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I have actively studied Chinese for about 10 years now, and I can speak, read, and write at the advanced level. However, my reading speed is abysmally slow. It takes me about 7 minutes to get through a single page in a novel. I know almost every character, but I just read it so ridiculously slowly.

How can I improve my reading speed? For example, should I be practicing reading out loud (to ensure that I am pronouncing each word correctly) or is silent reading better? Would doing more handwriting help (I have almost exclusively used the computer for several years now)? Or as a foreign speaker am I just destined to not read Chinese nearly as quickly as I read English?

I hope this is within scope of this site--please note that I am not asking for resources, as in these two closed questions.

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    Quote:- "Or as a foreign speaker am I just destined to not read Chinese nearly as quickly as I read English?" That's like saying you are destined to not use chopsticks as proficiently as a native Chinese user because you have "foreign" fingers. BTW, many native Chinese actually hold the chopsticks not in the traditional way. – Wayne Cheah Apr 16 at 5:42
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Hacking Chinese (by Olle Linge) mentions that the way to reading faster is to simply read more. Presumably extensive reading as opposed to intensive reading. That is, read many different texts that are well within your ability to read, as opposed to a few texts that are closer to the edge of your ability to read. By well within your ability to read, I mean that you know 98% of the words (not simply 98% of the characters). By reading extensively, you will be practising reading texts as opposed to practising studying them (i.e. looking up a lot of words or grammar, or frequently stopping and thinking in order to understand the text).

You could find easy texts (such as graded readers) and read (and re-read) those until you can read them at the speed you would like. Then, you could slowly increase the difficulty of the texts to improve your reading speed on more difficult texts as well.

Hacking Chinese goes into more nuances and has more advice in their articles, but I understand extensive reading to be the main thrust of the approach to improve reading speed.

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    I wrote those articles, if anyone has questions, and I would like to add that there are many fancy methods floating around about reading speed, but I've shifted more and more to thinking that being able to quickly recognise words (not just characters) is the key for second language learners. If you can't do that, no fancy technique will matter. Effortless word recognition requires thousands of hours of reading. So yeah... just read more! And silently, of course, reading aloud is a different skill with only partial overlap: hackingchinese.com/reading-aloud-in-chinese-is-really-hard – Olle Linge Apr 16 at 7:06
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    Extra note for people taking advanced proficiency tests: Practise specifically for the test. Read with a purpose with predefined comprehension questions similar to those on the exam. Time is usually a big factor on these exams, and reading with the goal of extracting certain pieces of information is different from reading for pleasure. Still, this is something that can only increase your chances of passing so much; basic reading speed still needs to be pretty decent. – Olle Linge Apr 16 at 7:08
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I am not an expert reader of Chinese script at all. However, a useful piece of advice was given to me when I started learning: instead of reading character-by-character, try to read in groupings. That is, scan the sentence first quickly to see if any hanzi are unrecognizable, then reread it another time with your eyes focusing on the trees but also the forest. In other words, read each character with the next character in eyesight.

Obviously the capacity to do so hinges upon your level of comfortability with the hanzi in a given sentence. But overall, the way that the hanzi relate to each other in a sentence is not always the same as English (When it was raining... versus 下雨的时候……). So I think it is beneficial to approach reading with a more global, forest rather than trees mindset, grouping characters by meaning, and then reviewing each character group in relation to each other. I think speed will improve in time after effectively practicing this over time.

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  • Yes, it is in not knowing the "groupings" that I lose time. But not so sure about the solution to that. When you are reading a book or article for leisure, you scan each sentence before reading it? That feels pretty unnatural to me. – The_Anomaly Apr 16 at 13:35
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A couple of things are not clear in your question. You said it takes you 7 minutes to read a page in a novel. What reading level is the novel? And how many characters are there on a page? I just looked at my "Hong Lou Meng". There are approximately 700-800 characters on each full page. So if you're talking about a "Hong Lou Meng" kind of novel, I would say 7 minutes is not bad at all.

Another question is: what problems did you encounter during the seven minutes? Do you have problems with character recognition? With pronunciation? With meaning? With grammar?

The way I see it, if you're reading way too slowly, it usually means you're struggling with something. And if you are struggling, the most likely reason is the reading material is too difficult for you. I agree with @2ndQuantized that you need to find materials that you can process more easily to improve speed.

Another thing I would suggest is reading aloud. This is not to help you with pronunciation, although it will also do that, but to help you parse the sentences and to understand the sentence structure. Reading aloud forces you to figure out which characters should be grouped together, and which characters should be stressed and so on. You will also be adding intonation, which will also help you with comprehension. In other words, to be a better/faster reader, you need to feel comfortable with which characters are grouped together. If you practice a lot of parsing, you will learn the structures of sentences. This will help your reading.

You also asked: as a foreign speaker am I just destined to not read Chinese nearly as quickly as I read English?

Please do not even entertain this idea. Nobody is destined to that. You have learned a new language for 10 years and have improved greatly. You ought to be proud of yourself. Having said that, of course there is always room for improvement. Happy learning!

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  • Thank you for the encouragement! And definitely not 后楼梦 level...more like 三体 or other modern writing. Different answers here are conflicting on the usefulness of reading aloud...I think I will try splitting my reading half aloud and half silent, to try and practice both. – The_Anomaly Apr 16 at 13:46
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    @The_Anomaly I just read your comments to other posts, and you said knowing the groupings is what takes up your time. If that is the case, I would really encourage you to read aloud more to help you with that. It will also help you get used to the general rhythm of the language. I am speaking as a retired teacher, as well as drawing from my experience with English. – monalisa Apr 16 at 16:04
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I agree with the other answers. To more directly answer your questions:

How can I improve my reading speed?

By reading more.

For example, should I be practicing reading out loud (to ensure that I am pronouncing each word correctly) or is silent reading better?

Definitely silent reading if you want to improve speed.

Would doing more handwriting help (I have almost exclusively used the computer for several years now)?

Not directly.

Or as a foreign speaker am I just destined to not read Chinese nearly as quickly as I read English?

Yes, just as I can't read English as quickly as I read Chinese. However, with practice it's possible for you to be quicker than your old self.

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