Chinese Language Learning – From intermediate to native webnovels in 18 months

You may know me as one of the authors of the [Heavenly Path reading guide](, we’ve recently moved this guide to a new location, along with our [webnovels and books]( resources. We hope this is a much better format than the previous Google Docs and Spreadsheet.

I thought I’ll share with you my experience of spending 18 months reading original Chinese novels everyday, novels I had previously never read in any other form. I jumped straight into original work because reading something like Harry Potter in Chinese just didn’t interest to me.

As well as reading, I also regularly watch Chinese TV but just so I don’t bored you to death, I’m only going to focus on reading, passive vocabulary, and from intermediate onwards. Maybe I’ll talk about the other aspects in another post in the future.

**My reading method and word review technique**

When it comes to reading, it’s really simple, I don’t do any unknown word extraction or pre-learning, I simply open the book either on Chrome or Readibu and start reading with a popup dictionary. I would note down unknown words, then after my daily reading session is over, I would go through that list and pick some words to add to my Pleco deck. I decide these words in a very subjective manner, literally do I think it’s useful to me, have I seen this before and am I likely to see this again.

As for reviewing words with SRS, it’s super simple. I’m using the Pleco SRS flashcard add-on. I have most settings set to the default, and I do a review once a day. Pleco would display the word in Chinese characters only, I say the word out loud (recite the definition in my head if I need to), and then ask Pleco will reveal the pinyin, definition and play the audio. I would then give myself a score of 1-6.

Sometimes if I struggle with certain words I would look up example sentences in Baidu Fanyi, write them down and then write my own sentences with those words. If I need further help, I’ll ask on [Discord](


**The beginning…**

Before jumping into native novels, I read short children’s bedtime stories on []( for a few months to prep myself for literature style text.

End of September 2020 was when I decided to start my first native novel. At the time, I had around 1,700 words in my Pleco deck, which I had collected from day one of my learning journey.

I picked up a children’s novel called 舒克和贝塔历险记, which was recommended to me by a native.

Following on from 舒克和贝塔历险记, I read 大林和小林,秃秃大王,小布头奇遇记,小布头新奇遇记 and 没有风的扇子.

Even though these were all children’s books aimed at 6-7 years olds, I found them to be really difficult at the time. I had to do it slowly, and at times I had to spread a chapter over two days. Slowly as the weeks went by, it became easier and easier as I learnt more words.

I felt that I jumped into native books too early, as I had a real difficult time at the beginning. I later discovered []( which I wished I had discovered earlier. If I could go back in time, I think reading and listening to all the Level 3-5 Little Fox Chinese content before jumping into these books would have made the experience less painful.

**3 months later…**

By mid December 2020, I had around 3,500 words in my Pleco deck. I decided to up my game and started a slightly more sophisticated children’s book series called 笑猫日记 by 杨红樱.

It was a huge step up, due to the more mature writing style, less repetition of the same words, and the increase usage of chengyus.

At the beginning of the series, I only managed to read one chapter a day (approx 2k characters), which took me around 30mins, before feeling completely drained. As I learnt more words and my literacy ability improved, it became less draining and occasionally I managed to read two chapters a day. I ended up reading 6 笑猫日记 books in 3 months.

It also helped that I read from the same series for a long period of time as I got use to her writing style and many of the same words and chengyus were repeated throughout the series.

**Another 3 months later…**

By mid March 2021, I had around 5,300 words in my Pleco deck. Once again, I decided to up my game, and started an urban fantasy children’s series called 幻想大王 by 杨鹏. The added fantasy elements and longer paragraphs made this quite a step up from 笑猫日记.

Exactly the same as with 笑猫日记, I was slow at the beginning then eventually I picked up my reading pace after a while.

I read 4 books from the series before moving onto something else.

**2 months later…I started to dip my toes in the adult webnovel world…**

By May 2021, I had in my deck around 6,300 words. I decided to give it a go at a relatively simple but long cultivation webnovel (total of 1.2mil characters) that I had discovered, 重生之极品皇子妃 by 叶忆落. Chapter lengths were around 1.5k at the beginning, then it increased to 3k after around chapter 70.

This was a mistake, I should have waited a little longer and pick a shorter webnovel as I ended up spending 6 months on this. Luckily I did eventually got really fast at reading it, due to many repeated words and her simple writing style, else it might have dragged for longer than 6 months.

At the same time, I did manage to also read two more children’s books called 我的狼妈妈 and 我的狐狸妹妹. I also read a few other short adult webnovels: 我男朋友好像有病,狐狸尾巴露出来了,当你走进图书馆而书里夹了一枚书签.

**6 months later…I was fully in the webnovel world…**

By October 2021 I had in my deck around 8,000 words, and have been reading native novels for just over a year. I would say at this point, native content for adults started to become a bit more accessible. I also learnt how to navigate a few webnovel platforms to search for content.


As for today, I have around 9,000 words in my deck and have read roughly 4million character worth of content.

Read adult webnovels:

* 重生之极品皇子妃 by 叶忆落
* 你是不是喜欢我 by 吕天逸
* 我男朋友好像有病 by 一只大雁
* 狐狸尾巴露出来了 by 姜难吃
* 当你走进图书馆而书里夹了一枚书签 by 晚秋初十
* 微微一笑很倾城 by 顾漫
* 带着小卖部去古代 by 叶忆落 (dropped around 50%, might go back to this and finish it)
* 我家又不是神奇生物养殖场!by 唇亡齿寒0
* 做树真的好难 by 喝豆奶的狼
* 撒野 by 巫哲
* 幻想农场 by 西子绪

Read next:

* 镇魂 by priest (starting on Monday with some members of [看剧学汉语 Discord](


**Final Reflection**

My reading speed increased as time went on. As I didn’t take notes on my speed time over time, any improvement was based on feeling. One year after starting this reading journey was when I noticed a significant difference. I checked my reading speed recently while I was reading 幻想农场 by 西子绪, and found myself at around 200 characters per minute (so in 30mins, I can read around 6,000 characters). This is three times the speed from when I first started.

The amount of time I can focus on a piece of text without feeling drained has also increased. Nowadays (18 months later), as long as that content doesn’t contain too many words I don’t know or complex sentence structure or grammar, I can read for as long as I want.

I currently know around 2.8k characters, and at a level where I can comfortably read (with occasional help from a dictionary) some slice of life modern novels. Novels with a bit of fantasy or supernatural elements mixed in are also manageable. Anything heavy on certain themes such as ancient martial arts, high fantasy and sci-fi are still quite difficult. This is something I’m slowly working on right now.


**General FAQ**

**Why have you only read webnovels?**

It’s simply ease of access, reading from a website allows me to use tools such as Zhongwen or Readibu. PayPal payment is also available on platforms like 起点中文网 and 晋江文学城. They are also extremely cheap. 幻想农场 by 西子绪 (a 700k character webnovel) is around $3-$4 to buy via 晋江文学城.

**9k words doesn’t seem like it’s enough to read native content?**

That is simply just the number of words I have in my flashcard deck, many words are learnt from content and many are combination of characters I’m already familiar with. For example, I know 书店 and 网上, so I don’t necessary need 网上书店 in my deck.

**How do you determine which novel to pick up next?**

I based it on the total length and number of unique characters or recommendation from other learners. Usually I would give the first few chapters a try, if I really struggle then I put that on hold and try something else.

**Do you have any goals of the rest of 2022?**

Continue learning Chinese of course, I’m still far from being able to read everything without a dictionary. I don’t have a fixed ordered reading list as I decide base on my mood at the time but I would like to read 全球高考 by 木苏里 and 夺梦 by 非天夜翔 this year.


**Key take aways**

**Patience & perseverance is key** – The journey from 1k to 3k characters is a difficult and frustrating one, especially if you want to read Chinese literature. Not going to lie, I’ve wanted quit many times, but I’m so glad I pulled through, it was so worth it in the end.

**Don’t rush** – It’s tempting to rush to the best work, but don’t do it, just take your time. For example, if I had attempted 幻想农场 2 years ago, or even a year ago, I would have been so frustrated with all the unknown words and the slow reading speed, that I might even have drop learning Chinese entirely, but instead I had an amazing experience!

**Take that first step** – I know many learners find it difficult to pick up a completely brand new native novel that they’ve never read before in another language, but it honestly isn’t as scary as it seems. The difficult part is actually finding a suitable novel and taking that first step. The first few chapters might be a bit difficult but trust me it will get easier after a few chapters. If you’re looking for something to read, maybe give one of these a go:

HSK (2.0) 4 – give 秃秃大王 a try

HSK (2.0) 5 – 我的狼妈妈 or 我的狐狸妹妹 are good options

HSK (2.0) 6 – 他们都说我遇到了未知生物 by 青色羽翼, 蜜汁炖鱿鱼 by 墨宝非宝 or 撒野 by 巫哲 would be good choices for this level

For more recommendations check out [our Webnovels and Books resource page](


**Some extra tips**

**Listening is important** – I know I haven’t really touched on listening in this post, but listening (whether it’s watching tv, listening to audiobook or a podcast) really really helps with passive vocabulary acquisition and retention.

**Use your vocabulary** – Actively using vocabulary makes a huge difference in retention, so if you’re able to use what you learn from reading when speaking and writing then go for it.



Thank you for reading my ramble, I hope I’ve been able to inspire you, and you’ve learnt something from me post. All the best in your Mandarin Chinese learning journey.

Remember, learning a new language enables you to discover all the culture has to offer, so go out there, discover and enjoy.

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