How Do Children Learn to Read?
Children learn to read by reading. This is true for Chinese, English and any other language. It is great news for bookworms. It also makes it even more crucial for students to get their hands on appropriate reading materials. This is hard for intermediate learners as most materials are meant for beginners. Beginners make up the largest segment of the market. Additionally, materials for native speakers are too difficult and will cause frustration.
Books for Chinese Language Learners
I discovered the Mandarin Companion Graded Readers (not an affiliate link) through the blog Mandarin Immersion Parents Council. Graded readers are specially written for Mandarin language learners. There are several books in the series, including adapted Sherlock Holmes stories. There are also versions of Dickens novels and at least one version of a Jane Austen novel. These stories use only a few hundred Chinese characters and less than 1,000 words. This combined with the fact that students are likely to already be familiar with the stories (background knowledge helps with comprehension) means that these books allow students to engage in fairly fluent Chinese reading. The readability of these books reduces frustration level and promotes more reading!
What about Authentic Resources (aka #authres)
Often in second language learning, it is tempting for students and teachers to use reading materials aimed at young native speakers of the target language. There is a place for this kind of reading, but for the most part, the words and characters used in those books do not match what an intermediate student needs. Take a look at the passage below. It is a story that explains the chengyu “老妈识途” (an old hand knows the ropes). To get through even the first few words, a student would have to recognize the characters and understand the Spring and Autumn period, the non-extant state of Qi, and the government minister Guan Zhong. This might be reasonable for a university student who is also studying ancient Chinese history in English. It is not reasonable for a working adult or an elementary student in an immersion program.