Good Day!

I have an interesting conundrum - I can speak Chinese just fine (in fact I just took an HSK placement exam at the local Confucius Centre and was ranked at 4 for listening and speaking). I however, cannot write (or type if you will) nor can I read past (approx.) HSK 2. I would rather learn simplified characters as the people I converse with use those (mainland-Chinese). Any advice? Some background, my wife is Chinese (but due to time constraints and work schedules can't teach me), I lived in China for 18 months, I have only be actively trying to learn Mandarin for about 3 years now, and we speak daily in the home.

Additionally, I have tried learning how to read by using Duolingo which seeing as I can listen (and understand) it has helped a little by learning by association. I also took a class in 2012 as an elective in Uni, but the teacher wasn't great (just checked she has a whooping 1.9 on RateMyProf) and I struggled to understand her let alone a totally foreign language. I understand pinyin just fine, but want to be able to learn the characters.

Now, the real question is does anyone have any additional resources that would make learning how to read less of a "guessing-game" and more of an actual process. I keen on learning, but can't find any effective means as of yet.

  • Hi, welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange. Please be aware that Stack Exchange sites are not forums, so the rules for asking questions are a bit different here. Could you please read What types of questions should I avoid asking? and this meta post, and then add a specific question to your post? It well then be reviewed again to see if it should be reopened.
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    Jun 28, 2019 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


Having just achieved this myself, I’ll tell you my techniques.

  • I first created a list of all the HSK4 words I was uncomfortable with and stuck it on the wall in large font. I’d mark with a highlighter the words I felt I had mastered. This forms a visual progress report, and was a good reminder and gave motivation.

  • I bought the Chinese version of Matilda (a children’s novel about 250 pages) and read it cover to cover. The fact that it’s an interesting story (and not the usual boring “Zhou Wei picked up Jeff from the airport” material) makes it feel substantially less burdensome to read. The fact that it’s translated from English results in English-style Chinese, which is not so natural, but it’s easier to read (it also means there’s an English translation available). It’s also a children’s book, so it’s repetitious, which is good for learning reading.

  • Whenever I encountered an unfamiliar word, I’d write in the book the pinyin and/or English (but only the minimum I needed). By the time I reached the end of the book I made far fewer notes. It felt like meaningful progress.

  • Whenever I encountered a word from the HSK4 list I’d stuck on the wall, I’d highlight it in the book. It felt like a little treasure hunt game.

  • I asked lots of questions at the Chinese Stack Exchange site, when I couldn’t understand the book despite my best efforts.

  • I learned to write. Basically both reading and writing Chinese requires remembering “these radicals go there”. Reading is trivial when you can write, and writing is not that difficult when it’s merely a matter of remembering a combination of radicals (and not “this is the first stroke, this is the second, etc.”)

  • I used TOFU Learn to practice writing characters daily. It’s like Skritter, but free (although not as good quality). I went through all 600 new words this way.


Download the free Pleco app and purchase the HSK flashcards and reading resources as add-ons. As you progress through the levels, you can also practice reading stories and articles tailored to each HSK level.

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