Chinese Language Learning – 21 months of reading native books, and breaking into native platforms

Three months ago, I posted a write up on my 18 months journey from intermediate level to reading native novels which received lots of positive feedback and encouraged many learners to do the same.

Over the last three months, I’ve had a massive breakthrough so I thought I’ll share my experience with you, update you on my reading progress and talk about a hot topic: native platforms.


## Reading journey so far

[(see the previous post for more details)](

After I reached intermediate (equivalent to around early HSK 5) **I read every day (and I still do now)** starting with books written for young children to be read by themselves, then moved on to middle school books and eventually simple adult novels, all with the help of a CN→EN popup dictionary. I also regularly added new words to my SRS flashcard deck, and I did a review once a day.

**The first 9-10months were the most difficult months** as there was a constant high stream of unknown words. No matter what I read, there were several unknown words in every paragraph, making the experience quite tiring.

**My experience slowly became easier from 10 months onwards.** There were still many unknown words (especially those that are genre specific or uncommon), but by the 16th-month reading felt much smoother. It became less like studying and learning, and more like just reading and enjoying the content.

**Now 21 months later, I’m much more comfortable with reading** and have even started to read some novels directly on the native platforms without the help of a popup dictionary. I would say I comfortably know about 3,000 characters.

In the last 3 months I’ve read:

* 他们都说我遇到了未知生物 by 青色羽翼
* 青梅屿 by 回南雀
* 梦幻小公主 (book 1 & 2) by 玖金
* *镇魂 by priest (currently reading…)*
* *何以笙簫默 by 顾漫 (currently reading…)*
* 我独自升级 (manhua)
* 魔王想跟我交朋友 (manhua)
* 画皮师 (manhua)
* 梦境使者 (manhua)
* *吸血骗子 (manhua – currently reading…)*

**Disclaimer:** this isn’t a guide on how you can break the barrier into native platforms, this is just me sharing some experiences with using these services, in the hopes to encourage you and give you some ideas.


## Dipping into native websites

I started using native websites from day one of my reading journey. I kept it all quite simple. I stuck to websites and those that can be used without an account as I found the account creation process a little scary.

How I found my content usually started off by finding a link on Google to the book I’m interested in reading. While reading that particular book, I would have a nose around the website to see if I can find other content.

I’m not going to recommend these websites because: 1) they’re not official websites 2) I often found the content to be inaccurate, missing paragraphs, and have characters replaced with another of the same sound due to copyright reasons 3) they’re usually full of inappropriate ads. Overall, it’s not a great experience for learners. I’ve found official websites that work with browser popup dictionaries tools (some require small workarounds), which will result in a much better user experience.

Check out the page on [Digital Books and Webnovel Services]( on Heavenly Path. We’ve noted the ones that work well with a browser popup dictionary.

Thinking back now, I should have tried to learn to use official websites, they’re not any less intimidating than those dodgy websites I tried. In fact, the UI is often much cleaner and more modern. Definitely much safer for my computer and eyes (*all those inappropriate ads…*).


## Moving onto native mobile applications

These few months bought about a huge change to my journey, as I finally **braved my way into many official Chinese native websites and mobile apps** and became *slightly* obsessed with them. It all started when I ordered a Boox Leaf (Android eReader) at the beginning of March. I bought this device with the goal of eventually reading novels on Chinese apps on a paper-like screen. I’ve loved my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite for many years so I wanted a similar experience with Chinese.

During these 3 months, I downloaded many different apps and made many accounts. At first, it was pretty scary but after lots of trial and error, I eventually managed to pick up many new terminologies and find my way around these apps.

Now on my phone, I have over 7 different native apps for various different mediums; novels, audiobooks, podcast, manhua (Chinese comic), audiodramas, vomics (voiced comics) – *yes I’m a bit little obsessed, just a little*. I don’t use them all every day, but they’re among the most regularly used apps on my phone besides Discord and Whatsapp.

I’ve even borrowed my sister’s old iPhone SE so I can make purchases on these platforms without needing to sign up for Chinese payment services. Many platforms don’t accept payment with an overseas bank card via WeChat Pay but Apple Pay is always available when paying from an Apple device.


## Reading on a native app without a CN→EN popup dictionary

When I received my Boox Leaf in April, I decided to give it a go at reading a novel using 微信读书, without the help of a CN→EN popup dictionary. I found a children’s series called 梦幻小公主 by 玖金 (which is extremely nostalgic for me as I loved stories like this as a little child). Luckily 微信读书 offers a CN→CN popup dictionary with pinyin so I was still able to look up the pinyin of unknown words or words I weren’t sure of their pronunciation. Surprising I almost didn’t have to look up many words besides a few specific fantasy terms.

At the same time, I was reading 青梅屿 by 回南雀, which I started out on Readibu but switched to read on the official publisher’s app “长佩文学” using my eReader halfway through the book. I surprised myself, it really wasn’t that bad, there weren’t that many unknown words. I could have probably read the rest of the novel without looking up any words in the dictionary, but since I wanted to continue improving my vocabulary, I looked up a few and added them to my flashcard deck.

Now, I’m reading 何以笙簫默 by 顾漫 using 微信读书. I’ve looked up a few words, but really not that many.


## Finding a novel to read

21 months in, I’ve stopped caring how characters I know, how many unique characters are in my deck, or even how many unique characters are in a novel. I simply pick up a novel, give it a go for a few chapters and if it’s too hard, I switch to another one.

This is one of the beauties of Chinese digital novel apps, the first few chapters (sometimes even the first volume if it’s a long series) are completely free. This allows me to test the waters before committing to making any purchases. This is especially useful when you’re unsure if you’ll be able to manage the difficulty level of a novel.

I’ve also signed up for 微信读书’s subscription service, which allows me to read all the published novels and most of the webnovels they offer. I can try out as many novels as I want, and I don’t need to worry about spending money on novels that I don’t end up finishing.

All webnovel services operate a pay-per-chapter model so I never have to commit to paying for the whole novel in one go. I don’t feel as bad about dropping a novel as I would a published novel where I’ve paid for the whole thing.

All this really helps me decide what to read, especially as a learner, as everyone has different taste in the content they enjoy and one person’s “easy” is someone else’s “hard”.


## FAQ

## When should I take the dive into native apps?

I would suggest starting with switching apps you’re already familiar with to Chinese, such as Youtube, Netflix, Facebook etc. This will allow you to learn some basic app terminology so that when you do decide to use a native app, it won’t be as scary.

There’s no right or wrong time for this, just whenever you feel the need to. Having said that, mobile apps (especially for reading) wouldn’t be too suitable for a beginner or intermediate learner due to the lack of CN→EN dictionary, however, the website version would generally work with a browser popup dictionary.

## Native media apps are intimidating, how can I start?

I agree. Some of them are ridiculously clustered and complicated making them extremely intimidating to use. Chinese apps (whether it is for e-commerce, entertainment or something else), really likes to bombard their user with all sorts of features, making it overly complicated.

Luckily for those that aren’t used to the clutter, there are a few apps and platforms that have quite clean UI.

So far I’ve found 微信读书 and 微信听书 to be the simplest and cleanest, sometimes I feel it’s a little too simple that some features are a little hidden.

The phone apps for 长佩文学 and 豆瓣阅读 are next on my list of simplest digital novel app. It’s slightly more complex than 微信读书 but actually, the UI is quite close to Amazon Kindle, and Google Play Books.

猫耳FM, 哔哩哔哩漫画, 饭角app, 漫播app, 快看漫画 – All of these apps have very similar UI (all quite clean), so they should be pretty easy to get into once you’re familiar with one of them.

With the other editors of Heavenly Path, we’ve compiled a list of books, audiobooks and audiodrama services that work from overseas without any workaround or VPN.

* [Digital Books & Webnovel services](
* [Audiobooks, audiodramas and podcast services](

Most allow for account creation using an overseas telephone number and/or an email address or they can be used completely for free without an account. This isn’t every service out there, just the ones that we personally use on a regular basis.

We will be working on a page for manhua services soon.

## Chinese services require a Chinese ID or telephone number, how do you get around that?

Sadly, quite a lot of them do especially the social media ones. I’m only using those that accept WeChat login, overseas telephone numbers or email addresses. Unfortunately, I don’t have any tips or tricks on getting around services that require Chinese ID as I don’t use those.

## Do you plan to move to physical books someday?

I actually get asked this question a lot but I actually think there’s some misunderstanding or the wrong wording was used. I believe what people are asking for is, whether I will read published books that have been edited by a publishing house. The answer to this question is, yes. In fact, I’ve read a few, but digitally. 微信读书 is one of my favourite platforms, and they have 1000s of published work.

Purchasing physical books overseas is very expensive and extremely limited. I enjoy novels that aren’t that “*mainstream*” or popular amongst the oversea Chinese community, therefore there’s almost nothing for me in most oversea Chinese bookstores.

I will buy a few physical books for collection but only those that I really really love. The cost to buy from overseas is around 5-7 times the price of the digital version.

## Conclusion

I hope this has helped you and inspired you to step into the native world if you haven’t already done so. Feel free to ask any questions below and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Let me know if you like seeing my regular reading journey update, I can do another one in 3-6 months time 🙂

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