Chinese Stories in English
For using this site to practice your Chinese (or English) reading skills
When you were learning to read English, you didn't jump directly from the basics ("See Dick run") to classic literature ("Wherefore art thou"). First you read a bunch of ordinary stuff, like Teen or Boy's Life Magazines, that allowed you to hone your skills. This website provides links to some "ordinary stuff" in Chinese. Most of these sources were written in everyday language at a middle school level, although there are a few more difficult ones.
We don't grade the selections by difficulty or provide vocabulary lists. You'll have to learn to do without those things sooner or later, so you might as well start now. On the other hand, the translations may help you get over the shock of jumping straight into a real Chinese text. Here are some hints for using them.
1. Pick a story that’s suitable for your reading ability. Trying to read text that’s over your head is too discouraging. Before you invest a lot of time studying, briefly scan both the English and Chinese versions to see if you can handle the vocabulary. (Note: Easy online conversion between 繁体字 and 简体字 is available here.)
As a general rule, the jokes are easiest to read and you should be able to handle them after three semesters or so of college-level language study. The flash fiction stories are a mix of easier (like the Heart-Moving and Contest Winners stories) and intermediate difficulty texts (like the Undercover and Gravitas stories), and are generally suitable for readers with four or five semesters of preparation. The news reports are a little difficult unless you've had an introduction to "newspaper Chinese" (such as The Chairman's Bao or Yale University's "Primer of Newspaper Chinese" and "Reading Chinese Newspapers: Tactics and Skills"). The short stories are the hardest.
Note that this is just a general rule – some short stories (like An Invitation to Feast) are rather straightforward, while some jokes and flash fiction (like the stories by Common Man's Small Talk [Wang Jiashun] in Exhibition 04) will make you wish you’d never tried to learn Chinese.
2. Don’t try to read the Chinese and English texts side by side. The version in your primary language (L1) will interfere with your concentration on the language you’re practicing (L2) and make learning more difficult.
Instead, read the L1 text first to get an idea of what the story is about. Then put the L1 text aside and read the L2 version. Try not to refer to the L1 text unless you absolutely have to. After you’ve finished studying the L2 version, go back and re-read the L1 text to check your understanding of the story (as well as the accuracy of our translation).
3. When you read L1 texts and encounter an unfamiliar word, do you stop reading and reach for your dictionary? Well, maybe you do, if you're a lawyer reviewing a contract or something. But for casual reading, you're more likely to do one of two things: You ignore the word and concentrate on the "big picture", or you try to guess the meaning from context. Then you keep on reading.
This should be your goal for reading L2 texts as well. Admittedly it's a goal for the future and not a strategy for today, so in the meantime you'll need a dictionary (for pronunciation if nothing else). Don't overuse it, though. Try to read as much of the text as you can without it, especially on the first read-through. If the unfamiliar words are common, you'll have plenty of occasions to look them up later. If they're rare, why waste your time looking up words you may never see again?
It’s OK to use a bilingual dictionary, but don’t rely on it too heavily – languages are alive and grow, while dictionaries aren’t and don’t. We recommend:
But be careful -- Dictionary definitions are at best approximations, especially in bilingual dictionaries. Also, the dictionary definitions are what some scholar thought the word ought to mean in standard Mandarin, which sometimes bears little resemblance to what the word actually means as used in one or the other of the dialects or sub-dialects of the language.
4. Concentrate on learning the nouns and verbs because they’re more important to understanding the overall story. Adjectives and adverbs add flavor and are important, but often don’t contribute as much to the basic meaning of the story.
5. Most importantly, remember – 活到老学到老。
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