Chinese Reading and Writing

A small number of Chinese characters comes with a gigantic impact.

The Learning Path of Chinese Reading and Writing series

The complete series introduces 320 most frequently used Chinese characters and how to use these characters in sentences and paragraphs, conversations and narratives. Each book in the series is structured around the following simple but powerful format:

  • Awareness -
    present single characters
  • Expansion -
    provide many words and fixed expressions based on the characters
  • Practice -
    work through texts comprising sentences, conversations and narratives, with grammar sections brought in when required to address specific structures
  • Consolidation -
    review the characters, words, sentences, and paragraphs

This format shows that learning Chinese characters is just the first step in the process, and that the path to Chinese literacy involves much more than the accumulation of characters.

Following this path, students can rapidly develop their Chinese reading and writing abilities, and get an amazing learning outcome with 320 characters!

Start small, strike big

Learning Chinese reading and writing goes absolutely beyond learning a list of characters. However, all learnings must start at Chinese characters. And what characters to start with makes a huge difference in the future. 

One of the obstacles of learning Chinese is the sheer number of Chinese characters. According to studies, commonly used characters are around 2,500 - 3,000. Students who start right away to tackle these characters one by one will for sure get overwhelmed and suffer endless headaches.

However, as some characters are used more often than others, it is possible for students to start with a small number of characters (The first Chinese Reading and Writing textbook contains only 70 characters). For beginner students, especially those with no Chinese background, learning a small number of characters and using them well are really confidence boosters.

Due credit is given to John DeFrancis and his Chinese Reader series. The problem is that all his books are as thick as a brick and look daunting and intimidating. Also, after passing a threshold, this way of learning becomes increasingly inefficient. The top 500 characters count for 72.1% - 79.2% of the characters occurring, while the next 500 characters for only 11.9% - 14.1%. Yet students have to spend considerably longer time and more energy to study the 2nd 500 characters.

In MSL Master's Chinese Reading and Writing series, 320 characters are carefully selected and split into six books. All look manageable, with each lesson presenting around 10 characters. Not only students learn these Chinese characters, but learn how to use them through many illustrations, such as combinations, sentences and paragraphs. We also make sure the content is interesting, so that the reading exercise is engaging. Great attention is paid to: (1) all the illustrations are strictly confined to the characters already presented; (2) illustrations are not above students’ level.

With each book completed, students gain a deeper understanding on Chinese language, and develop necessary skills in reading and writing Chinese text.

Deconstructing and Constructing Chinese Texts

We have repeatedly said that learning Chinese reading and writing goes beyond learning a list of Chinese characters. Here we give a detailed explanation. 

On the surface, Chinese is written using individual characters, but, if we consider a sentence just as a sequence of characters and translate character-by-character the result may not make sense. The reason is that Chinese texts do not draw word boundaries with some kind of clues, such as spaces. People must be trained to pick out the words by themselves. 

Imagine, if English were written as Chinese is written, a typical sentence will look like this:

Couldyoueasilyreadasentenceiftherewerenospacesbetweenitswords?

Without spaces separating the words, it would not be easy to read this sentence. Yet, this is how Chinese texts are written. Readers must be able to group characters into words. This is a “deconstruction” process, which is fundamental to understand the meaning, a "construction" process.

Take a look at this example:

This deconstruction-to-construction ability is THE vital skill students must learn in Chinese reading and writing. In order to help students gain this ability, We did not stop at presenting a list of characters. We carefully designed a learning path for students to follow, and make sure students have sufficient targeted practice. With the gradual rise of difficulty and complexity of Chinese texts throughout Chinese Reading and Writing 1-6, students are well on their way to attain this ability and be confident to continue their Chinese study in the next stage.


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