My Mission for 2015: Able to Read a Chinese Newspaper in Chinese by 31.12.2015

This is quite a huge task. Learning to read Chinese is not at all easy. Olle Linge describes this challenge very well in his article “Learn to read chinese…with ease?” on his blog hacking chinese.  How daunting this mission really is is actually best summarized in the article of  “Why Chinese is Damn Hard” by David Moser from the University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies: “John DeFrancis, in his book The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy, reports that his Chinese colleagues estimate it takes seven to eight years for a Mandarin speaker to learn to read and write three thousand characters, whereas his French and Spanish colleagues estimate that students in their respective countries achieve comparable levels in half that time.”

Julian Suddaby took the 3500 most frequently used chinese characters from the frequency list of linguist Jun Da and analysed the ten most popular articles of the newspaper Southern Weekly 南方周末. According to his findings he encountered forty-four new characters, and for twenty-nine of those one would probably just need to take a guess at from context and move on.

I studied Chinese 20 years ago at university and also lived for three years in the late 80s mainly in Hong Kong. My focus then was on speaking. Now I would like to learn to read. So far I have learned the most important 950 characters approximately in 2 months and less than 32 hours on memrise and I started to read my first book in Chinese. I have blogged about my experience here:

The challenge is to find adquate reading material that is useful for the limited amount of characters I know by now. I would be very glad for any hint that I get.

At the same time my mission for 2015 is to help you overcome the first threshold to start to read Chinese. Once you start reading you will constantly add often without really noticing it more and more characters and vocabulary to your memory. To do that I will add small reading excercises for each levels of the memrise course over the next months. This is a similar approach as to how we have learned in our childhood to read in our language.

Southern Weekly seems to be one of the more sophisticated newspaper and I wonder if there are easier ones to read.
According to the Chinese governement basic literacy starts at 2000 characters. What newspaper would a person with this basic literacy level read ? He would not get very far with this level reading the southern weekly.

Let’s say if I would aim to be able to read the Southern Weekly most popular articles by 31.12.2015  I would still need to learn around 2500 new characters. This would mean I have to learn approximately  7 new characters a day. Based on the previous experience with learning the first 1000 characters it would take me around 5 months. It seems doable, right?. Not so fast, knowing the meaning of the character does not necessarily mean that I know the meaning of the characters compositions. Therefore I need to have time in between where I practice my reading skills to be able to understand word compositions, a little bit of grammar and sentence structures.

My first mini-mission is to find the newspaper I will read by 31.12.2015 in the next two weeks based on the vocabulary I know by now. In the next step I would identify the most easy to read section of the newspaper and then the most easiest to read topics. My hypothesis is that articles on accidents or food could be one of the most easiest as the vocabulary stays pretty standard. Other articles such on sport, film or music will contain names of people. Often the characters for those names are not in the top 3500 frequency lists.

By End of June 2015 I want to reach the basic literacy level of 2000 characters.

What would you think is the most easiest newspaper to read first and which topic in this newspaper could be the most easiest?

I am looking for people who have achieved a similar mission than mine before.

Update 14.January.2015:
I have found a newspaper for the intermediate level in Chinese. It is a dedicated section in the online edition of Global Times called Target Chinese. So far I can understand between 70-80% of it. I still need a dictionary to look up missing words.

Update 20. January.2015:
According to the research of linguist Jun Da the first 838 frequently used characters account for 90% of news text in the internet. To reach a comfortable fluency in reading I would have to aim for 2184 most used characters to be able to read 99% of the characters online. According to Jun Da “For instance, if we take 95% character coverage rate as the minimum for adequate reading comprehension, around 1,200 characters will be needed for news reading
More on his research is here:
Further Jun Da suggests that CFL learners should first focus on around 20,000 high to medium frequency
words and phrases if they want to develop basic ability in Chinese news reading and 70 000 low frequency vocabulary for proficiency.
Frequence List of bigram words (two characters in newspapers) by Jun Da:

Literacy Level in China: Literacy rate defined as knowledge of 1,500 Chinese characters in rural locations and 2,000 characters in urban areas. Source:

Update 27. January 2015

I have analysed the Global Times Target Chinese newspaper and created a frequency list. With this list I created two courses on memrise. In the first course I am now already at level 39.

Update: 12. February 2015
I have now completed the first course on memrise.  The course contains 1500 Words and I was able to ignore 588 which I have learned in the Chinese Words by spoken frequency before. I started on Monday, 26th of Januar and completed the 912 new words today. In total it took me 18 days. I do not foresee just now to do the next course in an equal time frame.
For now I estimate 8 weeks for the second one.

Update: 13 February 2015
Since January there is now an online newspaper dedicated to those learning Mandarin Chinese.   I came across it in this Chinese Forum.
In the Chairmans Bao they have articles for HSK Level 3- 6+.  See the articles for HSK Level 3 here.

Update: 27 March 2015
I am progressing extremely well.
If all goes well I will finish my second course on Memrise just before Eastern:
I had estimated 8 weeks, but it will take me now less than 7 weeks to finish the course.
In the meantime I became Membassador on Memrise with more than 5 Million Points.

Update: 01. April 2015
I have finished the 2nd read Chinese newspaper frequency list course on Memrise
In the next weeks I am going to read now the online edition of the Global Times called Target Chinese.

Update: 30.04.2015
I have read so far books from Mandarin Companion and Chinese Breeze:
The Secret Garden: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers: Level 1, Simplified Chinese Edition
The Monkey’s Paw: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers: Level 1, Simplified Chinese Edition
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers: Level 1, Simplified Chinese Edition
Left and Right: The Conjoined Brothers (Chinese Breeze Graded Reader Series, Level 1: 300-word Level) with CD
Can I Dance with You? with CD

Whom Do You Like More? with CD

An Old Painting with CD

I am reading After the Accident and then Mother and Son.

Update: 06.06.2015

First Milestone reached. Not only have I finished all my graded readers, I am now reading my first Chinese Newspaper!

Since 1st of June 2015 I have read 5 articles in the The Chairman’s Bao at HSK level 3.  Every day I read one article.

Next: By 1st of July I will read the Global Times Target Chinese.

Update: 09.06.2015

So far I have read the following articles in the Chairman’s Bao:

Update 03.07.2015

I have read:


China’s Cruise Industry Eyes World Domination

Only in China:

Update 06.10.2015

I am not progressing as fast as before because of other priorities. In September I delivered a key note speech on Education Hacking vs. Corporate Learning and finished a 51 page Whitepaper on Free Learning Resources available for personal & professional development and I passed my certification exam to become an SAP Successfactors Certified Application Associate – Cloud HCM.

In the Global Times Target Chinese I have read:
第六十一课 最后的演出

第六十课 痛苦记忆

第五十九课 肥胖症儿童

第五十八课 被泼粪的性学教授

第五十七课 真爱无法被隔离

第五十六课 为正义而战

第五十五课 中小学生夏令营“征服”美国

I have read:

Update 10 December 2015:

I have now read all the articles in the Global Times Target Chinese till
Lesson 35 第三十五课 东南亚姑娘与中国男人 异国婚姻背后的故事

Also I have created now the third course on Memrise with additional 657 characters to bring me up literacy threshold defined by Jun Da’s research.

Unfortunately due to my SAP Successfactors Certification Exams and now through the many projects I am in, I had less time to work on my mission.

My hope is through mnemo-techniques that I have developed to learn Chinese to get up to the literacy thresdhold latest by End of this year.

Update 21 January 2016:

Before year end I had created the third and final course on memrise:

I also prepared all the input for my mnemo-techniques to learn the final 657 characters to reach the literacy threshold for reading chinese newspapers in the shortest time possible

Then I got pulled into a lot of project work around HR Cloud Systems and the digitizing of HR that I had no time to reach the final goal.

The last article I have read before my deadline was 冬天吃葵花籽好处多 但不宜多吃–食品频道–人民网

My conclusion is: Yes it is possible to reach chinese newspaper literacy in one years time, if you have the right amount of time available and no other major learning activities and project work going on. I was on track till August 2015 but then I had to pass two certification tests for SAP Successfactors HR solutions and plus very demanding project work mainly by mid of November till Christmas.

I will read:


World News:




4 Responses to “My Mission for 2015: Able to Read a Chinese Newspaper in Chinese by 31.12.2015”

  1. Victor Hart Says:

    I look forward to learning to Chinese as well – but it will be a few years before I get started, since I only “study” Mandarin for 40 minutes a day, and just watching movies and other authentic video sources.

    I look forward to keeping up with your blog. Mine is:

  2. Victor Hart Says:

    I also have a question. I assume you’re learning the simplified characters, is that right? What do you see as the pros and cons of learning simplified vs. classical for someone who has no concrete plans to spend time either in Taiwan or mainland China?

    • ppalme Says:

      I like your question and I can only give you a personal answer. My focus has always been on Mainland China and at first only on understanding and speaking the language. I have shied away early from learning how to read and write Chinese. And also back then we only read articles written in Mainland China at university which by nature are in the simplified version. I find learning the simplified version easier than trying to go for the traditional ones. This was also the aim of the simplification of Chinese characters in order to help more Chinese become literate. Before 1950 China had an illiteracy rate of 85%-90%.

  3. MichaelHan Says:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: