Anki uses a HTML like system. If you have no idea how to use it you can copy the one I use.
    The top is the front of the Card, the middle the CSS and the bottom the back of the card.

    [​IMG]

    So your first field is your Sentence
    对不起。 我们尽力了,请您节哀.......

    So lets say you don't know what 节哀 means.
    You fill in the Word field with 节哀.
    After look it up in your dictionary for the pinyin and definition.

    After looking up the pinyin is jié āi and the definition is "overcome one’s grief"

    We can add the panel picture as our image and generate the audio with Awesome TTS (link at the end of this guide)

    To make the audio you can choose to mass generate it in your anki panel, or do it directly on the card. If you look at the image above, you will see a small speaker on the top right corner. Click on that button and choose which TTS service you want to use. I use Oddcast with the Hui voice.

    Your card should look like this


    [​IMG]

    After that you can simply press on the add button.

    And your card should look like this. The back will only show up when you click on the button or on your space-bar.

    [​IMG]
    Hanping Dictionary

    This software that helped me a lot was the Hanping popup app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.embermitre.hanping.app.popup), it captures your screen and lets you hover over the word and give you the definition. It only words for horizontal words, so that’s another why Chinese comics are more convenient for learning than Japanese manga translations. For the definitions of the popup I used the Hanping dictionary pro (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.embermitre.hanping.app.pro&hl) and bought the ABC Chinese to English dictionary. (Don’t get the English to Chinese, because it will not help you if the goal is to read). In the Hanping pro app the ABC dictionary is less expensive than the Pleco version. (Note:you have to pay twice for the Hanping version, once for the pro version, once for the dictionary, but it’s still less expensive than pleco)

    Once you get to a more advanced level, the pop-up will not be necessary as you will know the pinyin to the characters and be able to type them using a keyboard.

    From comics to web-novels


    Once you are ready move on to web-novels or real novels (harder to read, but they are published and usually don’t contain mistakes). It will be hard at first. You might give up a few times before being able to read consistently. But as long as you continue making cards, your knowledge will grow.

    Dictionary software

    I used an English-Chinese dictionary (ABC), after I got to 2500 characters in my Anki deck, I moved on to a monolingual dictionary, except for nouns. The dictionary app I used was Pleco (https://www.pleco.com/) and GoldenDict (http://goldendict.org/) for my PC (Google to find dictionaries in stardict format). I also used a Chinese-English popup.
    The dictionaries on Pleco are expensive, but I think if you are using them for everything, it is a well worth investment in the long run. The two monolingual dictionaries I use are Xiandai Hanyu Dacidian (Lists definition and whether the word is a noun, verb etc.) and Hanyu Da Cidian (essentially contains every single word in Mandarin)

    Pleco to read txt files

    Also get the Pleco reader (reads txt file) and a TTS, it’s really nice to be able to run a txt file and tab on it and play the pronunciation. You can also add the sentences directly to Anki.
    At this stage read every day, make cards, review every day. The amount of characters you learn will go up exponentially. You will also notice your understanding will improve every month.
    You don’t have to add every single word you encounter. I usually try to add sentences that are i+1. That means that you understand everything in the sentence except for one word.

    Continue doing this every single day, and you will get there. Once you are comfortable switch to a monolingual dictionary.

    Introduction to listening

    The only thing is that reading only helps reading. It will not help you with your listening skills. The only way to get better at listening is by listening.

    Listen to Chinese in the background over the course of the day. Also watch Chinese TV shows/dramas/talk shows. As a Chinese learner you are blessed (and cursed in a way), every TV show contains subtitles. Your listening skills will not improve if you look at the subtitles and watch the shows. You have two options: watch the show hiding the subtitles or listen to the show, if you don’t understand a part, rewind, read the subtitles, after re-watch that part again without the subs.

    The nice thing about having a higher reading level is that you probably won’t encounter new words from these shows, only books. So read books to learn more words, listen to shows to understand the words you know in spoken form.

    Websites mentioned and additional resources
    Chinese Grammar Guide (Free)
    https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Main_Page

    Anki (Free)
    https://apps.ankiweb.net/

    Ankidroid for android (lets you sync anki PC with your android device) (Free)
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ichi2.anki

    Hanping Pro Dictionary (costs money for app, additional money for extra dictionary)
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.embermitre.hanping.app.pro&hl

    Hanping popup (costs money for app)
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.embermitre.hanping.app.popup

    Pleco dictionary (free, but costs money for dictionaries and add-ons i.e. the reader, tts)
    https://www.pleco.com/

    Golden dictionary for PC (Free)
    http://goldendict.org/

    qq comics (Mostly free, has a VIP)
    http://ac.qq.com/

    These list websites are helpful; they do not have the shows, but provide you a description and title.
    MyDramaList (good to find some Chinese language dramas and their descriptions)

    https://mydramalist.com/search?adv=titles&co=2,5&so=relevance

    MyAnimeList Chinese anime (names and descriptions of Chinese origin animations)
    https://myanimelist.net/anime/producer/1349/Tencent_Animation

    Chinese Quora
    https://www.zhihu.com/

    Tieba (A bit like reddit, community split discussion)
    https://tieba.baidu.com

    Helpful Add-ons for Anki

    Awesome TTS – add sound to your flashcards
    https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/301952613

    Chinese support – I don’t really use this one, but I like how it shows how many characters you learned
    https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/3448800906

    More overview add-ons – adds more stats to Anki
    https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/531984586

    True retention
    https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/613684242

    Heat map – helps study every day
    https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1771074083

    Chinese Websites

    Well-known modern literature Chinese Writers – Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_literature#Selected_modern_Chinese_writers

    Douban Books – Chinese Equivalent of goodreads
    https://book.douban.com/

    Bilibili – Essentially a Chinese Youtube equivalent
    https://www.bilibili.com

    Line – Chinese – English dictionary
    http://ce.linedict.com/#/cnen/home

    Qidian – Chinese Web novels
    https://www.qidian.com/

    Ximalaya – Chinese podcasts
    http://ximalaya.com/

    Livestream websites
    Douyu – Chinese Twitch equivalent
    https://www.douyu.com/

    Livestream phone websites – Watch people sing, talk, dance
    https://www.inke.cn/
    http://www.yizhibo.com/

    Youtube Channels

    A lot of Chinese provinces have their own Youtube channels that repost the TV shows
    https://www.youtube.com/results?sp=EgIQAg%3D%3D&search_query=china+official+channel

    CCTV has some Chinese documentaries
    https://www.youtube.com/user/documentarycntv/videos?disable_polymer=1

    Show with discussions about assorted topics (the 30+ minute ones are full episodes)
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLATwx1z00HseXmeCbjbJRkaVO3088hC_A

    For the brave there’s this app called Tiki which is essentially like chat roulette or omegle for Chinese. I’ve never used it, but people like to record themselves going on it on some livestream websites. You essentially have 1 minute to talk to the other person, but you can also disconnect before your minute is up.
    https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/tiki-和全球年轻人视频聊天/id1121119009?mt=8
    For android you can find it on the Xiaomi app store.

    Finding content
    Google the name, I will not say more than this.

    Bonus (For fun)
    Here I'm going to post some random image of a game book story that some person posted on tieba. It's from a detective game book, so it presents a short paragraph along with a question about the paragraph. There's no right answer to the question.

    It's just for fun, it's nice looking at a text you don't understand to come back 6 months later to understand more, or even to understand the entire thing.

    [​IMG]
    Final Note


    I inspired this guide off the ideas of antimoon and the 10,000 sentence method. I want to share my experience learning Chinese. I find it sad when I see people who have been learning for 4 years and only know 1000 characters. I want to change that.
    http://www.antimoon.com/
    http://learnanylanguage.wikia.com/wiki/10000_Sentences

    If anybody has any questions, ask away. Feel free to share your own experiences towards learning the language.

    I wish I had a guide like this when I started; this is why I created this guide. I hope this will help many, and remember you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

    If this guide helps one person, I will be happy.

    Feel free to do things differently; this guide covers what worked for me.

    The key is to make it a routine and read/listen every day. Have fun and learn!

    xxije
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2018
  2. R0

    R0 Undead

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    Thanks, but I find it hard to follow since you're writing in paragraphs instead of using steps with bullet points etc. Nonetheless, it's a good guide.
     
  3. xxije

    xxije Active Member

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    Thank you for the feedback. I hope the guide will come in use to you. I have added headers in order to facilitate reading.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2018
  4. ZeroJAM

    ZeroJAM Well-Known Member

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    This is a good guide, and I really like line dictionary too.

    I feel the way to learn grammar would really be to read as many sentences as possible, the ones given in the grammar site are a good reference but insufficient on their own (they're not wrong, but there are many more ways the words can be applied), needs to be supplemented with reading. It's just one of those things you get better at the more you are exposed to it.

    And then there are phrases which aren't very intuitive, like 好不高兴, and then there comes Chinese idioms with their accompanying backstories...

    EDIT:
    Don't even get me started on Chinese Internet slang :sweating_profusely: you'll see them everywhere if you go by the webnovels route...
     
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  5. xxije

    xxije Active Member

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    I agree for the slang and grammar part. Maybe solving that would be to read real novels or simple web articles first to get a sense of how grammar works, then when reading web-novels, the person could look up the definitions in Chinese on Baidu. The downside to reading novels would be the infinite amount of new Chengyu.

    I guess the solution for the unintuitive grammar would be on line there's an example sentence part, so you can paste a sentence part and see the bilingual example sentences. Not 100% accurate but it gives a good idea.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2018
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  6. judairu

    judairu Active Member

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    i will check this out
    sounds interesting
     
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  7. natzukuro

    natzukuro New Member

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    Thx for for the help
     
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  8. Arkanth

    Arkanth Well-Known Member

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    Interesting, thanks for the guide, I will check it out. It's good to know it gets better xD I'm personally trying to learn through text books (Integrated Chinese) but I'm seriously struggling with characters, specially when trying to write them :confused:
     
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  9. xxije

    xxije Active Member

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    No problem, I hope it helps!

    For me I had trouble with the characters, but one day it all just clicked, learning characters became the same as learning new words. So it does get easier after a while!

    I think it's because once you know the base characters and radicals, the sounds and radicals start repeating and you can after have an idea of the pronunciation just by looking at the character.

    For writing some people recommend going through Heisig Remembering the Hanzi, but I've never used it personally myself. The problem with it for Chinese it that it doesn't teach the characters in context (words), frequency order, nor their readings.
     
  10. Riversong411

    Riversong411 Member

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    thank you so much, thanks to NU, I've become obsessed with chinese web novels. Unfortunately for me, I'm also a total stranger to the language. I did think several times of learning it, but was always put off by the general impression that Chinese is an insanely hard language to learn for non-native speakers. But now I'm determined to give it another go! So thank you so much for that
     
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  11. snowflake_obsidian

    snowflake_obsidian Well-Known Member

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    I used Heisig for reading, not writing. Personally I felt it was fine. Any approach will have its weaknesses so just pick to the best of your knowledge and keep moving forward.
     
  12. Ctho

    Ctho Member

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    Thank you! I have been going through websites but all of them cost a lot of money. But this is a great alternative thank you.
     
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  13. CcChaos4

    CcChaos4 New Member

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    Thank you for this.
     
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  14. Femme Fatale

    Femme Fatale Public Introvert; Shameless Fag Hag: Jaded Azura

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    This is very helpful! Thanks.
     
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  15. Pau

    Pau Ancient Hamster

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    I think some learning app are still will be helpful for beginner (i.e. hello Chinese & Chinese Skill). It can introduce you to Chinese and help you in the first step to learn Chinese (the basic that you need). You should note that it was just for beginner who never learn Chinese. It just from personal impression I get (I am also just learning Chinese)

    And I also agree with learning by reading picture book/ comic. This is also from my experience learning & improving my english from reading translated manga. It was actually originate from my desperate and impatient waiting update in my origin language then resorted to read from the one in English (thought my grammar are dead).:oops::oops:

    And Thanks for the information, it was helpful, I'll check it later (y)(y)(y)
     
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