Pinyin Reader

I recently received an e-mail asking me to make a textbook recommendation. I haven’t been a beginner for several years now, so I don’t know much about this kind of thing. I was hoping you readers could help.

This is the text of the e-mail I received:

Hello John,

I was hoping you could help me out.

I’ve just started to learn Mandarin (I’ve completed my first 3 hrs of lessons!) and was lucky enough to find a Native speaking Chinese tutor to help me learn the language.

She suggested that I buy a book, any book (as long as it’s not filled with technical terms or something), that is written completely in pinyin so that I can practice reading it for pronunciation purposes. Something equivalent to reading a regular Chinese book so that I can get practice pronouncing both simple and complicated words.

The problem is that she doesn’t know of any, or where to get them. I live in Montreal and a book of that nature is impossible to find. If you know of one and can send me an ISBN or Title… anything, it would be great!

Thanks in advance for your help.

Related Sinosplice Link: Chinese Language Learning Book Reviews


John Pasden

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


  1. I’d recommend “Beginner’s Chinese” by Yong Ho.
    See here:

    No, this book isn’t perfect, but it has pin yin and simplified characters throughout. You won’t find many decent Chinese books for the beginner. Period. The “Oxford Starter Chinese Dictionary” is also a decent place to begin (has pin yin for all entries as well).


  2. Don’t know anything specific but maybe you can check out the McGill or the Universite de Montreal bookstore. It’s been a while but I just walked into the East Asian Studies Dept. of McGill (on McTavish) and asked a prof. for advice. Pretty friendly people there. Goodluck!

  3. I think an all pinyin book is a terrible idea. Having learned both Pinyin and Zhuyin (bopomofo), I think zhuyin is highly preferable, and there are many books that have the characters with zhuyin next to them. Pronunciation is just much better with zhuyin and the much more readily available reading resources offset the time spent learning bopomofo. Maybe this student should ask his/her instructor to try zhuyin instead.

  4. BLCU publishes a lot of stuff that’s pretty good, I think Conversational Chinese 301 is a decent book to start with, particularly with tapes that will help with hearing the pronunciation. Everything is in both Pinyin and simplified Chinese. Like most Chinese-published learning materials, the thinking seems to be trying to teach writing/reading and speech at the same time – something I’m not proponent of. Nobody even learns to read their first language until they have a significant spoken vocabulary base, after all. Anyway, here’s a link – I’ve bought from these guys before, they’re good. They also have the companion tapes available.

  5. I used to use kids books quite a lot – easy to find them with pinyin alongside the characters, but that’s in China . . .


  6. you should start with the charecters from the start, it’s a pain in the ass learning to read or right the charecters for simple words you already know how to say

  7. Agreeing with Alf, cause he speaks the TRUTH. In addition, get the book that I have cause it rules, yet I am too lazy to look at its exact title. It really is quite wonderful however. Also, get “Urban Chinese” because it is written by a white guy who is relatively new to the language and has a good grasp at how to approach it.

  8. It’s just the opposite for me…it’s been a hundred times easier to remember the characters for words I already know than the words I don’t even know. I have nothing to correlate them with in my mind…or something.

  9. One of the books I started out with was the Pracrical Chinese Reader, which was pretty good, and had pinyin under all the characters.

    The thing is that if your Chinese is still at a level where you need to get the hang of pronunciation, I think you’re better off dealing with short, simple sentences of the variety to be found in textbooks. That’s just my two cents – bear in mind that I know roughly squat about pedagogy.

  10. I’m an American (living in CA) who is engaged to a woman who was born in china.

    Whenever I try to pronounce chinese words with Pinyin, my fiance laughs at me and tells me I have such a white-guy accent.

    but when I try to pronounce things using zhuyin, I almost always get it right on the first try and she says it’s almost scary how good my words sound.

    I also find zhuyin easier for me because I’m learning completely new phonetic symbols and attaching completely new sounds to them… instead of trying to attach new sounds to english letters I already mentally have sounds attached to.

    so my vote is zhuyin, but I think you should stick with whatever you think works best for you.

    also, I found this great site that has pinyin and zhuyin material:

    I picked up a zhuyin copy of Green Eggs In Ham there:

    Best Of Luck!

  11. (Sorry, the length of that last link stretched the table’s width and made the page’s format a little funny)

  12. I am Taiwanese, grew up in Taiwan and used zhuyin. My ability to learn additional chinese is hampered by the fact the pinyin is a pale approximation to what words should sound like, not to mention it is absolutely heinous to try to decipher the tone! My vote is with the phonetic method that each country/language uses to educate its kids.

  13. Allison Says: June 21, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    I’m american living in Los Angeles and I’m searching for a good way to learn Zhuyin. Does anyone know if there is a good class in LA or an audio tutorial of some kind I could buy somewhere?

  14. Pinyin and zhuyin are completely equivalent, right? “Deciphering the tone” is just as easy in pinyin as it is in zhuyin; you just have to look at the tone mark! The only difference related to tones is that with zhuyin, no tone mark means 1st tone. With pinyin, no tone mark means neutral tone. For any syllable of zhuyin, there is one and only one way to convert it to pinyin. Both systems are completely equivalent.

  15. This thread has gotten far from the original query, though interestingly so. The orginal quest was to find a book to comply with a teacher’s suggestion: “She suggested that I buy a book, any book (as long as it’s not filled with technical terms or something), that is written completely in pinyin so that I can practice reading it for pronunciation purposes.” Quite apart from any religious sentiments, I have found that translations of the Bible are helpful in learning target languages, because it is in practically every language or variant of language on earth. Several editions of the Bible are available that are solely in pinyin . Do a browser search for “pinyin Bible” and you’ll find several that satisfy the original request.

  16. Piyin-to-Speech Reader

    I found out can read Chinese text -to-speech, which it is very helpful to my ABC children to learn Chinese.

    However, I wonder if anyone know any website providing free online reader for Piyin-to-speech, which could help them better since they know Piyin.

  17. Mark Swofford of speaks highly of some Simplified characters + pinyin material here:

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