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DavyJonesLocker

New Pleco Graded Readers

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DavyJonesLocker

In case people missed it, I see that there are a pile of new graded readers (ebooks) available on the pleco website. They don't appear on my pleco app Add-ons section .( Maybe a link to the website might be useful @mikelove)

 

Again like most of graded readers  I  find most are highly concentrated at the beginner to lower intermediates level. It's quite sparse  at intermediate or upper intermediate level. Further, stories and material at these levels, seem to be about contemporary Chinese society or  Chinese classics (dreams of the red chamber).  Graded readers authors (Mandarin companion is a noteable exception)  never seem to understand that just because you study Chinese doesn't mean you are interested in post 改革开放 chinese society. You won't be finding a sci-fi novel, game of thrones, crime ,  or anything like that.  However as  Pleco don't actually write them, the fault doesn't lie with them

 

I have gone through the GradedReader series and are pretty good. I also have The Chairman Bao series although I'm less  happy with that as they don't include audio nor grammar point's despite this already been available for their TCB app. Seems a bit stingy not to include them on pleco given its a paid version. 

 

I worth bearing in mind that a  certain level of graded reader isn't necessarily highly correlated to level of difficulty. It's generally well correlated though . However I would suggest that if you have no problem with the sentence structure or grammar it's time to move up a level. Dont let the amount of unknown words dictate this, otherwise you will hover around the lower levels for too long. One 500 word graded reader may  well only   moderately  overlap with another 500word series. As you move up the word disparagy this becomes more pronounced. 

Graded readers should all have a HSK equivalent (in terms of grammar, sentence structure and clarity of meaning)  difficulty guide in my view so at least you know you have the sentence structure and grammar covered. 

 

 

 

 

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mikelove

Yeah, we launched them late last week but have avoided publicizing them much because we wanted to make sure there weren't any serious bugs. (there was in fact one serious one, so we had to rush out a patch for that on Friday) More details on website shortly.

 

But they've been listed in the app since Thursday - have you maybe not updated to the latest version of Pleco? (some of the readers have embedded illustrations, and we had to update the app to support those, so they won't show up on older versions)

 

I would take issue with this point, though:

 

7 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Again like most of graded readers  I  find most are highly concentrated at the beginner to lower intermediates level. It's quite sparse  at intermediate or upper intermediate level.

 

While in sheer volume there are a lot of beginning titles in our new offerings, there are 8 big new "Abridged Chinese Classics" titles aiming at HSK5 and above, including abridgments of the 四大名书. Also, re:

 

7 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Graded readers authors (Mandarin companion is a noteable exception)  never seem to understand that just because you study Chinese doesn't mean you are interested in post 改革开放 chinese society.

 

nearly all of the new titles are historical rather than modern stories (the only exception being the four "Collections of Chinese Short Stories" books, though those are so short that many of them don't even particularly feel Chinese but would make just as much sense if they were written about Americans).

 

I would like to continue broadening our offerings (we've nearly tapped out Sinolingua's catalog now anyway) but my inclination would be to still keep them somewhat connected to China, e.g. see about making learner-friendly versions of some classic Jin Yong novels; much easier task than simplifying 红楼梦 since you don't have to cut that much. (I'd love to do some sci-fi too, but I daresay that licensing say 《三体》 to adapt into a graded reader would be a very expensive proposition)

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Balthazar

Thanks for the heads up @DavyJonesLocker. I've previously gone through the Graded Chinese Reader series (all books in the 1000 to 3000 range) through Pleco, and it's probably my favourite graded readers so far.

 

Very happy to see the amount of new readers available at the 2000+ word level. I'll be getting a bunch of them.

 

Edit: Seems to be an issue with the in-app services right now, though

 

 

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mikelove

Thanks!

 

15 minutes ago, Balthazar said:

Edit: Seems to be an issue with the in-app services right now, though

 

Hmm, that's odd - does it help if you reboot your phone? Checking our server logs, it looks like we've had several purchase activations from Play in the 30 seconds since I started typing this message, so it doesn't seem like their entire billing system is down, but it could be a localized issue of some kind.

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Tomsima

I just updated to the most recent version of pleco, and am also getting the message "Catalog Error: Error parsing file catalog; please try again later..."

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mikelove

Hmm... iOS or Android?

 

EDIT: found a possible bug, could you reload again and see if it works better?

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wibr

@mikelove Is there a way to access the simplified and traditional versions of the readers as separate documents or switch easily without switching the entire app? How was the conversion done? From my experience, also with other readers, there are usually some mistakes in the conversion from simplified to traditional, e.g. in the preview 岳飛 is not converted consistently.

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mikelove
2 minutes ago, wibr said:

Is there a way to access the simplified and traditional versions of the readers as separate documents or switch easily without switching the entire app?

 

Not at the moment, though if there's a lot of interest we could certainly consider supporting that.

 

2 minutes ago, wibr said:

How was the conversion done? From my experience, also with other readers, there are usually some mistakes in the conversion from simplified to traditional, e.g. in the preview 岳飛 is not converted consistently.

 

Google Translate, mostly. Which is far from perfect, but better than any other automated solution we've found; it's simply not practical cost-wise for us to hire somebody to do a careful human conversion of all of this stuff to traditional when only about 10% of our customers use Pleco in traditional-character mode.

 

If a few of these titles prove particularly popular, we might go back and do a more careful conversion with them, and obviously we'll be happy to incorporate any feedback about specific issues, but the impression we got after our initial release of one set of graded readers (TCB) in traditional and another set (GCR) as simplified-only was that most of our traditional-using customers would prefer a flawed conversion over none at all.

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Balthazar
53 minutes ago, mikelove said:

EDIT: found a possible bug, could you reload again and see if it works better?

 

Can confirm that is works now. Just picked up "Family".

 

Android, by the way.

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Tomsima

Working for me too, android as well, off to have a snoop around at these readers

 

47 minutes ago, mikelove said:

only about 10% of our customers use Pleco in traditional-character mode


wow thats much lower than I wouldve expected

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DavyJonesLocker
18 hours ago, mikelove said:

But they've been listed in the app since Thursday - have you maybe not updated to the latest version of Pleco? (some of the readers have embedded illustrations, and we had to update the app to support those, so they won't show up on older versions)

 

 

ok cool, I think Google Play was updating it automatically but looks like its not, mind you VPN has been pretty erratic in china recently! Updated it manually today  and they are now displaying

 

 

18 hours ago, mikelove said:

While in sheer volume there are a lot of beginning titles in our new offerings, there are 8 big new "Abridged Chinese Classics" titles aiming at HSK5 and above, including abridgments of the 四大名书.

 

My commented wasn't solely focused on PLECO, but rather on the availability and narrow focus of graded readers in general. The market is still quite sparse at  the HSK5 / 6 area. PLECO appears to have 8 out of 66 titles (?) available at the HSK5+ level which is not exactly balanced although its very positive improvement from a year ago.  There is still is a large gap between this level and native books as one would pick up in a bookstore. I'd argue its at the intermediate+ level that graded readers are the most essential. 

 

 

18 hours ago, mikelove said:

nearly all of the new titles are historical rather than modern stories (the only exception being the four "Collections of Chinese Short Stories" books, though those are so short that many of them don't even particularly feel Chinese but would make just as much sense if they were written about Americans).

 

I have always found it diffuclt to comprehend this view point from writers of graded readers.  It seems tome to be a case of "give the customer what they want not what you think they want". For example, it's unlikely that native Chinese are picking these books up as first choice in a book shop in China, nor are native English readers first looking to picking up Charles Dickens , Emily Bronte,  Thomas hardy etc A quick look at amazon sales rank shows that arguably one of the finest books in the English language: Wuthering Heights is number 4,871 in Books  by Amazon sale rank and James Joyce Ulysses is  #27,816! I suspect that the Chinese classics do not feature highly on a sales rank

 

The reality is that people are simply not that interested in cultural classics as compared to everyday modern novels. Mandarin companion have certainly noted this point and built their business around it. To test this PLECO could simply ask what do their customers want to read, given a wide variety of choices As PLECO (I assume) do not actually write the books they are limited by what's on offer. Although if people are want to learn Chinese they will probably have a lot more impetus on a graded reader and be quite forgiving on the actual content

 

In any case it's more food for thought on a wider topic of graded readers rather than the PLECO app and its offering..  

 

Thanks Mike

 

PS: any chance we can have the audio for TCB series? Not sure what the reason was not include that was for given its already in existence? 

 

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Balthazar
5 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

"give the customer what they want not what you think they want".

 

I think the most important question is what the customers are willing to pay. The companies that write graded readers aren't doing so out of charity. Considering the tiny pool of potential readers, I can understand why they go for historical stuff or dated novels that they probably don't have to spend a lot of money on to get the rights to write a simplified version of. Same reason for why most of it is limited to lower level stuff, the largest segment of potential customers.

 

The only exception I can think of in terms of content is Chinese Breeze. They write their own stuff, which is praiseworthy. But IMO all of their stories are, unsurprisingly, pretty boring.

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mikelove
6 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

My commented wasn't solely focused on PLECO, but rather on the availability and narrow focus of graded readers in general. The market is still quite sparse at  the HSK5 / 6 area. PLECO appears to have 8 out of 66 titles (?) available at the HSK5+ level which is not exactly balanced although its very positive improvement from a year ago.  There is still is a large gap between this level and native books as one would pick up in a bookstore. I'd argue its at the intermediate+ level that graded readers are the most essential. 

 

Fair point. Also the reason for my growing interest in licensing stuff that's not technically graded reading at all but is sufficiently readable that an intermediate+ learner could potentially take it on.

 

6 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

The reality is that people are simply not that interested in cultural classics as compared to everyday modern novels. Mandarin companion have certainly noted this point and built their business around it. To test this PLECO could simply ask what do their customers want to read, given a wide variety of choices As PLECO (I assume) do not actually write the books they are limited by what's on offer.

 

Perhaps - worth asking the question, I guess - but I'm inclined to think that if people are learning Chinese they'd rather read adapted Chinese works than adapted Western ones. Plus, Mandarin Companion is already occupying that niche and I don't see much need to take them on directly when there are so many other interesting stories to tell. (we'd love to offer their books in Pleco some day but we haven't been able to make the numbers work out to our mutual satisfaction so far)

 

We don't write the books, but it's something we've considered doing down the line if we can grow this segment of our business to a portion where we might be able to sell enough copies of something as a Pleco exclusive to pay for its development. (which is only likely to happen if we do better at getting Pleco into schools - the upcoming ARM PC Renaissance is going to be very interesting on that count)

 

6 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

PS: any chance we can have the audio for TCB series? Not sure what the reason was not include that was for given its already in existence? 

 

Not part of our license with them, sadly - I think they're (not unreasonably) concerned with protecting their subscription business.

 

1 hour ago, Balthazar said:

The companies that write graded readers aren't doing so out of charity. Considering the tiny pool of potential readers, I can understand why they go for historical stuff or dated novels that they probably don't have to spend a lot of money on to get the rights to write a simplified version of. Same reason for why most of it is limited to lower level stuff, the largest segment of potential customers.

 

This. Also, political considerations, since most of this stuff is being produced in the PRC.

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Shelley

I tried reading the Chinese breeze books but could not get on with them at all. I just don't enjoy that type of story. The first one about a guy whose girlfriend goes to America and then he has a relationship with another girl and then has to choose.... I worked really hard to plough my way through. I kept telling myself its good for you, you are learning, but I kept thinking yeah but the story is so bad.

 

I also don't fancy western stories adapted because they lose a lot through the adaptation.  What do young Chinese people read? would that be better? Reading materials for students. I would rather have a decent story with more hints to make it readable than terrible tales at an easy level.

 

I would like to read Chinese fairy tales, all about traditions and culture. Teach me about the stems and branches and the names of the fortnight weather divisions. Teach me about the geography, the people and their lives. What about a day in the life of a traditional fan maker or tea grower and so on. Now that would be interesting and i would not hesitate to put in the work needed to read this.

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DavyJonesLocker
11 hours ago, Balthazar said:

 

I think the most important question is what the customers are willing to pay. The companies that write graded readers aren't doing so out of charity. Considering the tiny pool of potential readers, I can understand why they go for historical stuff or dated novels that they probably don't have to spend a lot of money on to get the rights to write a simplified version of. Same reason for why most of it is limited to lower level stuff, the largest segment of potential customers

 

Indeed , I daresay the  profitability is a concern especially due to the smaller target audience. I contacted Mandarin companion before on this and they had their concerns too. I know they  agree with me on the nature of graded readers, i.e move away from classic chinese literature. It's not that I'm not interested (double negative ok here?) however a wider range would be more welcoming. The Chinese graded reader series was good and I agree that the Chinese breeze series just didn't provoke my interest at all. It was a struggle to get through them. Mandarin Companion adaptations were excellent.

 

Oddly enough I have the opposite approach in English. I only read classics and the great literally novels. Steinbeck is hands down the finest author for me . 

 

However I wonder about Chinese adaptations of western classics such robinson crusoe.

In fact walking through a bookstore shopping center here in Beijing last week, there seems to be a fair amount of these books already translated and simpiled for native  Chinese school kids. Whether they suit a western  audience I don't know. Couldn't they be simplied further given the material is already in print (and nothing how ridiculously cheap Chinese books are)?

 

I think there is a contradiction in the argument though. We suggest that the target audience is perhaps too small for intermediate and above readers  yet there has been a conscience effort to write such material albeit classic Chinese stories. 

I hazard a guess that on average a Chinese learner would be more willing to pick up a book based on a well received and familiar western novel. 

 

In summary I personally would buy almost all graded reader books if the stories were more interesting and not so focused on one aspect , but at the moment I  only buy the bare minimum of the current selection currently available. I have jumped from the 3000 words series to 三体 and 岛 quire simply because I appreciate the benefits of reading. I am aware of the reduced effectiveness of this approach but motivation trumps all in my view. 

 

Leaving all that aside,  great work from pleco for yet again improving material for Chinese learners. 

 

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Balthazar
2 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

I hazard a guess that on average a Chinese learner would be more willing to pick up a book based on a well received and familiar western novel.  

 

Perhaps. Personally I'm much more interested in reading simplified versions of Chinese (classic or modern) novels.

 

Which is probably why I'm not a huge fan of the Mandarin Companion stories (although I've read, and recommend, all of their graded readers).

 

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