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Using Children’s Books to Study Chinese as an Adult

children's books


My Chinese tutor has sometimes used children’s books to help me study the Chinese language. I think this has worked well for a few reasons.



  • She has chosen many of the books for their common language usage.
  • She has found books with themes that have some overlap with my interests or activities.
  • The books frequently have bopomofo in them.
  • We allow the lesson conversation to grow around the books, not be confined by them.

I have made attempts at buying children’s books myself, both while in Taiwan and via internet with mixed results. Sometimes, she has to point out to me that the language being used is somewhat archaic or in other ways stiff and not used conversationally. However, I am getting better at making discerning purchases and we have used several of the books I have bought with much success.

Only one of the books has an English translation in it alongside the Chinese, and that was only because it didn’t come any other way. In my experience it is best to only be visually presented with the Chinese. At least make a good first effort to read and think directly from the Chinese, or else the brain can’t engage in the Chinese as well. Besides that, the translation does not explain the Chinese, it just tells the story in English. I could buy an English version for that!

Most of the children’s books are now published with the left to right horizontal alignment of words, like in English. This also includes them opening from the direction English speakers are used to. It is easy to tell from the spacing of things if the traditional Chinese right to left vertical alignment is being used. And, really, once you get in the flow of reading, it doesn’t matter.

For me, the biggest challenge in readying Chinese is usually figuring out which character combinations go together. This has been getting easier as I become more familiar with the language, but can be particularly frustrating in the beginning. When I begin to recognize combinations without being told what they are, I can tell I am making good progress in overall comprehension.

I have found that the children’s stories that have only one or two sentences per page or illustration use the most conversational form of the language. In Chinese, just like English, there is some difference in how things are written and how they are spoken in every day usage. More short cuts tend to be taken when it is spoken, plus there are a few words that are distinctly for the written form, but are no used verbally.

Here is a list of several of the books I have enjoyed studying. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them on amazon or any English website, but there might be a way to special order them, as I see the English versions on amazon, which I will link to alongside, if I can find it. (I have never ordered from the sites where I found the Chinese books, but I am going to contact them and try. I will let you know how it goes!)

真心送給你     (My Grandpa)  by Marta Altes

真心送給你     (could only find it in German… Herz zu verschenken)

光腳丫先生    (even though the Chinese title says “Mr. Barefoot” the English version is called Mr. Magnolia)

大猩猩      (apparently reprinted with new cover art, but still titled Gorilla)

I am intrigued by the company I found for the last book listed, Read with Mommy, since they are particularly catering to children learning both English and Chinese. Their website is in English.

I am going to collaborate with my Chinese tutor and write some children’s books in Chinese. In fact, there is one about half way finished. I will make it available on Kindle and via the amazon direct printing service. My books will have the advantage of a second section that goes through the translation with explanations.

I hope you can find some of these books to enjoy. If you have your own suggestions, please share them and links to them in the comments!