I cam across this post a while back, its a discussion regarding the ease (and/or speed) of reading text in Chinese vs text in English. To directly quote what another person had quoted:

I feel English is a reading language, if you are reading an English book, you watch the word and make sound in your brain. But Chinese can be a watching language, take a Chinese book, I can watch over a paragraph and get the meaning of most part.

The entire thread is a nice read, though I sort of tossed it to the back of my mind after looking through it. But today I came across a neat post that has to do with our (English) brains work when reading, admittedly many of you may have seen this effect before but take a look regardless:

enter image description here

I've seen posts like this many times in the past but when I saw this today it made me recall the thread describing a native Chinese speaker's ability to "watch over a paragraph and get the meaning of most part".

For native Chinese speakers, can you corroborate this claim, that you have the ability to skim a Chinese text and still form an understanding? If so, do you see this picture as an accurate analogy?

  • 1
    no difficulty to read the picture lah 😽 Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 10:22
  • I think there are two interpretations. 1) A person can "watch over a [Chinese] paragraph and get the meaning of most part" by using context to guess the Chinese characters that he/she does not know. 2) To read Chinese, all you need to recognize is the shape, and not the details (e.g. exact strokes).
    – Flux
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 10:31
  • Human brain often take short cut when reading. It doesn't need to correctly read every character, just skim- through sentences, register only the important part and fill in the rest with presumptive information. Most Chinese can correctly interpret a sentence that half of it are wrong but similar characters
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 11:02
  • Reading Chinese characters is very much like reading the individual "English" Alphabets -- A.....Z Each alphabet is actually a "character" So, Chinese characters to me is just a string of "alphabets" As for the "misspelled" text in question, I have no problem with it because the general "shape" of the misspelled word gives me sufficient clue to read it fairly quickly. There is no need to actually work out the correct spelling first. So, in this way, perhaps good Chinese readers who are also proficient in English should do fairly well here. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 11:45
  • 1
    So, to answer your question, "...do you see this picture as an accurate analogy?", my answer is yes. You need this ability of "skimming" Chinese characters anyway if you need to sing fast chinese karaoke songs. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 12:03

6 Answers 6







e.g. 小别致长得真东西。


btw,I can read the whole text in 3 seconds, partly because it expresses very simple ideas. It's true that reading Chinese text doesn't necessarily need you "voicing" in your mind. This is much different to alphabetic language for I know.

  • Yeah, it’s a little disturbing if you were trained to correct texts, but this is very true. For simple topics if you see some keywords in a paragraph you can get what they want to say. For English I haven’t been able to do that, which is also why I’m slow in terms of English reading. I don’t know how native English read in their brain.
    – sylvia
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 17:00
  • Quoting 萌娘百科 for anything other than anime is completely off my expectation. XD Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 17:48
  • @sylvia another odd tidbit about reading English as a native English speaker is that we dont notice if you put the same word twice in a row, our brain just filters it out Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 2:51

Disclaimer: Native Chinese speaker, English as 2nd language.

The picture question

No, it is not an accurate analogy.

If you are reading a Chinese paragraph with some characters in the wrong order, mostly you are just treating the out-of-order texts as unidentifiable symbols and then infer the lost characters based on what you can identify, like how a native Chinese user would read Japanese text with Kanji (漢字) in it. A character in Chinese is the minimum identifiable unit (one that has a distinct meaning and you can make a sound out of it), and while most nouns in modern Chinese are formed of 2 or more characters, you can often guess the word based on the characters ahead of it. Being able to guess the word correctly based on 50% of identifiable characters without any context is what we used to be trained a lot in the elementary school (词语/成语填空, example). It is like the crossword game but instead of 26 options to choose from, you get 5000.

English text with characters in the wrong order is somewhat different from the Chinese case. In the English context, as a word being the minimum identifiable unit, you will not be able to read fast if you go through the same thing in the Chinese context. To still achieve a reasonable reading speed, here are the things that I found important:

  • position and sequence of the consonant characters (this allow you to make a sound of the word)
  • the word length
  • which part of the sentence is the word in

All 3 things are not easily available in the Chinese context.

There is something equivalent to the picture you posted in the Chinese language, for example, sight-reading Traditional Chinese text as a Simplified Chinese user, or vice versa. Or even more, sight-reading the Second Round Simplified Chinese (二简字) characters.

The ability of skimming

I feel English is a reading language, if you are reading an English book, you watch the word and make sound in your brain. But Chinese can be a watching language, take a Chinese book, I can watch over a paragraph and get the meaning of most part.

This is not true. Silent reading and skimming/scanning exist in both English and Chinese. Personally, I can choose from reading slowly with a sound in my brain or just quickly scan the text without any sound based on the type of material and my needs. I prefer silent reading while I'm reading stories, but when researching or reading long technical documents, I'd rather just scan them, find the keywords I need, then read the relevant paragraphs. Your mileage may vary.

you have the ability to skim a Chinese text and still form an understanding

This is true for me.


In my native speaking language, (Patios or Patwa) as it's called, it helps me to understand how to incorporate English words in different pattern sounds. Our language is of English when communicating. but it's broken down easily by only using certain letters and vowels of pronunciation words when speaking. Example.... (Hey What's happen ? ) is (Wa' em) our dialect speaking derived from its original English language, we listen to the sounds of words when spoken to, we interpret it as close as we can....this is how the first settlers from the Caribbean island brought over from Africa develop talking English in the early 1700s. Most of the Caribbean islands have become diverse in speaking multiple languages, such as Mandarin, French, Hindi, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese...etc


It's not a difference between Chinese and English. It's just your familiarity with the written language. The rest is mostly unscientific idle speculation.


Chinese is a pictorial language. You don't need to scan every bit of a picture to understand the contents of the picture. Do you?


only if the words are kept short for the most part. example

In the Vcraiiton are, a levloy eamlred geren, pirlaalty frmoueltad form asirnec, was uesd in fcaibrs and ppaluor falrol hresesdeads

not as easy to read

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