One day around 2004, well before the advent of smart phones and internet speeds exceeding snail pace, Shapingba District, my first vaunt in Chongqing, abounded with shopfronts, kiosks, and makeshift stalls offering pulications to all mainstream tastes.
Keen to find better resources for learning Chinese, the eye-catching glossy cover of Crazy English Reader疯狂英语阅读版 caught my eye. I picked it up, leafed through the pages, and so began a monthly patronage of the magazine that lasted years.
The cover image of each issue encapsulated the theme for that month, and provided the common thread that linked all of the articles, songs and commentry inside.
All the content was sourced from original articles written in overseas publications. The articles were always entertaining and thought provoking.
Chinese students nationwide use the magazine as an English study aid, so you find the original English version in the left column of each page, with an immaculate Chinese translation on the other. To this very day, I am yet to spot a single typo or inaccurately translated passage.
At the end of each article, the writers prepared a box detailing key vocabulary, and explaining all the important background information and cultural references. Even obscure trivia from western TV shows never escaped their scope of research.
I saw the beauty and value in this publication from the word go. Despite the fact it targets a Chinese audience, there is absolutely no reason why a foreigner cannot turn the tables and work in reverse, using it as a fantastic resource for learning Chinese.
Thereon, most days, I completed an article with an eye on finishing the whole issue before the month was out, a feat I normally succeeded in.
All I did was this. I chose the article that most interested me that day, took out my old Nokia phone with stilus for entering Chinese characters in the dictionary, and a highlighter pen for sentence structures I thought were useful.
Nowadays, this process is a breeze now smart phone dictionaries like Pleco or Hanpin scan entire texts straight into the dictionary for your viewing pleasure. In the early days, though, I had to pain-stakingly work through passages character by character.
Once I had a decent grasp of the Chinese version, the final step was to befriend a colleague, student or friend, politely having them listen and correct as I stuttered through the text, tones most likely all over the place.
After a few years, I finally reached the point where articles in Crazy English Reader no longer challenged me enough, at which point I stopped reading and looked for a mono-lingual Chinese publication of greater difficulty.
In a later post, I will reveal the next magazine that helped take my Chinese to the next level, and the study method I adopted.
Also, the advance in smart phones and internet based media forced the majority of traditional newspaper vendors out of business, meaning it became ever more difficult to procure hard copies of favourite magazines.
Crazy English still prints every month, as the computer screen still can’t substitute the practiciality of annoting and highlighting physical paper, but the only feasible option now is to subscribe for twelve months around the turn of the year, either online or at China Post, by quoting the publication code of the magazine (To follow).
The Reader version was always my favourite, as the content was of more interest to adults, but as its popularity increased, the publishers branched out into further versions aimed more specifically at younger readers. Now, there is a choice of primary, middle and high school, teens, and oral English focused versions with more trendy themes and popular western culture.
For me personally, Crazy Reader will always the best, and I’d recommend any foreigner new in China to make the initial effort, learn the basics, then let your Chinese take off by learning from this great magazine.