Integrated Chinese (Levels 1, 2)

Integrated Chinese (Level 1)

by Tao-chung Yao and Yuehua Liu (Cheng & Tsui Company, 1997)

Review by: Prince Roy

A View From the Trenches

I am a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Colorado and have used the Integrated Chinese textbook series for the past two years. I have taught both first and second year Chinese using this text. Therefore I was quite interested in the review of this series by Mien-hua Chiang in the May 1998 issue. However, after reading this review it was apparent the reviewer had no actual experience of using this text in the classroom. I think such an evaluation, by someone in the trenches so to speak, would be valuable to the authors in revising the next edition, and it is in that spirit I do so here.

The authors state that their intention in writing this book is to provide instructional materials which reflect a communication-oriented approach. This is indeed an admirable goal — as we all know Chinese pedagogy has a tragic dearth of textbooks using a systematic, proficiency-based style. Considering the emphasis given to this methodology in recent years, the lack of such work is all the more surprising. Does the Integrated Chinese series live up to this ambition? I regret that I must answer in the negative. I explain my reasons for this conclusion below, and invite readers to compare this text with the Yookoso series for Japanese by Yasu-hiko Tohsaku, which with a few faults notwithstanding, remains the best text incorporating the communicative approach I have yet used.

Format of Integrated Chinese

Despite the authors’ claims to the contrary, Integrated Chinese remains very much in the old tradition of grammar based, pattern drill, translation, and to a lesser extent, audio-lingual style of texts. The only things that could be considered ‘communicative’ about the text are the chapter topics. This is indeed its strong point. However, the main textbook has nothing communicative in it, save for the dialogues. What invariably follows the dialogues are pages of vocabulary lists, grammar explanations and pattern drills. Nowhere is the student given the opportunity to creatively and practically use the language. The workbook is not much better. The listening sections are OK, but the reading portions employ true and false exercises, which are a poor way to measure reading comprehension. There are almost no speaking activities for pair work. The authors state they wish to equally emphasize all four areas of language learning, but a careful examination of the workbook reveals it to consist of primarily reading, writing and translation activities. The few speaking activities that are included do not build on each other. Rather, the student is cast into a situation and is expected to be able to produce the correct language.

Specific Concerns

1) Pronunciation

This important first step is covered in the ‘Introduction’. As Mien hua Chiang has pointed out, the text is weak in its emphasis on the significance of tones. However, I believe she overlooks an even more vital and ludicrous shortcoming of this book: its introduction of Chinese sounds. Integrated Chinese is a text intended for freshmen students, who on average are eighteen years of age. Yet the explanation of Chinese sounds seems intended more for Noam Chomsky. For example, the introduction describes the Chinese sound zh as an ‘unaspirated voiceless blade-palatal affricate.’ D is a ‘tongue tip alveolar unaspirated plosive’. I could go on. I can assure the authors that their intended audience has absolutely no idea, or interest, in what these terms mean. It creates an immediate barrier to students in their production of Chinese sounds. This section needs an immediate, radical re-write. Do NOT use technical linguistic terms for an audience who are not linguists.

2) Grammar and Vocabulary

Part One of the First Year text contains eleven chapters. At my institution, we cover this book in the first semester. That translates to about a chapter a week. Only by moving so quickly can we complete parts one and two in an academic year. Each lesson has, on average, five to eight grammar points. Vocabulary, not including the supplementary sections, can contain anywhere from 35-70 items. The students struggle with internalizing such large amounts of vocabulary and grammar in five days of class time. My experience has been that they sufficiently grasp the grammar and vocabulary to succeed on the exam, but their retention rate is not optimal. This is where Integrated Chinese should take cues from Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese. The course would be much more effective if the more than twenty chapters of the first year course were condensed into around ten to twelve. Slow down the introduction of new grammar and vocabulary, and spend more time with what is introduced. Create legitimate communicative activities which allow students to consistently use the target language with each other in a guided, expressive manner, gradually increasing in complexity, such as those found in the Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese series.

3) General Appearance of the Text

Mien-hua Chiang briefly mentioned this point in her review, but I think it deserves more attention. A well-designed, attractive text making the most of contemporary graphics is a vital component to a communicative language text, and is also a major factor in the enjoyment of the course by students and the retention of them to the next level. Unfortunately, Integrated Chinese comes up short in this area as well. The most glaring fault is the appalling font for traditional Chinese characters chosen by the authors. Characters with a large number of strokes are in many cases simply illegible. This frustrates the students at home where no teacher is available, and wastes valuable time in in-class activities using the dialogues when they can’t read the characters. This problem is especially prevalent in the second year text. With the many fine fonts currently available for Chinese word processing this is an inexcusable flaw.\r\n\r\nI disagree with Mien-hua Chiang as to the quality of illustrations used in the book, and have yet to meet a student or colleague who likes them. The drawings are little better than stick figures, are generally unattractive and add limited communicative value to the course. The authors and publisher should invest much more time and money in this area, utilizing photographs, especially for the cultural information (which the text handles quite well), as well as authentic photos to accompany the chapter topics. Engaging charts, tables and graphs should accompany communicative activities which involve interviews and pair work among the students. Finally, the text should be hardcover. The Cheng & Tsui Company seems not to have put much stock in the production of Integrated Chinese, and frankly it shows.

4) Lack of Support for the Course by the Authors

In their introduction to the text, the authors state Integrated Chinese has been in development since 1994. They mention plans to include the utilization of the most current interactive technology, videos, a web site (the URL is printed in the text), and a resource/activity base for teachers. I have often visited the website over the past year and a half, and have found nothing which has assisted me in the presentation of Integrated Chinese. There is still no resource center for teaching activities specifically designed for the course, unless we allow for the addition of a few games which have been culled from the earlier Let’s Play Games In Chinese. These games, while sometimes useful and a fun diversion, do not really match the text and at best can be considered no more than supplementary material. I still am not aware of any videotapes accompanying the course. On a positive note, the audiotapes for the course have now become much more affordable. In previous years, the cost was so prohibitive that few students could buy them.


In sum, I think the authors of this text had the good intentions to produce a communicative text, but somewhere along the line lost track of their vision. This is evident in the course’s main strength — the chapter topics, which are genuinely communicative in nature. However, the presentation of the material and format of the course remains a throw-back to a previous era. In our first year course here at Colorado we simply do not use the text other than for general course direction. We do use the workbook and character book for homework assignments, but we design all lessons and activities ourselves. We hardly ever use the main text in class because it is void of communicative content. I would like to hear from other institutions which use Integrated Chinese. I also hope the authors will take a long, hard look at over-hauling this series, which has good potential, into a truly communicative material along the lines of those being produced now in so many other languages.

Review originally published in 1999 at University of Colorado at Boulder as Integrated Chinese: Another View for Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association.


John Pasden

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


  1. Melrose Says: May 14, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    does Integrated Chinese make some change after this review published?

    Can you also recommend some good Chinese textbooks to me?

    Thank you very much

  2. Melrose Says: May 14, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    By the way,
    have you ever tried Far East Practical Everyday Chinese?
    It looks like a very practical and fun textbook!!

  3. I’ve been taking Chinese classes at NYU for more than a year now and this is the textbook series that we use. I have to say that the book alone would not be a good way to learn much, but as a “reference” it’s not bad. It provides some structure for the class. Of course, I’m not that far along in my Chinese studies. I love listening to ChinesePod, but I also like the familiar pattern of the textbook.

  4. It’s worth noting that there’s a second (2005) edition. It seems to address at least a few of the criticisms, though not all of them; the structure of the lessons is still the same, but the presentation is a bit better than what’s described in this review.

  5. I’ve been doing a lesson a week with Integrated Chinese, and am now on Lesson 14. Let me say that compared to the Linguaphone (UK) Mandarin course, this course is like living in Heaven! (Please everyone: don’t even consider Linguaphone for one second! I’ll send a review on request.) I use ithe Integrated Chinese Textbook with a private instructor, who constantly criticizes it, but I find it helpful. I use the character and exercise workbooks, as well as the audio CDs. My teacher and I converse extensively at our lessons, and after I transcribe each lesson, I end up with 50-60 added expressions and phrases a week. I practice frequently with native speakers (in the Washington DC area) and the language is quickly “coming in to focus.” I have to admit that I speak 4 other languages fluently, so I know how to study, AND I am an ESL teacher. I find the set-up and content of Integrated Chinese to be just fine—for me!

  6. I would have to disagree with you. I originally didn’t use this book but I switched to it and I think it is incredible. I can understand where your coming from. But you cannot expect a book, print on a page, to allow someone to completely be able to speak the tones because that requires native teachers. And I can also see how you don’t like how the lessons are kind of long and such but I am doing pretty much a lesson a week and I think that, yes, it can be challenging but if you really want to learn Chinese then it’ll do fine.

  7. Let’s have a big round of applause—-for Doree!

  8. Thank you Prince for that wonderful and in-depth review. I couldn´t agree with you more on the lack of emphasis on pronunciation and tones. I studied with this text book at the University of Southern California for 1.5 years and when I arrived to China, these tones that we covered on day one (and only day one) suddenly became important. Imagine that!

    Now that I´m in China, tones are everything. I think that had this serious, my teachers, and program put more emphasis on the importance of tones, students in my program would have been much better at speaking.

  9. Hi Prince,
    We have used Integrated Chinese in our language school for 10 years, yet, woefully, I am not a fan. I prefer “The Practical Chinese Reader”, but alas most teachers in the New York City area are used to IC and prefer that because of familiarity. I agree, too much is covered in each chapter leaving little time for retention or repetition. In general I think the thematic approach to learning Mandarin (e.g. “Shopping”, “Talking About the Weather”, etc.) to be linguistic foot binding. That approach can work with cognate laden languages (for us that is, such as Spanish or French), but forces the Mandarin student into a linguistic pretzel having to learn vocabulary and grammar they may not be ready for. I am writing a textbook using what I call the “Mandarin Building Blocks Approach”. The idea is to start with the most logical and simple components of the language and build up from there. There are no themes to the chapters; instead one builds on top of the other adding new words that logically build on learned morphemes and grammar that moves from simple to the more complex. One thing great about Mandarin is that, although difficult at first to learn, it is in the end a consummately logical language. Thanks for your review… have you seen “Active Chinese”, that’s what we are now using.

  10. I used the 2nd edition for Chinese language study. I speak several languages and just love learning them. Now, three years later, I am going to review CH102 in a college class as a tutor and had to buy the 3rd edition. I have to say, that seeing the 3rd edition makes me appreciate the 2nd much more. The paper in the 3rd is shiny, making it slightly harder to read, the text is smaller, and the pages are cluttered with frivolity. I actually appreciate the large amount of “pattern exercises” in the previous editions (not in the 3rd.) My Chinese tutor tells me that is how they study language in China. It works for me. I’m glad I have the 2nd edition in my arsenal.

  11. I used the IC series (second edition books) for three years (two levels, three years…) in formal classroom settings (high school, college), then went to China to realize that half of the small amount of vocab that I actually retained from the books useless or wrong. For example, when I said “nali, nali” Chinese people laughed in my face, and no one in Beijing calls it “gongke”, its “zuoye”. Is this book tailored to Taiwan other than the “er”s that they add to stuff?
    This book is like the plague. Some teachers latched onto it at the college level, and then new Chinese departments in colleges modeled after them. Then came the middle and high school programs.
    The second edition books just sort of fail at providing cultural information, and the third edition books are only slightly better. There is no reason for students to have to pay about $90 a year for workbooks when they could be learning stroke order online with free websites like Arch Chinese and the teacher could assign homework that does not ask students to rotely use the language… instead of learning to express themselves in it.
    Finally, the book simply does not review anything. The third edition includes cumulative review exercises every five lessons for those five, but I don’t doubt Chinese students everywhere laugh at loud at the concept of review every five weeks being enough.
    If I could do it all again, I would use some cheaper and better learning system (Teach Yourself Chinese I just found at the local library, it seems promising and the price tag is $25 for the book and CDs… for the equivalent intellectual content $250 on IC 1&2). I look at my IC books and I see months-worth of time doing busy work and learning nothing…but it might be more effective for students learning Chinese in an immersive environment like China.

  12. Michael Bonney Says: November 2, 2010 at 9:48 am

    I studied Chinese for four years in the US using a private tutor, and I used Integrated Chinese as a foundation of my learning. I used the second edition. I now live in China. I have found the material, and word choice taught in this course to be excellent. My Chinese friends are amazed at the common words I know and my ability to speak.

    I think this post is more of a commentary on the sad state of American education and teaching than the quality of the excellent Integrated Chinese course.

    (1) Pronunciation and tones can only be taught in person by a native speaker, not out of a book. It is up to the teacher to emphasize this in class. The IC books assume this. Pronunciation and tone must be learned over time as the student progresses, it cannot be learned first, as a sequential item. I find the criticism here to be inaccurate, the author of this post should understand it is his job to develop the students pronunciation. As to the use of technical terms, I did not really pay much attention, but as I learned the tones and pronunciation, the terms became meaningful.

    (2) First of all, the choice of grammar in IC is excellent, but as in any introduction to the language, it must be augmented by the student and teacher. The students must have the interest and will to read other material, study other books. As to being too much, I agree a little, I think the first two years should be a 3 year course with additional material added by the instructor. Possibly a 2.5 year course.

    Language is tough, it requires academic discipline. Something that unfortunately is lacking today.

    (3) I think this criticism is ridiculous. I see too many books today with beautiful pictures and type that don’t teach anything. I am 57, so maybe I just don’t get it. My geometry text in high school was 100 pages long, and consisted of proofs and detailed math. Now we have 300 page monoliths that have no math, do not teach proof, and teach geometry as a “language” not a rigorous study of logic. I am sorry the book is not pretty. Isn’t the idea to learn a language? Should not the students emphasis be on what is in (and not in) their head, not in front of their eyes?

    I think the authors of IC have done an excellent job. But it is up to the teacher to teach, and most importantly up to the student to learn. This series of instruction is an excellent way to learn Chinese, as someone who is now becoming fluent, living in China, I very much appreciate the authors work.

    Mike Bonney

    • 1.) Even when someone is attempting to teach you tones, describing it in words, instead of repeating it can help people understand how to make the sound. Writing it in a way that is incomprehensible to your target audience of readers is a poor decision. Example relevant to Chinese: the ´tone is similar to asking a question.
      Another example: the R in Japanese is pronounced not exactly like a R or an L. Its somewhere in-between.

      2.) You’re right. If someone doesn’t want to learn, they probably won’t. Ambition of the students and teachers is irrelevant to the quality of the content within the book. The grammar is not fully explained in many sections, and in the case of my classes, teachers have to write out additional information to explain grammar. This is a signal that the grammar explanations within the book are not up to their full potential.

      3.)Even though I am a design major, I would to an extent agree with you that the point of a textbook is not to be pretty. But design does not necessarily mean ‘pretty’. When talking about the quality of imagery within the book, I believe the reviewer is referring to how the font type of the characters in the text book makes it hard for students to read. I agree. I am using this book, and for example, when attempting to translate a drawing of a ticket in the workbook, NONE of the students could read because of the poor quality of printing in combination with the poor quality font choice. As for the layout of the book, I do like story, then vocabulary, then grammar, but why is the pinyin all the way in the back? And none of the grammar has pinyin, so when they use a word they’ve never defined before, you have to manually look up the character outside the book.

      I agree learning isn’t easy, but there are ways to make materials easier to understand. I believe the point of these reviews and criticisms is not to just bash, but make improvements.

  13. Also in agreement with the lack of quality of this book. I am currently an IU 2nd year Chinese student, and this year we just switched to this book. You touched on some of my favorite complaints like not being able to read characters because of a lack of quality in printing (wtf- when you are forced to pay $50+ dollars for a book that you literally can’t read). One thing I would like to emphasize is a huge fault in the book is the grammar. For some reason, they only describe in-depth only a fraction of the grammar listed, while the 2nd half of it is fill in the blank, with only an example to go by. My teachers have had to make additional material to explain these pieces of grammar. If there is a workbook and a character book, why bother throwing in ‘fill in the blank’ material in the text book. It really makes no sense.
    I would highly recommend a different textbook called “Connections” by Jennifer Li-chia Liu. This book explains grammar formulaically, making it easier for students to understand and adapt for other sentences. Also, vocabulary words are given its actual meaning as well as its literal meaning (breaking down each character). This was super helpful for drawing connections between other words as well as finding clever ways of remembering words. I really miss this book and do not really understand why we stopped using it. The author of the book was a department head in the IU program, but from what I understand, she recently got a job at Harvard and left.
    Anyways, I would highly recommend looking over this book, and maybe even reviewing it :]

  14. […] which was hosted on the (now defunct) Sinosplice blogging network. He also wrote the guest article Integrated Chinese (Levels 1, 2): A View From the Trenches on Sinosplice as well. In this post he’s going to share his personal experiences learning […]

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