Studying Chinese

I just read my first Chinese novel – and an another goal for 2012

Last summer I thought that it will take a long time before I’m able to read books in Chinese. But one of my teachers had a different idea and made us all read one book during the autumn semester. Now I can say that I can read and enjoy reading easy Chinese novels!

I used dictionary only two times, as my method was to enjoy reading, not killing the fun with checking every tenth word or so. There isn’t any pinyin, English or Finnish written on the pages. When I encountered a word I didn’t know I tried to guess based on the context and then just moved on.

The book I read is 单身公主 – 相亲记 and I chose it randomly at the biggest book stores in Guangzhou. Our teacher said that love stories are usually easier to understand and I wanted to choose a book which title I could read without a dictionary. The book isn’t the most interesting book out there (so I spent months to read it), but it’s good practice for intermediate learners like me.

How much did I understood?

I’m sure some of you are interested to find out how much I could actually understand from the book, so here is a random page where I underlined in red all the words I could understand. Those that I didn’t underline are the words I didn’t know or wasn’t sure about.

Some parts of the book were as easy as this page and some parts were more difficult. I could follow the main plot quite well, but of course didn’t get to enjoy all the nuances of the writing. I know that some people might think reading this kind of books is a waste of time and I probably wouldn’t read this in English or Finnish. But I want to read some easier books first, and from these kind of books I can learn the modern language. The language that young Chinese people use at the moment.

My goal for 2012

This is just the beginning. Because I love reading in English and Finnish, I also want to be able to read in Chinese. It’s time to set my book reading goal for 2012! I first thought of reading three books this year, but it’s quite an easy goal to reach. I’m going towards fluency so I need to aim higher.

I’m going to read at least five Chinese novels in 2012

Now some of you might think that even five books isn’t enough, but I want to save some time to read my other books aswell. Besides learning Chinese I also want to know as much as possible about Chinese history, so reading about history in English is important for me too.

How many books in Chinese will you read this year?


  • Stanley

    you should underline words that you don’t understand instead :-). they’re easier to spot when you look them up afterwards :)

    Sara Reply:

    I did the underlining with my computer, didn’t want to mark my book :)

    I have a different method for the next book which includes some dictionary checking, but I’ll tell you more about that later on in another post.

  • W

    Hello, I stumbled upon this site by accident and found it interesting… so you live in Guangzhou? But you’re studying Mandarin? I thought they didn’t speak much Mandarin there, but then I’ve never been so I wouldn’t know. Lei sik ng sik gang guang dong waa?

    Sara Reply:

    Yes, learning Mandarin in Guangzhou. Sure the majority’s native language is Cantonese, but almost everyone can speak Mandarin. There are also lots of students and workers here from around the country.

    I can only understand a little bit of Cantonese, but try to find time once in a while to learn more.

    Stanley Reply:

    W, Lazy cantonese sounds :)

    You in Cantonese is “Nei”(rising tone) not “Lei”

  • Stanley

    Have you seen this Norwegian woman teaching Cantonese on youtube?

    Sara Reply:

    I loved the language police! Have to find out more about her.

    Stanley Reply:

    She did an interview on TV about her background.

  • Confused Laowai

    Well done Sara!

    I remember reading a book in my third year of Chinese class. But, it got a bit hectic at that stage. I skipped a lot, so I haven’t actually read a full novel yet. A novel is actually something I’m pursuing. I just haven’t found the right book yet.

    I don’t want something too hectic. In fact a nice silly romance would be cool. Would you recommend 单身公主相亲记? Where I can get it though. It’s a bit tough finding Chinese books in South Africa. Maybe an online copy?

    Sara Reply:

    单身公主 is good if you want something not too difficult and silly romance is okey. It’s a story of three girls in their twenties who have a lot of pressure to find a husband and who try different kind of ways to do so.

    Lot of Chinese books can be found online for free, but with a quick baiduing I didn’t find the whole copy of this book. But if I do, I will let you know!

  • ordinary malaysian

    That’s the way to go about it, Sara. Start with a book that isn’t going to make you turn the pages of a dictionary every few lines. This will take the joy out of reading and discourage you. Then as your confidence grows, go for the harder ones. In fact, the first Chinese book I read was a self-improvement book 创造自己的价值。Luckily it wasn’t a very difficult book to understand. But studying Mandarin on my own isn’t an easy thing for me even though I am a Chinese myself. In school, we didn’t have Mandarin classes. Only the vernacular Chinese schools here have classes in Mandarin and I didn’t attend one although all my siblings speak Mandarin. I am still struggling with the language. Looks like you are getting along nicely.

    Sara Reply:

    I actually like self-improvement books and there seems to be plenty of them in Chinese bookstores.

  • Chris Waugh

    “How many books in Chinese will you read this year?”

    Oh, is that a challenge? I don’t know how many Chinese books I’ll read this year. I should spend a lot less time online and a lot more time reading books. I have a variety of Chinese books in varying stages of “on the go”, some textbooks (《汉语方言学》,《翻译基本知识》), others fiction (《三国演义》- now that one is work!), some essays (a collection of essays by Mao Dun, among others). All I need now is the self-discipline to sit down and finish reading them.

    Congratulations on your first novel. It feels good, doesn’t it?

    My first Chinese novel was 《骆驼祥子》 by Lao She. Great book, and made easier by the fact I’d already read it in translation. I then read some of Lu Xun’s short stories, then 《活着》 by Yu Hua – I got that backwards! The awesome literary talent of Lao She and Lu Xun meant 《活着》 just didn’t seem very good by comparison. Nevertheless, a good book and definitely recommended.

    Sara Reply:

    I know what you’re talking about. My ultimate goal for this year should be to spend less time online and more time reading books and studying! Where could I buy some self-discipline?

    It really does feel good that I am able to read a real book in Chinese! A book that is meant for native speakers. It as good as in the beginning when I was proud of my first spontanius conversation with a Chinese person.

    I’ve read lot of people recommend 《活着》and it sounds like a book I’ve like to read.

  • Aurora85

    Can’t read Chinese, but I’m reading English translation of Dream of Red Chamber :D and I’m hoping to finish it sometime this year I hope. I’m also planning on reading House of Earth Trilogy by Pearl Buck (Do they have Chinese versions of that book? If they do, how is Chinese when compared to English versions?) and hopefully East Wind West Wind. They may not be in Chinese, but they are about China. Happy New Years!

    Sara Reply:

    I have a Finnish copy of Dream of Red Chamber, but it’s in Finland. I bought it cheap, but still haven’t got the time to read it. I hope to get all of my books to China! I also love Pearl Buck’s books and have read a lot of them, but I’m not sure if they have been translated to Chinese or not.

    Happy Chinese New Year Aurora!

  • seo

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  • Guest

    I’m learning Chinese now, and I find your success inspirational as I haven’t yet been able to get through a Chinese book yet as it’s only very recently that I’ve discovered that it’s possible. When I came back from China, I transited through Guangzhou Airport and picked up a bilingual version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in English and Chinese (I’m a teenager so it relates to me), and it’s motivated me to try and finish a Chinese book. However, my vocabulary is pretty bad, so often I don’t understand or know the pronunciations of some of the words that crop up frequently in that book. Ah well, I guess success will come with time and perseverance!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I have to thank my teacher last semester who made us read a Chinese book and only then I realized that it’s possible! I think it’s very important to pick a book that is your level and which you find interesting. The best book is a book you will read.

    “I guess success will come with time and perseverance!” I agree!

  • Has

    Hey Sara Nice work.. really inspired me to start reading my first mandarin book.. but im little curious , how long have you been studying chinese so you were able to read .. I only finished one year. I live i Guangzhou too.. i guess i have to visit this bookstore ;)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Has!

    I read my first Mandarin book last September, after studying Chinese for 1,5 years in Finland and 1,5 years in China.

    But don’t worry, you can start reading earlier! :) Check out my post at How Can I Learn Chinese about Chinese Breeze books for beginner and elementary level students:

    You have to visit the Tianhe Book Center, it’s heaven for book lovers! Chinese learning books are on the 4th floor now if I remember correctly, they made some changes recently so I don’t remember so well. You can find those Chinese Breeze books there too!

    If you have any problems finding suitable reading material, just let me know.

    Has Reply:

    Great.. I will visit for sure the Book Center … I need to find a way to improve fast.. thanks for the great help :))