Skip to content

[App Review] Mandarin Companion Graded Readers – A Complete Immersion Environment

Personally, I’m a huge fan of graded readers: not only do I use them in my own Japanese language studies, but they also play a large role in my graduate school research. However, I find that for Chinese learning, there’s far fewer selection of graded readers to come by. Recently, Mandarin Companion has started releasing  Graded Readers to fill in this gap.

Jared Turner from Mandarin Companion approached me and graciously offered me The Secret Garden and The Monkey’s Paw to take a look at, and below are my thoughts on these two books and Mandarin Companion in general.

These books are put out by both Jared Turner and John Pasden (the one behind All Set Learning and Sinosplice). Both Jared and John are strong believers of Extensive Reading, which was the source of their inspiration for creating a series of graded readers. Jared wrote up a post about his own experiences uses Extensive Reading, which is worth checking out. They also provide a great explanation for using Graded Readers on their website, too.

About the Readers

In the Level 1 Readers, which is the only level currently available, contain a core set of 300 characters that have been picked by Mandarin Companion. This level is intended for readers with a decent reading ability in Chinese, as they say:

If you are able to read this book without stopping every sentence to pull out a dictionary to look up a character, then this book is probably at your level.

I would say, practically, this equates to probably being in your second or third year of Chinese language education, depending on the pace of your program.

In each reader, new characters and words that fall out of the range of the level of the story have numbered footnotes, which links you to the the Key Words section at the back of each story. Each entry has the character, the pinyin, the part of speech and an English translation.

Keywords are provided at the end of each book.
Keywords are provided at the end of each book.

In addition, there is a section at the end of each book with discussion questions on each chapter, provided at the end of each book.

Currently the following stories are available, which are all Level 1 Readers:

  • The Secret Garden (《秘密花园》) by Frances Hodgson Burnett;
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Red-Headed League adapted into “The Case of the Curly Haired Company” (《卷发公司的案子》) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Monkey’s Paw (《猴爪》) by W.W. Jacobs
  • The Country of the Blind(《盲人国》)by H.G. Wells;
  • The Sixty-Year Dream (《六十年的梦》) which is based on “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving.

You can read full descriptions of each book on the Mandarin Companion website here.

In this post, I’ll be looking specifically at two of the Level 1 readers, The Secret Garden (《秘密花园》) and The Monkey’s Paw (《猴爪》). I won’t dive much into the stories themselves, saving those for the reader to enjoy, and instead will just focus on interesting tidbits about each one.

The Secret Garden:《秘密花园》

The characters from the original book have been completely localized–although they have the same roles as the original stories–they have completely new and authentic Chinese names. The introduction explains who is who, which may be helpful for people to have read the story before.

Completely localized characters build a complete immersion environment.
Completely localized characters build a complete immersion environment.

I really love how the Mandarin Companion readers just take you for the plunge right away, as seen in the first chapter for The Secret Garden, shown below. As you can see in the image below, proper nouns are underlined to help with your reading, just as they are in readers for native Chinese, to help guide your reading.

No hand-holding: Chapter 1 immediately immerses you.
No hand-holding: Chapter 1 immediately immerses you.

I love how the readers get you started reading in Chinese, with the occasional footnote for vocabulary you may not understand. It’s an easy tap back to your location in the story from the Key Words page, too. In addition to the 300-core character set, The Secret Garden contains contains 400 unique words.

I’ve never read The Secret Garden. This actually ended up being a bit of a blessing for me, as I was further able to immerse myself in this new-yet-familiar story.

Amazon Kindle

The Monkey’s Paw:《猴爪》

What I really liked about The Monkeys Paw in particular, aside from the localization, is the placing of the story in a large historical context–that of 1980’s China. I have to say for the team to take this level of care is very much appreciated.

The same but not: stories are completely localized.
The same but not: stories are completely localized.

This is a very classic horror tale that has been parodied and adapted countless ways over the years (that Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episode comes to mind in particular!), so reading it again in Chinese was quite a treat! Like The Secret Garden, The Monkey’s Paw contains 400 unique words in addition to the 300 core characters.

Again, I found myself completely immersed in the story. I would suggest trying to avoid looking at the footnotes as much as possible, and try and glean the meaning from the context. If you’re looking for a really good localized classic horror tale in Chinese, you can’t go wrong with The Monkey’s Paw.

Amazon Kindle


One thing I absolutely love about these readers are how they have been localized. The names of characters in the stores are given true Chinese names, locations are adapted to places in China, and for all intents  and purposes you’d have no idea these were originally English books. In fact, you can totally immerse yourselves in these books and not be taken out by an English name or a Western location that are transliterations. Because of this, both of the books I looked at provided perfect distraction free reading and a full Chinese immersion environment.

And some other really great news: these books are available not only through Apple iBooks, but also through Amazon Kindle and Kobo, which is a really smart choice for Mandarin Companion.  By not limiting their platforms, they’ve opened up their books to a much wider audience of Chinese language learners. Plus the tagline “You Can Read This!” is particularly encouraging for the budding reader in Chinese.

The books are all priced at $9.99, which I feel is a fair price for roughly 120 pages of content.

As I mentioned above, although there is a section at the end of each book with discussion questions, the purpose of this section is not clearly noted. I imagine this could be useful for teachers–but an even better use would be for the reader to test their own comprehension of each chapter.

So far, my only real complaint is that I would love to see a Traditional Chinese version, but luckily that is something they have in the pipeline and I am looking forward to it when it is released. I’m also quite looking forward to future levels, and to what stories the team behind Mandarin Companion release. This is definitely a project to watch!

You can follow Mandarin Companion both on Facebook and Twitter. You can also join their mailing list to be informed of new releases.

3 thoughts on “[App Review] Mandarin Companion Graded Readers – A Complete Immersion Environment”

  1. I’m reading The Monkey’s Paw and also think it’s good. Easier to read than the Chinese Breeze series. However, a weakness of the Mandarin Companion books is that they don’t have audio, while Chinese Breeze do. I like having the audio so I can sometimes ‘read along’ instead of reading alone.

    1. I do agree that having the audio is a very important feature, and that is what makes Reader series like Chinese Breeze a perhaps better choice. How do you like the Chinese Breeze series so far?

  2. Pingback: Reading books for Chinese learners – An Irish Explorer

Leave a Reply