Great Expectations: Interview with Test Readers

Note: Great Expectations will be released mid-December, 2015. Seriously, 真的.

Over a year in the making, Great Expectations or 《美好的前途》 is the first Mandarin Companion level 2 graded reader. Based on Charles Dickens classic novel, Great Expectations has been adapted into modern day Shanghai. Due to the length of the story, the book will be released in two parts, and , each volume approximately 40% longer than a Level 1 graded reader.

With the upcoming launch of Great Expectations, we we took the opportunity to sit down with two of our test readers in Shanghai and get their thoughts on the book and the difficulty of level 2.

Our test readers Vanessa and Daniel

Our test readers Vanessa and Daniel

Vanessa is an American working as a primary school teacher and a mother of two. Daniel is a software engineer from Sweden. They are both living in Shanghai and served in a crucial role as test readers of Great Expectations.

Mandarin Companion: How would you characterize your level for our readers?

GE1-05Daniel: Above intermediate, have no problem handling everyday things, and traveling (which also means getting stuck in hour-long queues). I have read all the books from Mandarin Companion, all but a few of Chinese Breeze up to Level 2.  I occasionally read HSK 2 and 3 articles at The Chairman’s Bao. Although, currently I read better than I speak, slowly improving.

Vanessa: I’ve taken two semesters of Chinese at Donghua University in Shanghai and have worked with private tutors. I have read The Monkey’s Paw, Country of the Blind, The 60 Year Dream and now Great Expectations.

MC: Since neither of you had previously read the original Great Expectations, do you think being unfamiliar with the original story affected your enjoyment of 《美好的前途》?

Great ExpectationsVanessa: It’s hard to say. The story held lots of surprises that I was able to experience them for the first time. 

Daniel: For me, being unfamiliar added to my enjoyment. I came into the story with fresh eyes and no preconceptions, allowing me to form my own ideas about the surroundings and people involved.

Vanessa: Dickens is an amazing story teller and this Chinese rendition of the story showed a lot of his style without the extensive length. However, knowing the story beforehand could have been enjoyable as well because then I would have been able to more easily make connections and better understand some of the characters.  

MC:《美好的前途》 is a two-part story, with over 13,000 characters in each part. That’s over twice as long as our Level 1 titles.  How did you feel about the length?

GE1-07Daniel: Loved it! Longer books allows expanding of both the story and characters, and in this case keep more of the original story.

Vanessa: The length was appropriate for my level. Like most books, the beginning reads a bit slower because you are just getting into it and establishing characters but then your reading pace quickens because it starts getting really interesting and you find yourself not wanting to put it down. 

Daniel: Same for me! I like longer stories; when I get started reading I just don’t want to stop! I enjoy getting to know the characters, following them in more detail. So the length is something I have wanted for a long time!

MC: Did Level 2 (450 characters) feel much harder than Level 1 (300 characters)?

GE2-14Daniel: I definitely feel it is a step up from level 1, but not overwhelming. There were both vocabulary and grammar I was not familiar with or could not immediately recall, but as they are repeated throughout the story recalling them became easier and easier. Also, the expanded vocabulary and grammar really adds to the story, makes it feel more alive.

Vanessa: Level 2 is more enjoyable as I was really able to enjoy the more detailed characters and plot. That being said, I really enjoyed the simplicity of the text. Dickens is known for his characters; He is very specific with their descriptions using “flowery words”. However, I loved how simple each character’s descriptions were. I felt confident in my Chinese abilities and didn’t have to worry about reaching for a dictionary. You can read easily without stopping and you can guess the words you don’t know through context–just like you would do when reading in your native language.

MC: Who would you recommend this story to?

Daniel: I would recommend it to anyone studying Chinese; regardless if you’re a bookworm or not; regardless if you read the original or not. It is deeply satisfying to realize one is able to read and understand a book in Chinese.

Vanessa: This is perfect for anyone who is tired of people recommending a newspaper to improve their character recognition and has to use a dictionary to get through it. There is so many ineffective ways to learn Chinese and there’s not a lot of good reading resources. That’s why I am so glad I found Mandarin companion readers. They are effective in that they keep you motivated. After you finish one, you feel like you have actually accomplished something and you feel proud of yourself and your abilities. After reading a Mandarin Companion reader, I finally thought to myself, “I can read in Chinese!”

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