After studying Chinese for years, many students still complain that they can’t hold a decent conversation in the language. Why is that? Why is it so difficult to learn Chinese?
The key lies in feeling comfortable in the language, which means repeated exposure to new vocabulary. The more times you come across a new word, the more experience you’ll have using it, and the more comfortable you’ll begin feeling. Some researchers estimate that it can take as many as 17 exposures for a student to learn a new word. Words are usually learned only after they appear several times. When you become comfortable with a new word, it will become part of your ‘suitcase’ of vocabulary and will allow you to converse on a variety of topics. So the key to effectively building fluency is reading.
Experts say that a learner can more easily acquire new vocabulary if he is able to understand the overall text. Mandarin Companion says that "decades of research indicates that if we know approximately 98% of the words in a book, we can comfortably ‘pick up' the 2% that is unfamiliar”. That being said, finding a level appropriate reading resource is vital. Below are some great resources available in Chinese.
Current News
The Chairman's Bao ( has a large collection of news articles covering events in China and abroad. This is basically a simplified Chinese news site for learners. The app is free to download, but there are subscription costs to access all the articles and resources. You might want to take a look at some of the sample articles before signing up. Every week about 5-6 new articles are released according to HSK level.
Du Chinese ( is another alternative geared for beginner students. The content focuses on Chinese culture and has less new monthly content than The Chairman's Bao, although they do have several hundred articles on their shelves to choose from. A major advantage is that this app has English translations of the articles if you get stuck and need help. A variety of lessons are free, but if you want access to all their content you have to subscribe.
Graded Readers
Another great way to practice reading is using Graded Readers. Not only do you learn a new word but you see how it can be used in a variety of contexts. In many graded readers the same word is used on average from 10-30 times. This technique helps to consolidate the knowledge of new vocabulary. One example of a graded reader is Mandarin Companion ( It’s divided into different 3 levels: starting from Breakthrough (150 new characters) to Level 1 (300 new characters), to Level 2 (450 new characters). These books are designed to help learners master a specific number of characters. The books are approximately 5000 - 15,000 characters in length. Breakthrough is for beginners and Level 2 is for lower-intermediate learners, which corresponds to HSK 4.  The stories are translated classic western stories, such as Great Expectations, Emma, Sherlock Holmes, The Journey to the Centre of the Earth, etc. 
If you like games, you’ll love WordSwing ( This app is designed for intermediate to upper-intermediate learners. For most activities you need to know at least 500 characters, although complete beginners can have Chinese practice on the ‘Tone Training Course’ (a course geared at recognizing tones in isolation). The app focuses on language learning through text adventure games, comics, role-playing games, interactive graded readers, and choose-your-own adventures. You also have the option of reading and listening to topical dialogues.
Finding an interesting and appropriate level resource for reading can grab your attention, allowing you to pick up new vocabulary easily. Your brain can process these new words more comfortably and make connections between what you already know and the image of what you have just read. Reading reinforces language acquisition and makes us more at ease with words and grammar rules, allowing us to express ourselves freely.
Dr. Seuss once said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Reading in Chinese is no simple task, but if you choose the right reading materials (level-appropriate) and make it a habit to read a bit every day, you'll put yourself on the right track to increasing your Chinese vocab and fluency in Mandarin!

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