Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Graded readers, by the numbers (characters/words, page count)


Recommended Posts

10 hours ago, Mati1 said:

Right. It's just that I feel that a sticky post should make life easier for readers and include the most important information. I can't create my own sticky and (partly) copying threads might be counter productive / inappropriate.

In this context "most important" for me personally means the only three series of graded readers available to us, where one can get enough material while actually reading novellas instead of just short stories.


@Mati1 Thanks for your detailed thoughts and also the additional information on those readers.  I can't create sticky topics either; the administration of the forum did that to this topic.  If I was going to create this topic today, I'd have an introductory post and then separate posts for each book series as it would make the nature of this topic clearer. 


I can understand the preference for novellas; nothing like the sense of accomplishment of finishing A Book In Chinese.  If you want to, I think it would be great if you created a topic (or two, or three) with in-depth information, reviews, etc. on Mandarin Companion, Chinese Breeze and "Graded Readers for Chinese Language Learners".  I would be happy to add links to such topics and you're welcome to copy the bare information we have here on those three if it helps.  The first two series have some existing topics to which you could contribute if you'd prefer.  You're also welcome to post your information and reviews here. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

  • 3 weeks later...

Mandarin Companion Level 1 (300 characters): Emma


@Rufus I am wondering if Mandarin Companion has level 2 or level 3 books (more than one) coming out within the next year. While I love Mandarin Companion I have bought so many other books which I haven't read yet and my level of Chinese is slowly increasing, so that I can't justify buying the newest level 1 books.

Btw. I have noticed three minor issues with the Mandarin Companion webpage, one being that the book pages are not stating a page count (or it's not obvious).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Mati1, I am glad to hear your Chinese is progressing well! This year we have more level 1 books we will be releasing. Next year we will be working on more level 2 books. Honestly, it's been challenging at times to decide what books we are going to do at what levels because of the many requests we get. Frankly, the greatest need is at even lower levels of reading. For every one person at your level there is easily 100+ people at a lower level. We want to help more people get to where you are. 

That being said, even if the books are "easy" for you, this gives you a great opportunity to build your speed of reading. If you are hitting 120 characters per min, then I think you should feel good about where you are and move onto higher levels. 

Thanks for helping to identify any omissions! I'll look into it right away. Feel free to send me a PM. Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites


My main problem with Chinese has always been the lack of more willpower for really learning the characters. When I started learning I did not want to use textbooks. When I realized that I needed to put some serious effort into the characters, I wanted to jump directly into higher level graded readers as a reward.

I began reading graded readers too late, after going through my 800 characters book (without SRS, therefore quickly forgetting everything). So then I bought one 300 words level book, one 500 and one 750 words level book. The 300 words level book was too easy, the 500 words level book was interesting and the 750 words level book made me give up haha. Later I bought the Mandarin Companion books and more 500 and 750 words level books.

I didn't really bother checking if easier material is available because I wanted to jump into more challenging material and level up faster. However, I also thought that even easier material would be too uninteresting anyway.


I think you are right. There is a market below Mandarin Companion Level 1 / Chinese Breeze 300 words.

If you could create engaging Level 0 books that would help newcomers. The texts would be shorter; if you could add a complete word list at the end it would make lookups easier and also make the books accessible to newcomers not attending a class and not having other resources yet. I am not sure about the Pinyin though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

DeFrancis Chinese Readers:

  • Almost done with the Intermediate Volumes
  • Usually I read one chapter and at the same time do flashcards for the next chapter, works pretty well so far
  • Highly recommended, starts from zero and provides best value for money
  • Audio is not that easy to understand, I plan to listen to the whole series at some point but that would reduce the time I can spend on reading...


Mandarin Companion:

  • Especially Level 1 was too easy for me, but it's a nice feeling to be able to read a Chinese book without much effort :)
  • One book of Level 1 took me around 1.5h to read
  • The conversion to traditional characters was wrong for a few characters, no big deal and I think it's fixed by now but conversion from simplified to traditional always requires proofreading so I am not sure why this wasn't caught.
  • To avoid DRM I bought the printed editions and unfortunately it was really too expensive, I paid between 18€ and 20€ for each volume, the price printed on the book is 12.95$ (11€) which would be more reasonable
  • The books were printed by a print on demand company here in Germany in full color which makes it more expensive
  • I would prefer an ebook without DRM or a cheaper printed edition in grayscale, with reduced line spacing and smaller pictures
  • I like the content, the stories and the concept, so I would recommend them if you don't mind DRM on your ebooks or if you can get a cheaper printed edition. Personally I will probably not buy another one since a) the level is a bit too low for me, b) the price of the printed edition here is too high and c) I still have a few other readers waiting on my bookshelf.
  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

How much time to you spend with DeFrancis per chapter?

I use the books for additional input and to hopefully remember some traditional characters along the way, but I've stopped doing so a few months ago. As with my other books I want to continue them.

First I read the vocab table thoroughly, then I listen to the recording and read along at the same time. In some places the audio is too difficult / uncomfortable for me to listen to the first time and I rewind a few seconds several times. No pain no gain :-?

Doing this one can go through a chapter in two hours. If the chapters get too difficult, especially after a long break, I have to review previous content. Good listening and vocab practice.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@Mati1 Around one to two weeks, each chapter has three parts (example sentences, dialogs and narrative) and usually I do roughly half a part per day, but not every day. Once I reach the narrative section I start doing flashcards for the next chapter. The readers have a built-in reviewing system but I also keep doing flashcards for all the previous chapters.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

Hey, everyone. 


Some weeks ago, Pleco released two series of graded readers:


Selections from The Chairman's Bao (Read the title again... it's NOT "Quotations from Chairman Mao")

Selected articles from TCB, levels HSK 1 through 6


Graded Chinese Reader

6 levels from 500 words to 3000 words, mainly based on the HSK5 list.

These can be found on Amazon as: Graded Chinese Reader X Words: Selected Abridged Chinese Contemporary Short Stories


Has anyone gave them a try?


EDIT: Pleco's "Graded Chinese Reader" series seems to be the same as the Sinolingua series mentioned in the original post in this thread. But of course, having them in digital and pinyin-free makes them more awesome, IMHO.

  • Like 2
  • Helpful 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites


This discussion is very useful. I have one question though. How did you read all those books? I mean I bought a mandarin companion's book 7€, and I see that you already read more than 40 books. So how did you manage to afford all of them? If you didn't buy them, how did you read them? I'm very interested in reading a lot of books (like mandarin companion) too, the problem is it's going to be quite expensive...

  • Good question! 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, HelloWorldItsMe said:

I have one question though. How did you read all those books? I mean I bought a mandarin companion's book 7€, and I see that you already read more than 40 books. So how did you manage to afford all of them? If you didn't buy them, how did you read them? I'm very interested in reading a lot of books (like mandarin companion) too, the problem is it's going to be quite expensive...


Others can chime in as this topic is a group effort, but for myself: while I do have an embarrassing number of readers, I don't have nearly as many as I listed, as I got their number of characters, etc. from web pages or catalogs.  A US software developer salary makes readers relatively affordable.


Remember that you don't have in hand more than the one reader you are currently reading.  If you are affiliated with a school or university, you maybe be able to find readers in their collection or (possibly) they may be willing to purchase readers at your request and add them to their collection.  People give up studying Chinese every day; searching for sale ads or putting wanted ads in various places may net you lots of readers for cheap.  Even if you have to pay full price for a reader you can probably turn around and sell it when you are done.  Be sure to comparison shop; different sites can have very different prices for the same book.  I'm sure you can find creative ways to cut spending or other ways to a get readers.

  • Helpful 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...
  • 3 months later...

Reading List, from zero to native material (traditional characters)


Edit April 2022: Roughly four years later I can say that the list below has served me well, enabling a smooth transition to native material. I read all books and learned all flashcards up to Thoughts and Society #20. While working through the Vivian Ling readers (23,24) I started reading more and more other native stuff, 余華, 古龍, some non-fiction etc.. Having a clear path laid out like that really helped I think.


1 DeFrancisReaders-BeginningChineseReader 87, 1341, 1341, 100, 399, 399, 3, 13
2 DeFrancisReaders-IntermediateChineseReader 77, 2449, 3790, 100, 401, 800, 6, 29
3 DeFrancisReaders-AdvancedChineseReader 79, 3073, 6863, 100, 400, 1200, 7, 46
4 ReadingsInChineseCulture-Book1 90, 257, 7120, 62, 163, 1363, 1, 47
5 TalesAndTraditions-Book1 95, 146, 7266, 43, 107, 1470, 1, 48
6 ReadingsInChineseCulture-Book2 91, 153, 7419, 40, 72, 1542, 2, 49
7 TalesAndTraditions-Book2 91, 163, 7582, 41, 93, 1635, 1, 50
8 ReadingsInChineseCulture-Book3 88, 183, 7765, 48, 84, 1719, 2, 51
9 TalesAndTraditions-Book3 82, 313, 8078, 59, 139, 1858, 2, 52
10 ReadingsInChineseCulture-Book4 86, 180, 8258, 67, 89, 1947, 2, 53
11 TalesAndTraditions-Book4 69, 377, 8635, 62, 150, 2097, 2, 54
12 ReadingsInChineseCulture-Book5 90, 278, 8913, 61, 115, 2212, 2, 55
13 SupplementaryChineseReaders-ChineseMoralTales 92, 379, 9292, 47, 82, 2294, 4, 57
14 SupplementaryChineseReaders-ChineseCustomsAndTraditions1 94, 477, 9769, 60, 118, 2412, 4, 58
15 SupplementaryChineseReaders-ChineseCustomsAndTraditions2 77, 337, 10106, 56, 104, 2516, 3, 59
16 SupplementaryChineseReaders-ChineseFolkTales1 92, 503, 10609, 42, 101, 2617, 4, 61
17 SupplementaryChineseReaders-ChineseFolkTales2 89, 666, 11275, 58, 126, 2743, 5, 63
18 SupplementaryChineseReaders-StoriesFromChineseHistory1 90, 401, 11676, 59, 107, 2850, 3, 64
19 SupplementaryChineseReaders-StoriesFromChineseHistory2 80, 619, 12295, 70, 150, 3000, 4, 65
20 ThoughtAndSociety 91, 568, 12863, 42, 68, 3068, 8, 69
21 SupplementaryChineseReaders-SelectedContemporaryChineseEssays 48, 535, 13398, 73, 153, 3221, 3, 70
22 SupplementaryChineseReaders-SelectedContemporaryChineseShortStories 51, 690, 14088, 71, 143, 3364, 4, 71
23 AReaderInPostCulturalRevolutionChineseLiterature 73, 2597, 16685, 56, 403, 3767, 6, 76
24 TheIndependentReader 79, 2123, 18808, 52, 137, 3904, 15, 80

This list was created based on the vocabulary lists linked in this thread. Only words which were also found in the handedict or cc-cedict were considered to filter out names, expressions, typos etc.

Explanation of the numbers:

  1. Percentage of words in this book which passed the dictionary filter
  2. Number of new words in this book
  3. Accumulated number of words
  4. Percentage of new words in this book (out of all words in this book)
  5. New characters in this book
  6. Accumulated number of characters
  7. New words per new character in this book
  8. Percentage of TOCFL words covered (out of the 7293)
Edited by wibr
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

I've been studying Chinese for a little over a year and I've bought my first chinese book of the Mandarin Companion , The Prince and the Pauper (17 euros .....), to increase my reading and characters level (very poor!!). Do you know if there's a way to have audio too? Do you have any advice on how to memorize characters? Create flashcards with Anki (I will I have to understand how to do it......) or some other method?



Link to comment
Share on other sites

@hong long Unfortunately audio isn't available for Mandarin Companion books. If you had the ebook you could use text to speech, but it isn't like a story read by a native speaker. For memorizing new characters you may look at each of the new characters and try to decompose it into its components in order to see whether you can spot some hints about meaning or sound, otherwise you can create a mnemonic in order to remember the character. Writing the character by hand is also useful. Learning by rote isn't the most efficient method, so you can use a SRS system. You may use Anki (see the official documentation and search this forum in order to see how to make the cards), Skritter (there are already some wordlists for other books by Mandarin Companion but not for "The Prince and the Pauper"), Pleco or Memrise to name a few. In order to use any of these systems you'll have to digitalize the words: look up words, then type the words (time consuming) or use the OCR function and the Reader function of Pleco for reading the text and look up words and just tap a button to create a wordlist with the built in definitions. This is the fastest way I think. (You might have to purchase some Pleco addons if you want to follow this route). Once you have the wordlist in Pleco, you can study it there using its SRS system or export it and import it in the other programs/websites: Skritter, Anki, Memrise. So you have got numerous options (and more that I didn't mention) to choose from. It's up to you how to proceed. Have a nice time reading and studying Chinese characters :) .

  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@hong long All Chinese Breeze readers have audio, even two versions - normal speed and half speed. These days it's probably available online for downloading. You might want to switch to those readers - they have several "books" in each category from 150 (or 250?) known words to 1100.


How to learn characters - honestly, just read a lot at your level (when fewer than 10% of words in the text are new to you). And maybe drill Anki, which is a "cheat" replacement (it saves time somewhat) for reading. I "ankied" all Integrated Chinese books and into 5k+ words. Someone once told me that past 4-5k words carding words stops being more effective than simply reading well-selected texts (remember the 10% rule, it's very important). Tricks with char decomposition etc are helpful only in the minority of cases, at least for me. A (personal) warning about "reading" texts way beyond your level with Pleco reader or Pleco OCR - if you have a perfectionist streak, this will likely cause you to lose the ability to simply skip over unknown chars/words, in order to get just the gist of the paragraph. At least I ended up with an obsessive need to look up every character, at around the time I passed HSK4, and had to consciously work on killing this habit in order to pass HSK5.


Finally, I recall I saw some Mandarin Companion texts at https://clozecards.com (nice idea btw) a couple of years ago but they aren't there anymore. Perhaps some rights kerfuffle, after all, Pasden is an American :P. My memory may be lying. Shrug.

  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites


Agree with all your points. I too really struggle to skip over unknown words. I am far too pedantic by nature and put every single work I encounter in greaded readers into anki . It causes one to start spending an inordinate amount of time on anki to" catch up" thus eating  into reading time. It's a bad habit of mine. 

The problem I have now is trying to find material that contain only 10% of unknown words. I use graded readers but in reality I find them somewhat dull and all related to one theme. The Chinese graded reader series is always focusing on Chinese society in the 60s to the 80s . Mandarin companion and Chinese breeze are good but too simple. 


Novels contain  too many unknown words so I'm really left with textbooks unfortunately or forum browsing


  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites



1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Novels contain  too many unknown words so I'm really left with textbooks unfortunately or forum browsing


I found a use for the Chinese Text Analyser (the only use I have for it TBH) - I maintain a list of "known words" there and quickly compare whole PDFs or OCR photos (via Pleco) of a couple of pages, to get statistical sampling. Granted the app is not too good in word segmentation, its error is in single percents, which makes the results sorta useable. For example, 许三观卖血记 turned out pretty readable at HSK5+ level (IIRC even in character counts it uses just over 2000). Chinese Breeze "Level 4" books were not entirely eww IIRC.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...