Importance of using Chinese graded readers
The two hardest skills to master when learning Mandarin Chinese are, in my opinion, reading and writing. One of the best ways to improve your reading ability in Chinese is to start making use of Chinese graded readers.
What are graded readers you ask?
A graded reader is a reading resource written especially for learners of the language. Graded readers have a strict number of new words (in the case of Chinese graded readers, they also have a strict number of new characters) and are thus easier to read than many other non-beginner friendly resources.
Graded readers usually come in a series. Whereby with each new installment, the difficulty of the content is slightly increased. This provides the learner with a step-by-step approach to improving their reading skills.
Graded readers are an ideal way to improve your Chinese reading ability. New words and characters are introduced sequentially, ensuring you don’t get overwhelmed by too much new content.
I also mentioned the importance of using the graded learning approach in my article on How to Become Fluent in Chinese in Less Than a Year.
There are different graded readers available for the Chinese language but today I want to focus on one series in particular: the Chinese Breeze graded reader series:
Summary of the review
Chinese Breeze is a well crafted graded reader series which provides its readers with interesting stories as well as relevant words and characters.
I would recommend Chinese Breeze graded readers to beginner learners of Chinese who have already learned their first 500 characters. I would also recommend them to intermediate learners who have a decent grasp of elementary grammar and vocabulary but are lacking in reading proficiency.
If you’re an upper-intermediate/advanced learner of Mandarin, then these will probably be too easy for you.
What is Chinese Breeze?
Chinese Breeze is a graded reader series for learners of Mandarin Chinese. Chinese Breeze offers books in four difficulty levels but plans to have eight difficulty levels overall. Chinese Breeze is published by Peking University Press – a publishing company specializing in publishing Chinese learning materials.
Each Chinese Breeze book is around 70-80 pages long and offers a totally unique story.
Breakdown of the different levels:
As stated earlier, Chinese Breeze currently offers four difficulty levels. Let’s examine each one:
The Chinese Breeze level one books contain around 300 unique words. There are currently six different books offered in level one. The title of these are:
- Left and Right: The Conjoined Brothers
- Two Children Seeking the Joy Bridge
- Whom Do You Like More?
- Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!
- Can I Dance With You?
- I Really Want to Find Her
The Chinese Breeze level two books contain around 500 unique words. There are currently seven books offered in level two. These are:
- After the Accident
- An Old Painting
- If I Didn’t Have You
- Green Phoenix
- Mother and Son
- Our Geese Have Gone
- Secrets of a Computer
The Chinese Breeze level three books contain around 750 unique words. There are currently four books offered in level three. These are:
- The Moon Sculpture Left Behind
- The Painted Skin
- The Third Eye
The Chinese Breeze level four books contain around 1100 unique words. There are currently two books offered in this difficulty level. These are:
- Two Red Shirts
- Vick the Good Dog
How do I improve my Mandarin with Chinese Breeze?
Simply put, Chinese Breeze can be used to:
Start with level one and work your way up to level three (at the time of this review, that is the highest level)!
Along the way, you’ll encounter unknown words, phrases, and characters. When you do, write them down or add them to your Anki deck (or your preferred spaced repetition software), together with the pinyin and translation and keep going. This is a good way to improve your vocabulary! Don’t spend too long trying to understand new words and phrases because you’ll inevitably encounter them again later in the story or in the next book.
Why should I read Chinese Breeze?
As with other Chinese graded readers, they really help to improve reading speed (which is often a problem for Chinese learners. Most learners read at a snail’s pace) They also allow you to learn new, high-frequency words, phrases, and most importantly, characters.
Layout and feel of the books:
I must say, I’m quite impressed with the overall layout and feel of the books. They have a good quality feel to them and the characters are printed in a good size and font, making them very clear and readable.
Most pages in the books contain pictures as well – which aids in comprehension. They have also left a wide margin which comes in handy when you need to scribble down notes or meanings of words/characters that you’ve looked up.
Each book is broken down into chapters, with each chapter being relatively short (usually around 5-10 pages).
Words judged to be slightly difficult are marked with a number, the English translation of which then appears in the footer of the page.
Each book also has a vocabulary index at the back which contains certain Chinese words that appear in the story, as well as the pinyin and English translation. This gives you an easy way to add new words to Anki after you’re done reading.
Quality of the actual stories:
The Chinese Breeze stories are usually quite fun and interesting. It’s quite difficult to write an interesting story with only 300 words, but they have done a decent job.
Make no mistake though, these books are more for practicing reading and learning new characters than pure entertainment!
I, myself have read most of the level one books, most of the level two books and all of the level three books. I enjoyed all the ones I read and I felt my reading speed and comprehension improve a lot after I was finished with the series!
The relevance of new words and characters:
Chinese Breeze themselves state that each book is written to contain the most useful words for actual communication in Chinese. I have to say I found that most of the new words/characters that I learned were indeed useful.
The language is kept simple, as you might imagine, and they don’t make use of any confusing sentence structures or grammar patterns. If you have a decent grasp of elementary Chinese grammar then you ought to be fine.
Accompanying audio CDs:
Each book in the Chinese Breeze grader reader series also comes with an accompanying audio CD. The CD contains a full recording of the book at slow speed and in normal speed.
Unfortunately, I only used these books for reading practice and as I understood everything quite well, I never actually listened to the audio. So, I can’t provide many insights as to the quality of it. However, if the quality of the actual books is anything to go by, then it’s probably pretty good!
It’s nice to have the audio, especially if you’re worried about your pronunciation not being correct.
I really like the Chinese Breeze graded reader series. As Chinese graded readers go, they are among the best you can get (in my opinion).
If you are an upper-intermediate to advanced learner of Chinese, these are going to be too easy for you but if you’re a beginner to intermediate learner looking to improve your reading ability then definitely give Chinese Breeze a shot!
To learn more about Chinese Breeze go to their website.
Is there anything else you’d like me to cover? Leave a comment below.
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