The first time I landed in China, I was filled with trepidation. I didn't know if my Chinese would be good enough to get me a cab from the airport.
Still, when my classes started, I lucked into a picking a great goal. I decided that my goal for the year would be to learn to read a Chinese newspaper.
A goal worth having
At the time, I didn't realize the benefits of this goal. Once you're able to read newspapers, a whole new world of Chinese language opens up to you. You can go on to read literature, pour over poetry, and even understand Classical Chinese. But it doesn't end there: the study methods (not to mention the characters and words) you learned while working towards this goal will help bring your spoken and listening skills to another level.
Fluent Chinese without even being able to read the news is almost a pipe-dream. But with the knowledge you gain and the confidence you build while learning to read, fluency in Mandarin is but a few steps away.
An outrageous, but achievable goal
I'll be honest. After one year of hard work, one year of studying characters, memorizing vocabulary and picking apart sentences, I wasn't able to read a newspaper with perfect comprehension. But I did learn a lot. After that year, I was confident and motivated-- I knew that getting better reading skills was just a matter of more practice. Within a few months, I was reading newspapers: first at 60% comprehension, then at 75%, and then at more than 90%. I had achieved my goal. With hard work and the right direction, you'll achieve it too.
The world's at your fingers
Not everyone has the opportunity to go to China to study like I did; but luckily, the world is different now. The tubes of the internet are stuffed with news sites, forums, weibo (the Chinese Twitter), blogs, and e-books. You have access to everything you need to learn to read Chinese news. All you must do is take the step and commit yourself to learning to read Chinese.