To start off the new year right, we want to communicate with you on what we have been working on. Just to bring you up to speed, Mandarin Companion is largely a two-man operation consisting of John and myself. This is why at times it takes us longer to release things than perhaps it would normally.
That being said, we’ve been developing a lot of things behind the scenes. Today we are pulling back the curtain to give you a preview of what Mandarin Companion has in store for you in 2019.
New 150 Character Level Books (Breakthrough Level)
Over the years, we’ve received many emails from readers asking for new levels. During the same period, we’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of Chinese language teaching conferences and speak with Chinese teachers about the challenges they face in the classroom. Finding suitable reading materials is a fundamental problem faced by Chinese teachers everywhere. Finding books that are level appropriate for Chinese learners and are fun to read is like finding the holy grail, and for teachers who have used the Mandarin Companion series with students, they absolutely love them and students who do read them experience a lot of progress.
The downside to all of this is that it typically takes students longer than they would like to get to the stage where they can read our level 1 books; in high school it is typically 3-4th year Chinese students, in Chinese dual-immersion programs it is usually 4th to 5th grade students, and in College programs it is usually students somewhere in the middle of the second year. Unfortunately there are too many students who drop out of Chinese programs because they don’t feel like they are making progress or that Chinese is even within their grasp and consequently never reach the level necessary to read a Chinese graded reader. For anyone who has experienced the immense sense of accomplishment from reading an entire book in Chinese, that experience alone has motivated countless readers to continue studying Chinese.
This has given us the impetus to create a new and lower level of Chinese graded readers in a way that has never been done before. We have decided to call this the “Breakthrough Level”. Similar to our other levels, it will be based on a defined character set and any new words occurring outside of that set will be introduced as keywords accompanied by pinyin and a definition. This new Breakthrough Level will be written at a 150-character standard which essentially comes from half of the level 1, 300-character standard.
The trick about Breakthrough Level is that it will not use any new characters outside of the level 1, 300-character standard. That means that any key words used that fall outside of the 150-character standard can only be borrowed from the level 1 standard. Therefore the vocabulary used in the Breakthrough Level standard will be very constrained. We have roughly 10 nouns to work with and a very limited set of verbs. Honestly, at the beginning, the task seemed insurmountable, but we organized the possible words we can use and kicked our creativity into high gear to come up with some new stories that can be written at this level, are of substantial length, and are entertaining to read. These Breakthrough Level stories will be written at the 150-character standard and will be three to four thousand characters long. Nothing like this exists yet! They’ll be actual books, not just short stories.
These new lower level stories will reach learners at an even earlier stage and not only help to accelerate their learning, but also inspire them to continue learning Chinese. We are working on five stories to be released in 2019 including “Young Sherlock Holmes” and “My Teacher is from Mars”. We plan to launch this new level in spring of 2019. It’s going to be great!
Both John and I have been working in Chinese education for a long time and people are always asking us for advice about learning Chinese. We find ourselves talking to so many people that we wanted to find a better way to reach out and help even more people through their trek towards Chinese proficiency.
Therefore, in early 2019, we have decided to launch the “You Can Learn Chinese” podcast about learning Chinese (***UPDATE*** Podcast has since launched, click here). In contrast to the many podcasts intending to teach you Chinese, this podcast will be about learning Chinese. We’ll be discussing the best ways to learn Chinese, the research behind it, and include inspirational stories and guest interviews along the way.
John and I are really excited about this project! We already have recorded a few episodes that are in post-production and plan to launch the podcast soon. We expect it will be an inspiring and edifying podcast, something that we hope you will find helpful and valuable to you, a Chinese learner. We’ll be sending out notifications on how to subscribe and get involved in the coming weeks!
We began production on audio books in 2018 and released five and in 2019 we will release the remainder of the Mandarin Companion series as audio books! We plan on having these available for all newly published books. Now you can listen as you read along. This can be a great boost to building your fluency. It helps readers to read more fluently, recognize tones, and practice listening.
Because the books are available through Audible and iTunes, the listener has the ability to slow down or speed up the recording as needed to suit your comprehension speed.
Level 2 stories and beyond
At the end of 2018, the Mandarin Companion series has 11 titles including 8 level 1 books and 3 level 2 books. Once we complete the Breakthrough Level series, we will be working on new level 2 titles. We have already begun working on some story ideas for level 2 and we are excited to get working on these!
As we finish some new level 2 titles, we will get onto developing a level 3 standard. I don’t want to get your hopes up too soon because creating a new level takes much more time than you might think, but we will be expanding to level 3 in the future, however it will likely be 2020 before we have new level 3 titles released. Nevertheless, they will come!
2019 Year of the Pig
As we are looking forward to this year unfold, we wish all of you a happy new year and we are looking forward to the Year of the Pig on February 5th with the start of Chinese New Year!