Very often, we hear of something incomprehensible that it sounds like Chinese.

Stereotypes have it tough but are sometimes wrong concerning the language of Confucius. Because actually, if reading Chinese or writing in Mandarin isn't easy for a beginner, it is within the reach of all, if we put the right ingredients. Memorization and discipline in learning Chinese will be rigorous to climb the ladder and improve.

As for writing, being able to read in Chinese implies a mastery of the characters but also of the phonetic transcription of Chinese: Pinyin.

The romanization of Chinese: Pinyin

Pinyin is a system of phonetic transcription of Chinese. Although we very often find the double reading between the characters and their Pinyin equivalents, the mastery of two aspects appears essential to learn and progress in reading Chinese.

The adoption of Pinyin as international reference dates back to 1958 and it will begin to be used in 1979 by the Chinese Government. Literally "pinyin" means "spell the sounds". It's a very clever system that aims to Romanize the Chinese characters making them usable by everyone, even to those who have no idea of the pronunciation of the characters in question. Besides, it is not uncommon to find people who are fluent in Pinyin, without being aware of the pronunciation of the characters.

It is quite possible to only settle for the phonetic learning of a language, it's also the base of all the Romance languages. Speaking Chinese may simply be studied via Pinyin and its pronunciation. However, the methodology of learning depends strongly on the profile and expectations of the learner.

For someone going to travel in China and simply wishing to manage and facilitate the understanding to ask directions in the street, introduce himself or even order at the restaurant by reading the menu, Pinyin learning should be amply enough.

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Chinese lessons are everywhere, even in your pocket. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Now, if the goal is to be immersed or to live in China for several months or years, to understand the richness and subtlety of one of the oldest writing systems of the world and sometimes capture some aspects of Chinese culture in reading, the double learning of Pinyin and Chinese characters seems to be the most appropriate.

Discover how you can perfect your Mandarin writing skills...

The best books to read Chinese

There are no secrets to learn Mandarin: it takes practice as for all foreign languages. You have several choices, but for starters, here are two useful books to improve your language skills and take quality Chinese classes London!

For a trip to China, no need to know a lot of characters.

Reading and writing Chinese

The book "Read and write Chinese" is a very good tool for neo-learners. His teaching approach based on curiosity makes it a very enjoyable book to browse, easy to access and responding to concrete needs.

Thanks to a well-oiled methodology, the book offers many Chinese reading courses and the learning of the 800 most basic characters in just 6 weeks. No more problem to decode the conversations or situations of everyday life!

And besides, you dont spend a fortune! The book is available on Amazon or any other platform of purchase online for a price between £5 and £10.

Chinese for beginners

'Chinese for beginners' also offers a learning method of Chinese reading that focuses on learning the double method character-pinyin and insists through modules on key concepts of vocabulary or Chinese grammar.

Many corrected exercises are also available as well as a few points of culture to enrich your knowledge of Chinese practices: ancestral or modern ones.

It's even cheaper than the first one! No excuse not to start learning Mandarin Chinese! The book is available via the Amazon platform for a price of £3.

Pick up on these tips and tricks to learn Mandarin faster!

The dictionary application Pleco

Pleco is very useful when traveling in China or when we start learning!

The real advantage of this dictionary is that it is equally useful for a complete beginner not understanding a word of Chinese and a learner mastering the language and Chinese reading.

The application offers many features like finding the different translations of one or several characters according to the context, formalising with the pronunciation of the characters wanted, but above all it offers the possibility to draw yourself a character to get the meaning, context, the equivalent in Pinyin but also the pronunciation.

This feature is clearly what makes the difference because it is extremely practical and useful in many situations of daily life. A road sign to decipher? A menu in a restaurant with the name of the dishes only mentioned in Chinese characters?

The application is available for iOS and Android. The classic version is free, but it is possible to integrate new features through packages downloads.

Sometimes survival guide, sometimes real learning tool, Pleco will delight all learners profiles.

Other applications offering roughly similar services are available and will allow a rapid progression in Chinese reading. It is including "Skritter" which focuses mainly on the flashcards or "Hello HSK" which train to the preparation of the HSK in 6 different levels. Very useful also for progress in Chinese vocabulary and learning to read Chinese in the best conditions.

Some useful tips to improve your reading skills

Using known content

Many opportunities are available to you to progress even faster. To get quick results in reading, using already known content can be a useful and effective idea.

For example, why not watch the trailer of your favorite Chinese movie? The advantage of this method is that in such cases, we are all supposed to know the story, since we have already seen this movie several times in a mastered language. Associating Chinese words with an already known story allows us to remember these words more easily.

You can also learn how to read Mandarin online...

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Associate characters with places or images to help learn Mandarin. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Are you a Simpsons fan? If you want to progress in reading Chinese, look at the series in subtitled Chinese!

The best thing is to put the audio and the subtitles in Chinese in order to associate listening and writing and thus progress in vocabulary, pronunciation and reading at the same time.

This kind of method is also doable with the Chinese words of songs that we know best or with books including story and synopsis that are already known.

Finally, reading Chinese newspapers when the level is high enough or it tends to reach a ceiling is also a sure source of learning to read Chinese. Start with simple information and then switch to more technical articles seems to be the best solution to improve reading through newspapers.

 The importance of creating a learning routine

For a language as different from Latin languages (alphabet, different intonations depending on the context, grammar...), having a flawless and reliable learning methodology is a sure ally in your progression.

The routine often receives bad press, but from a perspective of learning it is a great tool.

Creating a routine of learning does not just happen in a few hours, it's time that will improve it and make it really useful.

Why not after getting up each morning spend fifteen minutes to watch a TV show with Chinese subtitles, read your favorite newspaper or learn a few new characters (5 or 10 for example)?

Fine cook? Take advantage of your learning in Mandarin to enjoy Chinese recipes!

For those who are fans of Chinese food, why not improve your reading by reading a few recipes while preparing dinner in the evening? Or why not resuming items acquired during the day in the evening before bedtime in order to remember them?

You can also take advantage of the journeys in public transports, that are often long and uninteresting to continue your introduction to the reading of Chinese characters.

There is no absolute reality, we only give you a few tracks.

The most important thing in establishing a routine is that it shouldn't be binding.

It's up to you to choose the right moment to make some exercises without being really embarrassing for a schedule.

In synthesis:

  • To complete achievements in reading, you must acquire the Chinese vocabulary gradually . Learning a language is a long-term task, be curious and inventive in your methods.
  • If you happen to come across unknown Chinese characters, taking the reflex to immediately look for the meaning, pronunciation, tone to adopt will contribute strongly to improve your reading abilities of the language. For this purpose, the Pleco application must become your best friend!
  • According to the profile of the learner, learning Chinese will go through Pinyin learning only or through joint learning of Pinyin and characters. Of course, it depends on needs and expectations. No need to try to learn 500 different characters for a 15 days language stay in China, just as it would be a shame for someone looking to work in China for several years to miss out on reading through characters. In addition to their usefulness in reading, they allow us to start learning calligraphy and Chinese civilization.
  • What everyone will see in learning the Chinese language and Chinese writing is that they are full of subtlety.

Find out how to learn the Chinese alphabet...!

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