In My Chinese Learning Adventure

I completed everything in the Duolingo app, Integrated Chinese Level 1 part 1 and about half of part 2. I want something to expand my skills. That’s why I am happy that I found Mandarin Companion graded readers.

A few months ago, I Googled Chinese children’s books and graded readers. I didn’t find anything that looked like I could successfully read.

Recently, I started listening to podcasts about learning Chinese. In one podcast, called “You Can Learn Chinese,” I learned about the Mandarin Companion series. These are graded readers with controlled vocabulary.

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Watch the video to see how these books are helpful:

Why you need Mandarin Companion to learn Chinese

Now that you know the features of these books, let’s talk about why you need these books.

Problem 1: The Under-Engaging Robot

In many apps, like Duolingo, you learn a set of sentences using the vocabulary you’ve learned. It’s a great way to get started, but if we talked with others using ONLY the sentences and structures we learn in apps and text books, we’d sound like robots. They’re not interesting to talk with in social settings and lack a variety of topics.

Problem 2: Reading Without a Purpose or Interest.

As a former ESL teacher, I taught students 1:1. I was able to customize each lesson on the fly based on the students’ interests. Since they were interested in our conversations, asked more questions, and picked up more English.

Just like them, I also don’t want to read a bunch of unrelated sentences. I want to read something engaging. Something that piques my interest.

In my video, you saw bookcases full of books. That’s because I love to read. I chose Emma as my first graded reader because I liked the original. I was curious to see what they did to modernize it and how they could possibly use only 300 characters.

Problem 3: Too Complicated

Children’s, teens’, and adults’ books written for native readers are too difficult for beginning second language readers. These books talk about things that the target audiences grew up learning about. Once the vocabulary words are identified, the context is already there. But, that doesn’t work for us. We’re still learning the culture and the nuances each sentence implies.

Problem 4: Always in Context

Another problem solved by reading a graded reader is that we are exposed to the vocabulary in a different context- outside of a lesson with some visual cues. To paint a picture, you always see Mary Sue at the same place around the same people. Then, one day, you see someone familiar at the grocery store, but you can’t remember their name or where you’ve seen them. You’re ready to walk away to avoid an embarrassing experience. Suddenly, they greet you. You awkwardly greet them back. Somehow, the discussion leads to you discovering how you know them. Light Bulb! You remember her name is Mary Sue and much more.

Likewise, we’ve seen the characters 认真 before. We used it correctly 100% of the time in the Duolingo app each time we reviewed the lesson. Now, the characters are in the graded reader we’re reading. Also, the font is different. We don’t remember which lesson or lesson topic we learned the characters. We have to struggle at first. Then, Light Bulb! Looking at the nearby characters suddenly helps us remember and can really begin to grasp the language.

Benefit: Mandarin Companion Expands Your Ability to Site Read

Do you remember when you were first learning to read your native language. Did you sound out each word at first? Then, did you read each word one at a time. After some practice, you probably began to read phrases with just a glance?

This is what happens when we begin to read Chinese. Instead of sounding out each word, we identify each character one at time. Then, we start to put them in small chunks- or words. Later, we read phrases and sentences without thinking about them. This happens because we exposed ourselves to the characters between 10-40+ times.

To say that I’m excited about this series is an understatement. I was able to get through about half of Emma in one afternoon. As the afternoon progressed, I found that I was reading faster than when I started. Success!

Take action: Choose a Mandarin Companion graded reader

Now that you’ve created a foundation in Chinese, it’s time to exercise what you’ve learned. Choose a book that interests you the most from the Mandarin Companion graded readers. Then read, read, read.

Also, change the reading format and read it again. For instance, if you read a physical book, switch to the Kindle app on your phone, then Kindle reader on your computer, and your favorite tablet, etc. This changes the font, forcing you to see each character with a slightly different appearance. This step will improve your ability to use what you’ve learned in real life. For example, when you watch a drama with signs in the background or when you travel to a place with Chinese signs, you’ll be able to read them independently.

See my last post under the subheading “Reading” for an example of how much a font changes the appearance for some characters.

Tell me about Your Experiences with Mandarin Companion

Which graded reader did you choose to read? If you haven’t found your favorite title in the graded readers, which classic book would you like to read if it was available? Tell me in the comments below.

Tools I mentioned in the video:

Cherry Tree Learning: Free Chinese classes in an online group setting

Duolingo: an app you can use to learn Chinese and many other languages.

Mandarin Companion graded readers available in both Simplified and Traditional characters:

You Can Learn Chinese Podcast:

This is the second post where I’ve discussed tools I use to learn Chinese. Read about the other tools I’ve used to build and strengthen my skills.

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