Using a Kindle to Read Chinese Books
Reading is quite likely the best way to improve your vocabulary and the Kindle (or other similar ebook readers) are quite likely the best way to read.
In other words, the Kindle is an awesome language learning tool! In this post I’m not going to argue why reading is so effective or why the Kindle screen is so much better than an iPad. Instead I’m going to look at two things: 1) How to download ebooks from the Chinese Kindle store on a Kindle bought outside of China, and 2) What nice features make the Kindle a useful tool for learning Chinese.
1.How Can I Get Chinese Ebooks?
If you have an amazon account in your own country you will need to sign up for another amazon account on the Chinese amazon. (amazon.cn). I suggest you don’t use the same email address as your existing amazon account. Originally I made the mistake of registering for an amazon.cn account using the same email address that I had used to register for amazon.co.uk and the result was that the Kindle would log me into the amazon.co.uk account every time. Even when I was in China.
I eventually figured out I could get around this problem by changing the language. When the Kindle language was set to “English UK” it would sign me into amazon.co.uk and when the language was set to “简体中文” amazon.cn is where I would end up. Since the Kindle has to shut down and reboot every time you change language I think it’s easier to switch accounts if you don’t use the same email address.
Once you’ve got an amazon.cn account you will need to add money to your account (a Visa card works, as does Alipay). You can then register your Kindle to your amazon.cn account and click on the store icon to purchase books from the Chinese Kindle store. If you want to change which Kindle store you have access to you will need to change which account the Kindle is registered to.
When you change account you will still keep the books downloaded with the other account so this way you can have books from both stores. Unfortunately this does mean that if you’re also using the Kindle app on your computer or phone your books won’t always sync to a to the last page you read.
I have read other blog posts that say you can add an alternative shipping address to your existing amazon account to get access to that country’s Kindle store. This seems to work with other countries but when I tried doing that with my Chinese address it gave me access to the amazon.co.uk and the amazon.com store and would allow me to switch between the two. But it wouldn’t let me access amazon.cn to get Chinese books. For that I needed a separate account on amazon.cn.
2. Why Use a Kindle?
The main reason why I think a Kindle is so much better than reading books on your phone is that you can’t get distracted by all the other things a smart phone or tablet can offer. I have a short attention span and the iPhone doesn’t help.
The Kindle also has some nice functions such as clicking on a word for immediate dictionary look up. And as long as you’re signed into your amazon.cn account the dictionary is 现代汉语词典 by default, so the explanations of Chinese words will be in Chinese.
If this Chinese immersion experience scares you (or if your level isn’t that high) you can change it to a Chinese-English dictionary in settings. You can even download more dictionaries.
switching from Chinese-Chinese to Chinese-English dictionary
Another great thing is that you can choose to have pinyin alongside characters on ebooks. There is a sliding scale so you can choose how much pinyin appears based on the frequency of those characters, or you can have pinyin for all characters.
how much pinyin do you want?
It’s also easy to highlight vocabulary or save it to a vocab list, which you can review later. I recommend focusing on meaning when reading and later (when you’ve finished reading) review the words you highlighted.
It is easy for language learners to get bogged down by focusing on all the new words they see and this actually reduces the amount of language input they are getting. If you stop to look up every new word you’re not sure about and write down every word you want to remember then your reading will become a lot slower (so you read less) and you will probably not enjoy reading so much (which means you will read even less in the future).
Also, improving reading skills is not the same as building vocabulary. Getting better at reading is more about learning to ignore the words you don’t know and focus on the words you do know (as I explain in this post here). The Kindle is great because if you are the type of learner that likes to build vocab lists you can do it so effortlessly that it won’t really distract from your reading and slow you down
There is a lot to be said about the Kindle as a language learning tool so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you are having trouble accessing the Chinese Kindle store to buy books you can also leave a comment below and I will try to help out if I can.