Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Approaching pronunciation of new words during extensive reading

Recommended Posts


As Chinese is not a phonetic language, it is difficult to pick up the pronunciation of new words while extensively reading. So, I’m at a bit of a loss whether or not to look up the pronunciation of new words while extensively reading. On the one hand, not looking them up allows for a smoother reading experience and the majority of the new words looked up and will be uncommon and quickly forgotten. However, not looking up the words at all would lead to a high reading fluency that does not translate to speaking as you do not know the pronunciation of origin or the definitions for.


What approach would you recommend? I’ve been seeing mixed answers online.

  • Good question! 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.


I'm no expert, but what I will usually do is guess the pronunciation of a word the first time I see it. If it starts to recur, I then look it up. It's a very "feel" based approach. The more you do this, the better you get at guessing, and there's been a few times now when I've guessed a pronunciation, reread a sentence, and realised what the word was, maybe adjusting a tone, but maybe not. I presume this is similar to how a lot of native speakers do it.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Presumably you want to keep increasing your vocabulary, but then I also assume there's a natural limit to how many new words you're able/willing to learn every week. So as long as you're already doing other things to build your vocabulary steadily, you can happily ignore new words/characters that appear in extensive reading.


Except - if the same word/character comes up several times, it can be annoying not to know what it means, so it's definitely worth looking it up when you start feeling annoyed, otherwise your reading experience will cease being smooth, for that reason, in my opinion.


The most difficult thing with extensive reading is, I think, finding texts suitable to your level that don't have too many new words. One alternative is to do reading comprehension exercises in textbooks or exam papers: if these have a fairly strict time limit that forces you to ready quickly while not understanding everything, then I think these actually improve your extensive, rather than intensive, reading skills.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

When I read from paper materials (magazines, books, newspapers), I underline unknown words in pencil while reading. Afterwards, I then look them up in a dictionary and usually make a list of all the unknown words with example sentences. At a later stage, I reread the same material, and it is usually a lot easier the second time. Having said all this, this is probably what I used to do about 10 years ago. I haven't done much extensive Chinese reading recently.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/17/2021 at 1:38 AM, NinKenDo said:

what I will usually do is guess the pronunciation of a word the first time I see it. If it starts to recur, I then look it up.

This is what I do too, mostly. If I don't know the pronunciation of a word, I'll skip over it, unless it annoys me or it keeps coming back, then I look it up. I sometimes guess but I try not to, because I'm often a little bit wrong and I don't want to reinforce incorrect guesses.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • New Members

I look up every word I don't know. Then reread a sentence if it had unknown words. This creates comprehensible input. Learnt so much vocabulary doing it like this. Don't worry about forgetting them, they'll come round again and at some point they'll just stick like magic. Pleco is super useful when not using ebooks, but ebooks are obviously preferred. If the number of look ups is becoming tiring, then I look for something easier to read.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...