I wrote an article for Italki about the ways to improve your Chinese reading skills, here it is.
1. Get the right book
First, choose the right book; this is the most important thing. If you don’t get the right book, reading can be a boring and terrible burden, and you won’t improve quickly, no matter how hard you work. So, choose a book at your level or a little higher. And, get one that interests you.
There are lots of textbooks; some of them are really good, some are just so-so. A couple of good textbooks are New Practical Chinese Reader and Road to Success. Actually, these two textbooks were recommended by my students. I’ve been a Chinese teacher for 10 years and have used many textbooks, but I was never really satisfied with any of them until some of my students discovered the books mentioned above. Trust me, these textbooks are really good.
As for regular reading, I recommend choosing books written for Chinese speakers, especially after you get to a more advanced level. One day, you’ll find you are tired of reading all the stuff Chinese teachers thought you should be interested in. This means you’ve finally grown up! You‘ve become an adult in the Chinese reading world.
So, make your own decision about what to read; this will be more meaningful to you. It doesn’t matter what kind of book or what the story is. Just remember to get the book at or a bit higher than your current level.
2. List new words and rewrite the passage with them
After years of teaching, I can tell you that the key to becoming fluent in a language is repetition. No matter how good (or bad) you are at learning languages, you need to repeat new words and phrases. The difference is that if you’re good, you can repeat fewer times, if you’re bad, you have to repeat more times.
How can you remember the new words and phrases you’ve just read? Underline or highlight them, write them down in your notebook, get the pinyin, get the meaning and find examples of using the word. You could review them by just reading through them several times, but this can be very boring and inefficient. The better way is to rewrite the story with the new words, see if you can use them correctly and at least make some sentences with them. Those words and phrases will go through your mind again and again when you do that. By the way, don’t tell me that you cannot write to or speak with Chinese people because you are not in China – we have fast internet in China, too!
3. Understand the meaning of each character
Try to understand the meaning of each character rather than the whole word.
There’s a big difference between Chinese and western languages. As you know, Chinese words are made up of many Chinese characters, every Chinese character has its own meaning, and the characters work together to give the whole word its meaning. When you study new words, please think about it like this. This way, it will be very easy for you to understand the slight difference between two synonyms.
4. Get some good examples
Use the internet to get examples, and ask native Chinese speakers to correct you.
Even if you’ve tried all kinds of methods, I’m sure you still have some words or phrases you can’t understand; Google or Baidu them. Find the meanings this way and compare them. This also works when you’re trying to write an article and you’re not sure which word to use. Search the two words, using them in separate sentences, and then choose the one which has millions of pages on Google rather than hundreds (like I said, we get fast internet China, too!). The most efficient way of checking your accuracy is to find a Chinese teacher to help you check. And, the way best way in my opinion: post your questions and articles on italki.com.
5. Read slowly and read quickly
To read slowly means you should understand everything in the book you have chosen for your intensive reading. But, if you want to improve your reading skills quickly, don’t read only one book, read a lot – as much as you can. If you don’t have a lot of time, don’t worry, just read fast. You don’t have to understand every word and sentence, you can just need to get the basic meaning. Doing that helps you understand the words you already know — and helps youcement (make something stick) the knowledge in your mind.