I was wondering if Chinese children's books might be a good starting place for adult Chinese language newbies (regardless of whether it be Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, whatever), in particular for westerners whom the Chinese language is completely different from their own.

Does this sound like a good starting point, or are adult brains simply not wired that way?

  • This question is a good fit for Language Learner SE.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 3:38

6 Answers 6


There is one main difference between children's books and adult foreign textbooks:

Adult foreign textbooks are designed to give foreigners the best chance to communicate in simple everyday circumstances.

Children's books start with the very basics and require longer to get to the same place, however they provide you a much more solid base and a far wider range of knowledge.

So it depends on your aims. But if you are in for the long haul: I started with foreign language books and after a year was handed a set of Chinese primary school books. This gave me a huge benefit when going to the next level.


I learned Chinese through children's books as a child.

I've suffered from NOT using children's books in other languages. What has happened in those languages is that I've learned a lot of "technical" terms, and can hold my own in "advanced" discussions. Then I trip over some grammar point or some every day phrase that every 10-year old native speaker knows.

So yes, I'd recommend children's books for most adults.


I have read some children's books and found that they can be helpful. However, there is one drawback that I've seen, which doesn't apply to textbooks. Some children's books are designed to help children learn to read. However, the assumption is that the children already know how to speak. Thus, the book helps new readers learn characters but assumes they know the vocabulary. So as a foreign learner you have to learn both at the same time. A textbook, or a book designed for foreign speakers, will limit the vocabulary and also explain new vocabulary in ways that children's books do not.

Otherwise, anything you can read will be helpful.


No. Children's books are written -- not surprisingly -- for little native speakers. These are little people who have an astonishingly broad vocabulary at age three. And that vocabulary includes many words that foreign learners of the language never pick up (or need, really.) What kid doesn't know the sounds that every animal makes, or the words for a bunch of body positions, or a bunch of verbs that are rarely used outside of childhood routines?

When we teach students to read, we use purpose-written texts, not generic children's books. You can teach using children's books if you care to take the time to teach the vocabulary that is in them, but so much of it is not high-frequency that it's hardly worth the time. Mature learners need to focus on the highest-frequency words and structures in the language, and need to reinforce their acquisition of the structure of the language. They don't need to spend time decoding a lot of vocabulary they will have little use for in the near term. Those who stick with Chinese over the long term may want to know all those words eventually, but they are not in the majority by any means.


Well. If you learn as an adult, usually you want to learn quickly.

There are many specialised learning methods targeting adults, and they are very helpful. So, if you want to learn quick - don't use children books.


If you have children. And if you read to them. This is another pair of shoes. Yes, even if it is you who wants to learn.

If I read a book to my son, I do so twice, or much more often. So at the end I know the book by heart. This is very helpful when learning a language. So I dont learn quick here, but deep.

But, actually I don't think thats what you were asking about.


I've used a mixture of textbooks and children's books to practice reading. The biggest advantage to children's books is that I can read them together with my daughter. She's not very interested in my textbooks!

The biggest thing to be careful of with children's books is to check which phonetic system they use before you buy or borrow them. Here in Vancouver, our library has a lot of Chinese children's books that were printed in Hong Kong, so they use Zhuyin Fuhao (bopomofo). I learned pinyin in my lessons, so I had to teach myself Zhuyin Fuhao just to read these library books.

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