My Chinese Classroom (1)

08 Apr 2005

My Chinese Classroom (1)

Edited by 顾月云 (上海译文出版社, 2005)

Review by: John Pasden

According to the preface, “most Chinese textbooks are intended for students studying full-time, not for the working foreigners. My Chinese Classroom has solved that problem by providing a study program specifically designed for working foreigners in China.” Its claim of being especially practical as well as its unique target audience made me curious.

Before even delving into the lessons, I noticed two things about the cover: (1) The title is in English, Japanese, and Chinese. In fact, the entire book is trilingual. (2) The handwritten hanzi that make up the background are traditional characters. Why? I can’t think of a good reason for this. Simplified characters are used throughout the book (except in the Japanese).

Lesson 1 contains simple vocabulary, an introduction to pinyin and the sounds of Mandarin Chinese, and an introduction to tones. The final page is a “brief introduction” to Chinese characters. A grand total of ten pages were used to cover these essential topics, and that’s in three languages. In my mind, the only excusable explanation for such brevity on the important fundamentals of the language would be if the book is intended only to complement instruction by a native Chinese-speaking teacher. However, the preface states, that this text “is [also] intended for those who study Chinese by themselves.” Unfortunately, the overly brief introduction severely limits the usefulness of this series. There is an accompanying CD which provides a clear pronunciation model in both male and female voices, but it’s quite dry (the stereotypical “language lab” recording) and contains no English. If you’re an absolute beginner, forget self-study with this series unless you have a thing for frustration.

The format of the rest of the lessons breaks no new ground: (1) Sentence patterns, (2) Dialogue (characters/pinyin), (3) Vocabulary, (4) Dialogue Translation, (5) Exercises. Notably absent is the familiar “grammar” section. The only thing resembling it is the sentence patterns right before each dialogue. The writers have purposely minimized grammar, preferring instead to take a more functional approach. Sentence patterns and exercises are the only “grammar” you’ll see. I personally prefer a grammar-oriented approach, but I’m sure many expats would welcome this small change from textbook tradition. Still, grammar cannot be mastered solely through inference and intuition, so again, I think a teacher’s guidance would be necessary.

What I did like about the lessons were the character exercises. Although the expected “practice writing the character” sections are there, there is also a section that encourages the student to discover properties and commonalities of Chinese characters on his own. Two examples:

Tell the same components of each pair of characters.
他——她     吗——妈     海——江     认——识

Circle the dependent strokes “zhé” and “gōu” in the following characters.
四    九    门    代    书

Weaknesses aside, I think the book really does do a good job of introducing really useful words and phrases. It’s quite an accomplishment for only ten lessons. There’s very little extranneous vocabulary, except perhaps for the proper nouns section, which includes Japanese names (does the beginner student really need to learn how to say the Japanese name 木村一郎 in Lesson 4?) and Shanghai locations. Of course, the former will be useful to Japanese students, and the latter shouldn’t be a problem either, as this series seems to be available only in Shanghai for the time being.

I also liked the non-Beijing-centric standard Mandrin. 那里 is taught instead of 那儿, etc.

Overall, I think this book is mostly what it claims to be. Although I wouldn’t recommend it for self-study, I think it would work well as the main material for a person who wanted to learn only useful Mandarin as quickly as possible without much grammar. Don’t expect to find this series outside of China, or even — for the time being — outside of Shanghai.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. I guess they just used fanti for the background of the book cover because it’s a quote from the Lunyu. Or something; go figure.

  2. I also liked the non-Beijing-centric standard Mandrin. 那里 is taught instead of 那儿, etc.
    那儿 是全中国通用了,并没有明显的北京话影响。
    相对于 那里, 那儿 is more informal, colloquial.

  3. You can get this book from the Los Angeles Chinese Learning Center. I ordered it a few weeks ago. I am just starting to learn on my own for the time being. I believe I am progressing fairly well even without a tutor. Listening to the CD constantly really helps. However, I agree the lack of grammar instruction bothers me. I am limited to saying short phrases. I suppose that is fine for now until I learn to properly pronounce tones. I am very glad I stumbled upon your site. It has given me a lot of insight on how to pronounce things correctly, especially the q, r, x and j. Without your site I would have had no idea that I was pronouncing them incorrectly.

    Shawn
    Los Angeles, CA

  4. Antonia Says: July 10, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    This book is actually published by our school, which I’m so proud of. 😉
    We are using this text book for teaching and learning now. Students do progress fast ~

  5. I’m currently using this book in a language institute in China, but the “intermediate” book which has notes covering the grammar.
    I find that the ground covered in each chapter is substantial and that the grammar notes are very clear – much clearer than New Practical Chinese reader which I usually use.

  6. I also use this book in the Chinese class I’m taking at a language school in Hangzhou. I wouldn’t choose this book as my first pick if I was trying to learn on my own without an instructor. The instructor I have is very good and teaches much of the lesson on the white board. What I learn from her on the white board isn’t covered in the book and is 100 times more valuable. The book doesn’t teach, rather it provides the vocabulary and exercises for use by an instructor. My instructor explains very clearly the rules for constructing sentences, how to use the words in the vocabulary and much more which isn’t in the book.

  7. matthew gibb Says: October 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    I have used the beginners series as review. I have already done Pimsleur and two course of Living Language. I liked the fact that I could practice reading by covering up the pinyin with these books. I have moved on to the intermediate level and it is more challenging. There are longer reading exercises. In fact, the cds add twice as much speaking as the beginners series. I do have a friend that teaches Chinese and speaks English fairly well. I have also spent a long time working through single characters on my own. The only down side of these books is there are not always complete answer keys in the back of the book and the intermediate books don’t have an English translation, so there are things that are not clear and when I try to write out answers to some of the exercises I have no idea what my mistakes are. Perfect practice makes perfect, so I wish they would include a more complete answer key and a complete translation on the dialogues into English. Every Chinese program I have studied thus far is missing some component. Imagine if someone made a program with pinyin, characters, and English with clear grammar and examples and a complete answer key. Everyone would want to buy such a series of book. For now I make due with the stuff that is available.

  8. […] Chinese textbook My Chinese Classroom has been around since at least 2005; I once reviewed it on this site, in fact. I was amused, then, to see a new textbook, Our Chinese Classroom […]

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