Want to read more authentic content in Chinese? Chinese novels, short stories and children stories written for native readers? For more intermediate and advanced learners the app Readibu has plenty of good reads to offer.
In a previous post, I discussed Weixin DuShu which could be called Tencent’s version of Kindle. Great for reading all kinds of books in Chinese, yet lacking a Chinese-English pop-up dictionary and other simple features that support people like you and me in their endeavor to read “native” content. A real pity, because a potentially fantastic app becomes next to unusable for the vast majority of Chinese learners.
Then there’s also DuShu which I discussed at length on this blog. It has those extra language learning features, but since it works by copy-pasting content from websites, DuShu is not optimized for reading longer texts like novels or even long interviews or essays. The same goes for the Pleco clipboard reader, assuming you don’t want to be bothered to repeatedly select the text on your mobile device, copy it, open the app and load it. It’s simply not very practical – not only does it cost a lot of time, but you also tend to lose track of the last page you read.
Readibu – web reader for reading Chinese web novels
There is a solution though, since Readibu tackles all these deficiencies rather well. In short, Readibu is a reading app for Chinese web novels, short stories and children stories, specially designed for Chinese learners. No more, no less. It extracts the text from almost any given website and presents it in reader mode with a special pop-up dictionary.
The idea behind it is very clever, after all there’s an overwhelming quantity of Chinese online novels you can read for free. In a way, “all” that Readibu does, is sorting (a selection of) them by HSK level, giving a short introduction and present them in reader mode. At least, now you know where to start. If you don’t feel up to reading a complex novel with countless characters that all have their own Chinese names, you can give the short stories a try first. They too come in different genres like philosophy, relationships, work & career, life, horror, mystery, legends and history.
All the rest is sort of self-explaining: I randomly picked my first novel called “Romance on the Road of Officialdom”. (I was warned it was cliché-ridden and written by “students”. My main concern is it has more than 500 chapters.) With the support of the pop-up dictionary, I was able to read the first chapters fairly quickly, not catching everything, but enough to enjoy the story and go forward.
The page stats give a more or less solid indication of the difficulty level, although familiar characters have a tendency to emerge in strange combinations and contexts, so you can’t be too sure about the actual readability. A “chengyu counter” would be appreciated as well. I encountered countless idioms, 98 % of which I couldn’t understand without tapping on them for their meaning. Nonetheless, these page stats are a welcome feature.
The same can be said about the dictionary history, especially the frequent words, which allow you to keep track of the most difficult and relevant new words. You can also star special words and expressions to study them later. If you want, you can even export your vocabulary lists and use them in other apps like Pleco or Anki.
Simplified or traditional characters
Another big plus for serious learners is that Readibu allows you to read simplified as well as traditional characters. Other settings like showing or hiding pinyin and underlining words and phrases to make the text more readable are useful too. The pinyin feature could be even better if you could customize it to hide, say, HSK 1 – 5 vocabulary and other familiar words and characters.
Bugs – broken links?
One serious bug I encountered using the app is that some URL’s don’t work. This was mostly the case when opening one of the short stories from m.xiaogushi.com, a website that currently seems to be offline. In other words, some broken links need to be fixed to avoid disappointment from users.
Best feature: read from any custom website
A big plus on the other hand, is that you can read almost any Chinese text in Readibu by copy-pasting the URL and loading the page. Their FAQ explains how it works: “Yes, any content that is publicly accessible on the internet can be read on the app, assuming it is not blocked or obfuscated with anti-scraping code. Navigate to Bookmarks tab and select the plus icon (+) to add a custom site URL as a new bookmark.” The bookmark section is where you find your reading list with saved novels, stories and your own content.
Compared to DuShu and Pleco clipboard reader where you have to switch between apps to copy-paste the text you want to read, this is a real advantage. I tested it with some news articles and it works smoothly. This also allows you to read other works of literature, in case you’re not completely convinced by the literary quality of the web novels in Readibu or have your own reading list. Works like “To Live” by Yu Hua for example or “Stories of the Sahara” by Sanmao – to name two extremely interesting and readable books.
Readibu is a freemium app. These extra features you get when you pay for subscription:
- Smart name recognition – Detect likely names of people, places and organizations
- Sentence Translation – Access unlimited translation with Google Translate
- Image Search – See image search results for selected text
- Offline Reading – Download pages for reading offline
In my opinion, they are welcome extra features, yet not essential to use and enjoy the app. At this point, I wouldn’t be willing to pay for them. Even better learner content, in-built audio to read texts out loud and flashcards functionality might convince me though.
Long story short: Readibu is great for those who’ve moved beyond HSK 4 and are hungry for longer, authentic content to read. The app is free, offers a variety of popular novels and stories, sorted by HSK level. If you’re the kind of autonomous language learner that enjoys a reading adventure to expand your vocabulary, increase your reading speed or simply “explore” the Chinese language, you should certainly give it a try.