Which apps do you use to improve your Chinese reading skills? In this post, I compare the Chinese reader apps DuShu and Easy Chinese News and tell you from which one your reading skills benefit the most.
Why reading Chinese texts is important…
I don’t think anybody doubts the importance of reading to improve your language skills. Especially when combined with lots of (comprehensible) input reading has the tendency to improve your grasp on vocabulary and grammar. More elaborate sentence structures come within reach. You learn different ways to say things in different contexts. And more often than not, you acquire cultural knowledge related to your target language.
Some common problems when reading Chinese
When it comes to high level command of Chinese, all experts I know of agree that being able to read Chinese characters is indispensable. The special thing with reading Chinese texts though, is that already a relatively small number of unfamiliar characters can reduce your understanding of a text to the point of being completely lost.
Although some people might disagree, in many cases – when you read a “new” character or a combination of them – you’re left to guess. Depending on the level of your Hanzi skills that is. Because sometimes you can make an educated guess about meaning and pronunciation, based on the elements in the character and the characters surrounding it. And other times you cannot. I previously wrote about reading “Game of Thrones” in Chinese or rather trying to and giving up halfway, because it was simply too hard to enjoy.
The main problem with reading Chinese texts above your level is that it can be demotivating. I can think of two solutions:
- The first one being graded readers. They allow you to read on your level – say about 98 % familiar characters – and make progress by reading extensively and enjoying the experience.
- The second one are reader apps like The Chairman’s Bao and Du Chinese. If you check their free lessons, you’ll see these apps offer more than online texts only. There’s audio, pinyin, keywords, grammar points, progress tracking and more things that allow you to study texts thoroughly. These features come at a price of course, starting from 10$ a month. But there are also some low-budget options like DuShu and Easy Chinese News that offer similar functions. I’ll do a comparison of these two apps in this post.
Compared to The Chairman’s Bao and Du Chinese, the reading app DuShu might be less sophisticated. Like I wrote in a previous review, DuShu is mainly a tool in which you can copy-paste, read and study any Chinese text. DuShu doesn’t have a website or Twitter account and its design stresses functionality more than aesthetics.
Easy Chinese News is more akin to Chairman’s Bao, except for the fact that all their texts come directly from Chinese news sources and aren’t customized for learners. Neither can I detect much marketing effort to push Easy Chinese News, they do have a website though, with a desktop version of the app in English, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. The website gives a good impression what the (mobile) app looks like and how it works.
In a nutshell, DuShu allows you to read, understand and study any Chinese text by copy-pasting it into the reader. This means you’re completely free to read whatever you want, study any topic you want. I for my bit have been reading Chinese news articles from Deutsche Welle for example. Import the text, save it and you even get a difficulty indication like intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced and so on.
Some people like tone colors and pinyin above the characters, others don’t. You can customize all these and other text settings like font size according to your reading preferences. Another good thing: DuShu doesn’t display HSK vocabulary below your level which helps you to focus on new characters. DuShu offers two reading modes: you can either read sentence-by-sentence or go full-text-mode and scroll through. If you become a frequent user of DuShu, you start to build your own “library” of Chinese texts, flashcard collections and vocabulary lists of starred words. This means that it’s pretty easy to look back and review previously read material.
DuShu uses a freemium model with in-app sales. Free users can use all core features, but some are limited. Premium features include:
- Unlimited Google translates
- Stroke order display for more than 1000 frequently used characters
- Unlimited usage of flashcards and exercises
In short, DuShu is a powerful reading tool for autonomous learners who know what topics they’re interested in and how to self-study texts – in particular for intermediate and advanced learners.
- Clipboard reader: read & study any Chinese text you want with audio and pinyin
- HSK-friendly vocabulary lists based on the text you’re reading
- Text difficulty indicator
- Flashcards and exercises to review what you’ve read
- HSK sentences included
- No ads!
- Limited Google translations (10 per day), limited number of flashcards (300) and exercises (100) in the free version
- Displaying traditional characters is currently not supported
An app that focuses entirely on Chinese news for Mandarin learners? Why not? When I installed “Easy Chinese News”, I expected to be disappointed. I’ve installed too many apps for Chinese that look interesting on the surface, yet mainly serve ads. Easy Chinese News contains ads too, but it combines a surprising number of features that – in my opinion – are worth giving a try – especially if you take an interest in the Mainland Chinese news and media.
The app’s core function: proving a news feed from Mainland Chinese sources for Chinese learners. Sources like China Daily, 163.com, Netease, CCTV, Toutiao news and others. The news feed is updated daily. The selection of mostly short articles you get presented is a random mix of news content which can be sorted by difficulty level (easy or difficult) and topic. These topics include economy, world, travel, fashion, education, jobs, law, sports and so on. This allows you to read international news from China Daily for example or the latest tech news.
Similar to DuShu you can customize the text settings (font size, text color and the like), save favorite words, and listen to the text’s audio. The in-built dictionary is very comprehensive and loads data from web sources (Hanzii Dict and others). What I like in particular is the search option. More than simply a translation, you also get synonyms, antonyms, sentence examples, grammatical explanations and even images. The app includes exercises like flashcards, translating exercises and – unlike DuShu – voice-recording to practice pronunciation.
The app has some other features you might not expect. Video lessons with transcripts for example. In total, I counted twenty of them. If you prefer audio-only, you can listen to a selection of podcasts. Last but not least, you can practice HSK mock exams, though you do need to sign in.
If you purchase the premium version, you get the following benefits:
- Remove ads
- Read news offline
- Download audio offline
- Practice HSK offline and unlock all mock-up exams
- Lookup dictionary offline
- Unlimited reads (instead max. 10)
In other words, Easy Chinese News exceeds expectations. If you’re interested in better understanding Chinese news articles, this is an app you might want to check out. But it also has to be said that the inflow of daily news seems pretty random at first – could be anything from a scam that happened on some Chinese airport or a “influencer” cat with four ears (just read about that). So you have to filter out the noise and find topics you’re interested in. Moreover, the number of features and variety of content can be a bit overwhelming. Personally, I don’t think a news reader for Chinese learners requires an HSK section – there are other apps for that. Video lessons and podcast episodes are “nice to have”, but not essential. The ads in the free version are a nuisance and probably the main motivator to purchase the premium version. To sum it up, the app offers much more than I expected, but it might be more than I need.
- Daily updated news feed from Mainland Chinese sources
- Multilingual dictionary with example sentences included
- Favorite word list + notebook, reading history
- Unexpected features like free video lessons, HSK exams and podcast player
- “On-boarding” for some features to help you along
- Simplified and traditional characters
- Annoying ads
- Keeps reminding you to upgrade
- Less is more?
Both apps are especially useful for more intermediate learners looking to improve their reading skills. It’s hard to tell which one has the most positive effect on your reading skills, since they’re so different: DuShu is a tool for – let’s call it – “user-generated” texts, whereas Easy Chinese News provides a news feed for Chinese learners.
Easy Chinese News is a promising, new app that offers an unexpected variety of features and content. Warning: the ads undermine a pleasant reading experience and you’re constantly reminded to upgrade (€ 16,99, one-time payment). I like the easy access to the latest news from Mainland Chinese sources though, combined with the app’s useful features to understand and study the texts. Video lessons and podcasts are a nice extra.
DuShu – in my opinion – remains the most straightforward, “cut-the-crap” Chinese reader app with its 100 % focus on reading. No ads, no distractions. The app gives its users full autonomy in terms of reading material. The design, interface and additional features may be less spectacular, but it offers everything you need for self-studying Chinese texts to improve your reading skills.
That’s it! At the end of the day, you might want to check out both apps to see which one works better for you or – why not – even use both. As always – feel free to leave a comment down below.
PS Looking for something to read in Chinese?
Here are some websites from my overview of Chinese learning resources that you can check out:
- Mandarin Bean (all levels)
- My Chinese Reading (all levels)
- HSK reading (all levels)
- Chinese Reading Practice (all levels)
- Chinese Reader’s Guild (all levels)
- Chinese News Club – (intermediate)
- The Marco Polo Project (advanced)
- BBC news in Mandarin Chinese (advanced)
- Chinese news from Deutsche Welle (advanced)
- Australian ABC中文 News (advanced)
- 纽约时报中文网 – New York Times: English-Chinese parallel text. (Advanced)
- Sputnik News in Chinese (advanced)
- Baidu News (advanced)
- Project Gutenberg in Chinese (highly advanced)
- An Annotated Collection of Digitized Chinese Texts for Students of Chinese Language and Culture (highly advanced)
Graded Chinese readers
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