The Best Chinese Textbooks
So now that I’m working on the academic side of ChinesePod one of the first things I want to do is start expanding the Chinese pedagogy resource library. There are all kinds of great resources out there, but what I want to focus on first is the more complete sets intended for formal education. I want to collect the best Chinese textbooks.
When I first began studying Chinese at University of Florida in 1998, we used a series by Yale the first year (I’m not sure which textbook it was, exactly). I don’t remember being overly impressed with it. The second year the Chinese program switched over to Integrated Chinese, which I liked a lot better. Unfortunately, I only had room in my schedule for one semester of second year Chinese. After arriving in China, I was even more impressed with Integrated Chinese because I discovered that everything in the textbook was immediately useful. That is really saying a lot. [See also my full review of Integrated Chinese (Level 2).]
My only other formal Chinese instruction happened in 2003, when I attended “advanced” (upper intermediate, really) classes at Zhejiang University of Technology for one semester in preparation for the HSK. The textbooks I used for that were pretty forgettable.
Bottom line: I haven’t had very much experience with Chinese textbooks, but now I need to know which ones are good. I mean the ones that start from the beginning and go all the way through to intermediate or advanced level.
I stopped by Chinese Forums, which is always a good place to start for academic Chinese questions. People there seemed to like Chinese Made Easier (Shaanxi Normal University Press) and New Practical Chinese Reader (Beijing Language & Culture University Press). A Chinese Forums member named kudra even posted a list of 25 texts used in American universities’ Chinese programs. Seriously useful stuff.
Still, I would really like to hear from my readers. I know that many of you have far more experience formally studying Chinese than I do. Which Chinese textbooks are the best?
It depends how you want to define “textbook,” but the most useful books I’ve used out of the 10 or so I’ve tried are:
The Yong Ho books are not likely used as textbooks in an academic setting, which is probably why they are so useful and clear — they aren’t error-free or perfect, however — just the best I’ve used so far.
Chinese – An Essential Grammar is the best Chinese text I’ve found by far. If you are looking for a book on sentence patterns, etc., with lots of examples, you should get this book. One major drawback to it, though, is that it only uses pin yin. I appreciated that when I first started out. Now it just annoys me.
When I took a beginner’s course, I learned with Chinese for Today (今日汉语, Beijing Languages Institute), which is a rather sober and fast-advancing book. Within one volume, it goes from the first steps to a pretty advanced level. I liked the precision of the grammar instructions and the usefulness of the vocabulary. It compares well to the other Chinese textbooks I’ve seen, but the usefulness for Chinesepod might be limited, as it doesn’t seem to be suited well for self-learners.
There is a thin series of three books called “New Approaches to Learning Chinese” that comes with tapes by 张朋朋. I havent’t actually made my way through all the books but they seem pretty good. I think they’re more for motivated self-starter types than for the classroom, though.
The sequence is:
It’s funny, I knew a few people at Shaanxi Normal and I think I ended up with one of those “Chinese Made Easier” textbooks somehow. I think I left it unclaimed in my last apartment without ever looking at it, though.
I think the ‘Essential Grammar” version that Jack mentions must be an older edition, the editions I have all have hanzi, pinyin and GOOD English. I’ve seen at least one university program that refers to them.
“Basic Chinese; A Grammar and Workbook”
These have exercises and brief grammar introductions.
“Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar” by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, Routledge press, 2004.
This is a 300 plus page reference book, but very readable, with at least 1-3 examples for all grammar issues.
I was never able to find the books in China. Last year Amazon promised to offer it digitally, but that seems to have been vapor-marketing.
I would love to see a new ‘teaching’ lexicon based on ‘the top 1000 spoken conversational words’, but with the logistical hurdles of gathering this info, the current lists seem to be either Top 1000 HSK, or 1000 from the newspaper or online Chinese. Still interesting though these lists, words appear in unexpected places, for example ‘fan’ to eat is in the 900s rather than being in the top10 as one might expect.
I find the bigram list most interesting.
And if you’re not too busy, don’t forget the Cpod Wiki. It would be nice too see your reviews there.
I have used several all published by Beijing Language University. And I think 新实用汉语课本 and 华夏行 ( Princeton ? ) are good. Though so far there are not many perfect textbook around there. I personally think each student should find one which suits himself/herself better.
Currently I’m using the following two books you used at ZUT and think they are pretty good at increasing character recognition, though do have their flaws too:
桥染—实用汉语中级教程(下) （北京语言文化大学出版社）- Intensive Reading
中国社会概览(三年级教材，上) （北京语言文化大学出版社）- Survey of Chinese Society
On the positive side, the main point of these books seems to be to increase character recognition and familiarize students with more advanced sentence structures in Chinese. In doing this, I think the books do a pretty good job, as there is a lot of repetition throughout the books of previously learned vocabulary and sentence structures. The exercises at the end of each chapter also provide a useful tool in aiding with retention of new characters and how these characters are used in a sentence.
On the negative side, there are too many “new” words in each chapter of the intensive reading book, with some chapters containing up to one hundred words in the vocab list. Usually, however, up to half of those words aren’t really new to the student. The survey book has no vocab list, which makes for quite intensive use of the dictionary, but the material it presents is usually the original text of a well written article by a modern author. Both books introduce quite a bit of vocabulary in a short space, which makes it difficult for the student to retain or reproduce the vocab, but does improve recognition, meaning I can usually remember seeing the character a few times before and often what the pinyin is so it’s quick to look up in the dictionary.
Where both books fail is in the collocation section. They provide many examples of words that collate with one another, but provide very few examples of collocation within the context of a sentence, making the collocation section practically meaningless as a learning tool, and only really useful as a reference when one is writing.
I’m quite interested to hear what you recommend as a learning tool for after one has completed these books. When you finished your semester at ZUT how did you continue studying Chinese? What books did you use? I’m interested to hear both books intended for foreign learners and books intended for native Chinese speakers. Personally, I have found the writing of 刘墉 to be both easy to read and insightful.
Ive used a mixture of books, the best for intermediate level to advanced were the hanyu zhong ji/gao ji jiao cheng books from Beijing Uni press.
Before that I used elementary books but I cant remember their names.
Ive also used Speed up Chinese (su cheng hanyu) there are 3 books in total, small pocket size books that contain all kinds of different situations that foreigners find themselves in. Truly an excellent series of books. You can find them here
This is good book for telephone Chinese. For this paticular series there is Travel Chinese, Humorous Chinese (?) Internet Chinese, Leisure Chinese, Measure Words etc, and often spoken Chinese phrases. Each book in this series is about 15 – 30rmb so not expensive at all!
Best of luck – I’ll go through the rest of my collection later. I have a tendancy to study one book for about two months and then get bored of reading the same old fables etc, put the book on the shelf and buy a new one. I have quite a few books after three years of studying.
Wow, lots of recommendations, but there seems to be no consensus! I’m not sure how to use all this information. If anyone wants to (tactfully) diss other people’s recommendations for specific reasons, that would be helpful as well. 🙂
After ZUT I went to using a lot of Mandarin on the job, which helped give me a lot of practice, but didn’t help my reading/vocab much. When I decided to go to grad school in China, I just started hitting the relevant Chinese textbooks directly, and while that took a period of adjustment, the leap wasn’t too great.
So I think that for any upper intermediate/advanced learner, a major question is when to quit relying on “study tools” so much and start transitioning to primary media resources. It’s partly a matter of language ability, but also largely one of personality as well.
I started learning with the (old) Practical Chinese Reader, which I think has a lot going for it over the New one, which my younger brother has been using. The old Reader (hereafter “the green book”) is dry as all hell, but has got better explanations of grammatical features than the new Reader, which tends to focus on lame dialogues and unuseful vocabulary to the exclusion of grammar, pronunciation exercises, or worthwhile explanation of things.
(The green book also has awesome foreign characters Palanka and Gubo. Anyone who learned with the old PCR has got fond memories of that crazy couple.)
Beida’s textbooks are, I’m sorry to say, unalloyed crap. Stay far, far away from them. Their reader series isn’t bad at the advanced level, but the problem that I have with advanced reader textbooks is that I’ve never seen any compelling argument for using a reader rather than just getting a book and a dictionary and doing stuff on my own.
That said, Sinolingua has a series of 4 (I think) reader textbooks ranging from beginner to advanced. I’ve only worked with the advanced one, but it’s pretty good. There are occasional typos in the book text, but nothing that would affect understanding of it, and the reader presents a good, varied selection of texts.
I don’t have a lot of experience with BLCU textbooks, but from what I’ve seen, their 桥梁 series is not half bad, and their classical Chinese textbooks are pretty good, though they only use simplified characters. If I may make a basically uninformed generalization, it seems that BLCU tends to do a much better job of explaining grammar and constructing relevant examples than anyone else does.
I never used Integrated Chinese, but from looking through a copy that a friend was using in his class, I wasn’t very impressed. Prince Roy’s review of it is pretty much dead on; in addition, if I recall correctly, a lot of the texts seemed to me to have been written by committee, in that in some places it uses a mixture of mainland/Taiwanese/colloquial/formal usage.
I’d also strongly, strongly recommend the 新编汉英虚词词典. It’s a reference text, not a textbook, but it’s got explanations and example sentences for common colloquial and literary function words. No home should be without one.
For intermediate learners, there’s a set of little yellow books called the “Supplementary Chinese Reader” series. My former roommate went through them all after doing the first two books of 視聽華語 (Practical Audio-Visual Chinese) and got to being able to understand pretty much everything on the radio and maybe 85% of what was in the newspapers within a year. ICLP also uses those books in a more accelerated program.
Book 1- 中國寓言 (Chinese Moral Tales), ISBN 957-09-1134-4
Book 2- 中國的風俗習慣 (Chinese Customs and Traditions), ISBN 957-09-1373-8
Books 3&4- 中國歷史故事(一),(二) (Stories from Chinese History Vol.1&2) ISBN 957-09-1221-9
More recently, some more books have been added to the series, including 中國的風俗習慣(二), and 中國民間故事(一),(二) (Chinese Folk Tales).
I’m working through the series myself at the moment and based on my experience so far, it’s great! The stories are interesting, and you’ll learn a lot of often used vocab. You’ll also learn words that you probably won’t learn from chatting with people in a bar, but they you will hear them from time to time and recognize them after learning them in these readers. More importantly, rather than just soaking up vocab and grammar, you’ll be learning quite a bit about Chinese culture. In the long run that may help your Chinese speaking ability as much as any grammatical improvements you make. As I continue through this set, I’ll be adding reviews to my blog.
This set of readers has been used by Yale and other prestigious US schools. There are two major drawbacks for students in China, though. They’re printed in Taiwan and therefore, have no simplified characters or pinyin. Zhuyin is easy to learn, though, and I think it’s worth learning for this series. I’d recommend these books to anybody studying in Taiwan or in the west. For people already in mainland China, it might be better to find something with simplified characters.
As for dissing other recomendations, I can’t dis PAVC since nobody recommended it. Lest anybody thinks I’m recommending it, I’ll say it’s pretty average. Integrated Chinese was rough. It’s got way too much vocab per week and in my first year class with that book, I felt like I was a turkey being stuffed for Thanksgiving.
the books you mentioned “Book 1- 中國寓言 (Chinese Moral Tales) etc. etc.
are they the books you referred to as the “supplementary chinese reader” series or are they separate additional mentions of other books? Thanks !
got confused of whether they are the supplementary chinese reader or not.
Kevin S, whats 中国社会概览 like? Easy going or tough as nails?
If I might offer a ‘general dis’, I have lots of books with a format of: story all in hanzi, then a vocabulary list, often without pinyin, and poor English translations. Usually there are 20-30 words and I wonder if the Chinese academic profession believes that making students look up all the words is an efficient ‘learning approach’.
Then after this vocab list are some hodgepodge grammar, idiom explanations and some substitution patterns. I stopped torturing myself by going thru these ‘readings’ but I think other students seem to like this format, I don’t know how they can learn 30 words at a time. In any case most books seem a variation of this format. I think it’s really a product that is a result of being easy to make, rather than making learning easy.
It would be really nice to see a book or series that:
1: Uses the 1000 most frequently seen words (newspaper, online, fiction or speech)
2: Introduces the words based on frequency
3: Builds on grammar rules till at the end one can be relatively assured of encountering all of them.
4: Is entertaining, has pictures, etc.
5: Repeatedly reviews grammar rules with various vocabulary.
6: Mixes up the exposure thru short dialogues, stories, clippings, etc.
7: Has hanzi, pinyin and English for EVERY word somewhere, for example a glossary. I would expect the glossary to have…1000 words.
8: The next level goes words 1-2000.
9: Has occassionaly funny stories to help remember specific hanzi and radicals.
10: Has occassional sections which point out common types of error patterns students are likely to make.
Try 跟我学汉语(Hanban). We’ve used this series in my Chinese IB course for the last three years and it looks like it hits most of your criteria.
First Year: Beginning Chinese, John DeFrancis, (in fanti) Solid intro text.
Second Year: 大陆 text, which I hated, but not enough to remember the title.
Third Year: Beyond the Basics, Jianhua Bai, et al., Cheng and Tsui. (jianti, fanti) Memorable dialogues exploring serious themes, something totally lacking in all the mainland texts Ive seen. Great use of chengyu. This one is really good. Got me over the hump in the transition to real newspapers.
Fourth year: used a bunch of mainland texts, the only one worth anything was 中级汉语阅读, which has a broad variety of excellent vocab-boosting content.
Conclusion: While my general opinion is that texts published in the States are the best,
I dont think the perfect textbook has been written yet. John, your work is cut out for you.
D’oh — yes, how could I forget? Big ups to sbb’s suggestions. I never used the DeFrancis texts, but they’re great. There are a couple of idiosyncracies – the versions I saw all used handwritten fonts and gave a reading of “shenmo” for 什么 – but they’re really, really solid books.
Beyond the Basics is also pretty good, actually. Used that in my third year class, and it was one of the less painful textbooks I’ve dealt with.
My University uses the “New Practical Chinese Reader”. Right now, I am on the 3rd course having finished the first 2 books in the series. Although I would be hard pressed to suggest a better textbook, I can’t say that I’d recommend these books. Cramming as much vocabulary down your throat as possible seems to be the goal of the authors. The second book alone introduces between 500-600 new words, the intent being that these are covered in a 3 months course. The lessons are some of the most mind numbingly boring I’ve ever seen, for example on entire lesson was spent discussing the difference between Chinese traditional painting and Wester oil painting… ugh… The grammar descriptions are rather poor. The associated workbook is not particularly helpfull when it comes to learning the material, as it introduces even MORE new words, is filled with useless excercises, and does not review previously learned material.
Overall, I think these series of books introduce too much new material, fail to maintain student motivation, and do not do a good job at breaking down the presented material.
I like Chinese Made Easier, but I only completed book 1. First thing I did was go through the pronunciation CDs and the beginning of book 1. I did that all alone, and after a week, I saw my tutor again and I rarely got pronunciation corrections from her again!
I have to look for the textbooks I used at Hei Da, but I didn’t really care for them much.
A French teacher gave me a copy of a little book called Depict 3000. I love it! All it does is show you how to srite 3000 characters. Since all my tutoring was for speaking, I really had no clue how to write when I started at Hei Da and I freaked out when the teacher wanted me to write characters. But when I went home I remembered this little book and I taught myself how to write. Anytime I needed to write a new character, I just looked it up and followed the stroke order. It is from Central China Normal University Press in Wuhan.
Hey Ash, as to the difficulty of《中国社会概览》why don’t I give you a typical text straight from the book and let you decide.
I made about eleven annotations to this piece of text, and had to look up at least five words. In all there are ten paragraphs similar to this one in the text I took this paragraph from, meaning that I had to look up about 50 words and made about 100 annotations. So, for me at least, it’s pretty hard. However, the characters I learned (and actually retained), have cropped up dozens of times in other places since learning them from this text. Some examples are 执著，蒙蔽，尴尬 and 扭捏, so I definitely feel like I’m getting some practical use out of the book.
What makes the text particularly tough is that there is no proper new vocabulary list, though there are lots of footnotes and a list of important words which sort of makes up for this, however, does not make up for the lack of a proper vocabulary list so much that you aren’t spending the lion’s share of your time in the dictionary, and this is the book’s largest fault. In this respect then, the book works more like an annotated reader. Many of the articles in the book are not adapted for the language learner, but rather kept in the original, and are taken from sources such as《中国青年报》. Comparing the articles in the book with other modern Chinese texts, such as popular novels intended for native Chinese speakers (not learning materials) I have found that many novels are actually easier for me than the material in《中国社会概览》.
Hey, I mentioned before that The Independent Reader (ed. Vivian Ling, pub. 1997 by SMC Publishing, Taiwan) is the only language text I’ve ever been able to tolerate. It was “designed specifically to bridge the gap between the ‘advanced’ level and total self-sufficiency in reading serious expository prose” . It contains 52 articles – all in traditional characters – taken from periodicals published Taiwan, HK, and the US. They were apparently unable to get copyright for the articles they wanted from the mainland. Words likely to be difficult are listed after each article along with their pronunciation in pinyin and usually a hint as to their meanings. Actual definitions (in Chinese) are only given for the most difficult words. The articles themselves are generally interesting and even provocative, as if they were chosen to stimulate classroom debate. All in all a very good book for advanced students.
I second Ben’s recommendation of《今日汉语》Chinese for Today. I used Books 1 and 2 along with the tapes and the companion workbooks and really think these are good books for anyone wanting to get a solid grounding in all aspects of Chinese, speaking, listening, reading and writing. The only serious setback to these books are that they do not introduce vocabulary in a logical order most relevant to the learner on the street in China who needs to get up and going in Chinese as quickly as possible. For example, the first chapter introduces words like, “tourist bureau” and “overseas Chinese” while saving much more survival level words like “man” and “woman” for later chapters.
To make up for this deficiency I highly recommend a) ChinesePod and b) Survival Chinese by Don Snow (Commercial Press 2002). The first chapter of Survival Chinese, for example, teaches the dialogue, A:How much? B:Three yuan. A:Do you want it? B:Yes. And has a survival characters section that introduces the characters for “man” and “woman”.
One other book that has been indispensable to me is《常用汉字》Reading and Writing Chinese by William McNaughton and Li Ying (Tuttle 1999). Reading and Writing Chinese methodically covers 2307 Chinese characters taken from the Yale 1020 list and the PRC’s official 2000 list of most common characters and introduces these characters in logical, programmed sequences. It is available in a few different editions.
I took my beginning classes in the 70’s with a textbook from the cultural revolution. “Elementary Chinese” (基础汉语） has been out of print for a long time. Did anyone else use that? It had a plain yellow cover with no art whatsoever on it.
I’m pretty sure that a comparison would find “Elementary Chinese” lacking in comparison to other textbooks. Still, I have a fond place in my nostalgic heart for it.
On another subject, I think we are slowly entering the era of courseware as opposed to just textbooks with audio tapes. A new courseware worthy of consideration is the Chinese Odyssey Series It is published by the well known Cheng & Tsui company and featured on their website.
I suspect that the ChinesePod listeners are more like me–people that have used Pimsleur and are looking primarily to learn spoken Chinese and are not yet ready for characters.
With that in mind (and I’ve spend easily $2k on resources and most of it was garbage) I’d recommend: everything written by Yong Ho (Beginner, Intermediate, and frequency dictionary), the Pimsleur sets, the Starter Oxford Chinese dictionary. Schaum’s outline of Chinese grammar, and the software program called Pinyin Master.
I can’t speak for all ChinesePod listeners, but I am definitely interested in learning written Chinese in addition to spoken Chinese. I would be surprised if there weren’t quite a few other ChinesePod listeners like myself.
For absolute beginners I found the approach in “A study tour for learners of Chinese” excellent. (ISBN 7-5619-1243-9).
Its mail advantages are
* Relevant vocabulary, but not too overwhelming
* Hanzi, Pinyin with tones, English translations (of course)
* It shows the Chinese word order in English translation too. (!)
* plenty of pattern exercises
It has some lousy, skippable chapters too, like a uninspiring misplaced tourist guide to BJ.
Have you tried any of the Princeton University textbooks? Eg An Advanced REader of Modern Chinese: China’s own Critics?
My current teacher, a rabid nationalist, will not use the Princeton books because she believes that they are full of anti-China political propaganda. She’s right. Personally, I like them, but I have found that some of the translations, especially in the grammar section, are confusing at best. China’s Peril and Promise is the best of the bunch.
I don’t think there’s the possibility of consensus on this one, because even beginners have strong ideas on how they want to study Chinese – the obvious one being, do people start with the characters or not?
I think you should, and I also thing learning lots of vocab is necessary, and so I dig the older Practical Chinese Reader. It’s dry, but the grammar is well presented. The wacky adventures of Gubo and Palanka, and the occasional Cultural Revolution holdover, makes the book just that much more fun. It has the problems you might expect from a slightly dated book but is still worth studying.
I now concentrate on the even dryer Spoken Chinese series (Peking University Press), which actually concentrates heavily on characters. I think it’s great but it’s not for everyone. Steep learning curve, as well.
I also enjoyed the Pimsleur series, even if I recall it having weird phrasing at times. I check out Chinesepod sometimes, they’re fun and I learn and it’s free, so no complaints. But I can’t get past one question – why listen to audio material from a foreign speaker?
Jeff – the awesome thing about PCR is that in the sequel, one of the characters is the son of Gubo and Ding Yun, which led me to go back and read the original PCR again, noting every reference to Gubo and Ding Yun 努力学习’ing and mentally substituting the words “humping like rabbits.” Try it some time; it’s fun.
I have an old Beida text from the late 70s or early 80s – can’t remember if it’s “Spoken Chinese” or “Modern Chinese.” Don’t have much of an impression of it, though it does have delightfully dated example sentences like “That comrade enjoys watching Russian movies very much.”
And of course there’s a 1956 Beida textbook which I absolutely love: it uses an early set of incompletely simplified characters, making the whole thing look like Bizarro Chinese, and places diacritic marks (but no Pinyin romanization) above each character in the lesson, which I like. It also has the best lesson texts ever. (Link is to a lesson on the passive construction.)
Well at my school in the states the first year we used the old school PRC,then switched to the new ones that are red. I personally dislike them, and I think while there is no “perfect” beginner book, integrated Chinese is the best out there right now. Middlebury uses them for their 1st and 2nd year,and having met alot of their students,their Chinese foundation is really really good. The larger question is what to do once you get past the intermediate level… you really have to broaden your selections. for example, these are some books that I have read and that I enjoy.
China’s peril and promise – Princeton
Open for Business – the Cheng and Tsui series
BeiDa’s advanced newspaper reader
CLose the deal- Cheng and Tsui
An Advanced Reader of Modern Chinese- Princeton
Advanced Spoken Chinese – BeiDa’s new orange book, not bad
Business Chinese,an Advanced Reader -Tongren Cui
I just finished studying these books last semester, I think that once you are at a “advanced level” there is no single textbook,you need to have a 全方位 approach,literature, business, culture, spoken chinese, newspaper reading,and you need to start reading everyday materials in chinese,books, essays etc.
I have also seen the IUP and ICLP textbooks,for the advanced level I think they look the best for an integrated solution but I have personally never used them.
John’s Role at ChinesePod…
I have been working for ChinesePod for two weeks now, so I figured it was time to give a shout out to the community and explain a little what I’ve been working on.
I have been hired as an “academic consultant.” That means I am working with the Ch…
Sorry to be a bit off topic, but yesterday I bought some Chinese books. One is just general fiction, the other simple jokes and one on speaking English in college. I found the Chinese in the Speaking English in College book at about my level and there are some nice illustrations, etc.
But now I think that Chinese people are really really smart b/c they speak English just like this book’s English. It’s terrible, there is not one contraction, everything is ‘I am’ instead of “I’m”. I spent the last half hour writing over the English, it bothered me so much. If the Chinese publishers hired some good proofreaders I think the whole country’s English level will skyrocket!
When I was in collage more than 10 years agao in the States, the Chinese class in my collage used “Speak Chinese Today”, which was a pretty conversational style textbook. The students were able to achieve quite a bit with 1 year, from basic pinyin to conversations. ANd That was why I picked that book to teach my private students later. But Since my students are all teenagers in the States, they needed something more fun, and colorful. 2 or 3 years ago, I found a set of textbook published in Hong Kong, but is very nicely done, titled “Chinese Made easy”. It has 4 levels. We are on the 3rd level right now, and it has Chinese idioms stories as extra reading. And the students actually get to learn lots of characters as well. I have also started using the level 2 book for my Chinese school class (parents of adopted Chinese children), and the response there is very positive as well.
Depending on teh targeted age group of the Chinese learning students, there are plenty to choose from nowadays in the US. Seriously. I personally baught more than 4 or 5 sets already, each has its pros and cons. But my targeted age group are younger students then most of you, probably.
http://www.chinasprout.com is a very good place to find Chinese learning materials.
I’m really grateful for all these posts since I’m learning Chinese on my own with little access to books. I had to more or less guess at what would be a good book to buy (relying heavily on online reviews). I wound up with:
McNaughton, Reading and Writing Chinese Characters, simplified edition (3rd ed) for learning how to write. That’s important to me, it’s a big part of how I learn to recognise characters.
ChinesePod, to hear Chinese and be in touch with a Chinese-learning community.
Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, Basic Chinese a Grammar and Workbook, because it is a grammar and workbook, staged exercises, hanyu (simplified)/pinyin/English with a key to the exercises.
Rough Guide Mandarin Phrasebook, for fun and common phrases.
cjkware.com’s KEY software (I have v. 4.1), because it has simplified and trad, text-to-speech (okay, sounds computer-generated but helps me with tones), a terrific dictionary accessed just by hovering the cursor over the character, an ability to cut-and-paste anything on the Web into a document and translate it into pinyin with tones (and use the dictionary on it).
So that’s my kit for now, and it’s keeping me busy and still feeling reasonably confident about what I’m doing.
Last and very important resource: You guys. Thanks again!
I am completing my second year with these books and so far I agree with Prince Roy’s review more than yours on integrated Chinese. The book has so few speaking excercises and entirely too much focus on the reading and writing. I haven’t been to China yet, so I hope my opinion changes when I get there! I really do hope to find that everything I have been studying turns out to be very useful! In the mean time, the Pimsleur Chinese CD’s have been very helpful in practicing spoken chinese, although their pace is a tad slow.
This last fall the 2nd Edition of Integrated Chinese was released, though little has changed beyond the cover art. The character book does have new games in it for practicing.
Can you comment on your experience with spoken vs. written chinese. Where do you feel the classroom emphasis should be for those being introduced to the language and planning on spending some extended time in China?
My Chinese teacher when I was at the University of Oregon, a grad student then and a full professor of Chinese in her own right now at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, has authored her own beginners series called ‘Interactions’. Her name is Jennifer Liu. She was the best teacher of Chinese I ever had, and an outstanding educator. However, I have not closely examined her materials. Has anyone out there seen or used them? I’d be interested in learning how they stack up against IC. By the way, that series has a new edition out and I thumbed trhough a copy a couple of weeks ago. It appears they took up many of the cosmetic changes I recommended in my review (legible fonts for Chinese characters, real photos, etc), but I did not examine its substantive content. It appears from Ken H’s comments that little has changed. A true shame…
I have studied Chinese formally for three years in the US and for one year in a Chinese language university. I have used many different textbooks, but the Integrated System is by far and away the best one. I have had conversations at stores, in the Post Office and elsewhere, that went almost verbatum from the dialogues in the textbooks. I have also used Beijing University Press’ textbooks, which are excellent but the grammar explanations lack the cohesiveness of the Integrated system (the Integrated system is thorough and easy to understand). The only drawback I have found to Cheng & Tsui’s book is that the first two levels don’t have a lot of vocabulary (the vocab it does have, howver, is absolutely essential). My remedy is to buy a dictionary of Chinese measure words, they can be found in any bookstore in China, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find them in Boston’s Chinatown. Peace and good-luck.
NEW BOOKS – I recently bought some new books, I think they are going to really help bump me up over my intermediate-plateau. In any case I doubt they’ll hurt the effort. This kind of material seems missing online or at Chinesepod. Unfortunately the publishers don’t have companion e-editions.
Developing Writing Skills in Chinese
Boping Yuan and Kan Qian, Routledge Press 2003, HK$398
I bought this book because it seems to present information on how to write more formal Chinese, it also gives examples of how a written phrase would be written/said in colloqial Chinese. This allows me to ‘accesss’ the Chinese and I don’t feel like I’m just learning something net-new, it’s just more on top of what I know. I see this as a nice bridge to improving my Chinese and especially in understanding more of the media around me.
Advanced Chinese, Intention, Strategy & Communication
Yanfang Tang and Qinghai Chen, Yale University Press 2005, HK$550
I bought this text because it has chapters with topics like “How to write a description”. It’s not just an ‘advanced story’ with another vocab list. This is kinda what advanced Cpod seems to be dangerously slipping into. It gives me the words, patterns and examples necessary to do more conceptual things with Chinese.
I endured the pain of a book called “Interactions: A Cognitive Approach to Beginning Chinese” in my Chinese 101 & 102 classes. It suffers from the same problems that many textbooks do: piles on way too much too fast instead of focusing on core vocabulary.
Chapter after chapter of huge dialogs with vocab lists of 50+ words, many of them utterly useless as a 1st year student. I remember doing some workbook exercises and puzzling over characters I couldn’t find in my dictionary… upon asking teacher they ended up being the words for “Chicago” and “Indiana” oh yeah that’s some handy stuff to frustrate a 1st year student’s progress with noise words.
Then to add insult to the steaming pile of book I knew that listening was an important component so went in search of audio components. They have tapes for the books (no CD or MP3 hey it’s only an American publisher in the year 2004) that cost $125. What? So I bought a DVD of the dialogues for $65 which also sucked pretty much what looked like students acting out dialogues.
Best book I’ve encountered since was “David and Helen in China” for second year text.
I like NPCR because of the excellent audio and nice fonts, but grammar is lacking and subjects are indeed boring.
I contacted Professor Zhang for which 3rd year text to continue with after her David and Helen book and she recommend “Shifting Tides” as a 3rd year text. I’m halfway thru it and I can understand the recommendation as it’s very similar.
Next I’m planning on emphasizing listening comprehension with “Across the Straights” as I’ve heard excellent reviews of it as a tool to strengthen tingli which IMO is so underemphasized in most study programs.
Regarding above review make that “Across the Straits” please.
Not that there’s anything wrong with first title. 🙂
hi,I am Brian from Beijing Language and Culture University Press, I am very glad to know you from your website.
I strongly recommend BLCUP’s product. BLCUP is the sole professional publishing house in China that specializes in publishing books on teaching of and research on Chinese as a foreign language and Chinese culture with products in variety of forms, including books and audiovisual, electronic and network products, and it integrates the function of publishing with that of research, development and training.
We have published a lot of Chinese textbooks each month, you can visite our website to find more information. Anyone who wanna order books can contact me directly, I can give you advice on choosing Chinese textbooks and special discount. My mail is:luckywb(a)gmail.com
I’ve only just chanced upon this post, and so please excuse my tardiness. I personally am a strong advocate of achieving fluency in both simplified and traditional characters, and perhaps one of the best series that assists students of Chinese in doing so is the Princeton series edited by Chou Chih-p’ing (Zhou Zhiping). The two texts from this series that I’ve used from this series are “A New China: Intermediate Reader” (text and grammar volumes), and “Anything Goes” (an advanced reader that is a follow up to “All Things Considered”). I thought that the intermediate reader was particularly good, not only because of the 简繁对照, but also because it allots an entire volume to explaining the grammer used in each of the readings in the accompanying reader. Very well done, though I do think that this is more of a mid- to high-intermediate text, and wouldn’t recommend it necessarily for students who have but a year of beginning Mandarin under their belt at college. However, if self-study is one’s aim, and the student is willing to push himself, I think that this book lends itself to that goal very nicely.
Additionally, although I generally agree that BeiDa’s products are generally inferior vis-a-vis BLCU’s, I would like to report that I had a fine experience using BeiDa’s 《参与 (汉语中级教程）》 textbook, which I would classify as high-intermediate. In particular, the vocabulary and grammar explanations proved quite good, and the sample sentences really touched on many of the more ambiguous usages.
I agree with Brian, BLCUP has a lots of great Chinese learning books. When I was in BeiJing, I bought serveral, including “Conversational Chinese 301”. When I am back to USA, I shop online at http://www.eChinaUSA.com, they have almost every available Chinese learning books.
I’ve been speaking Chinese for a number of years and have been living in Taipei, Taiwan for five years now. What actually brought me to your site was to find more advanced Chinese textbooks.
I began learning Chinese with Integrated Chinese and I hated it. It was dog ugly and it didn’t help that my teacher was more tyrant than pedagogue.
My personal favorite textbooks have been the Far East Everyday Chinese series (远东生活华语）. I started at book 2a and completed the final course at the end of book 3. The layout is the best I’ve seen for Chinese textbooks and offer a number of more adult themes such as the economy, Chinese philosophy and so forth. I wish they would come out with a book 4 or at least a complimenting series of advanced readings.
The second and seemingly more popular series is the Practical Audio Visual Chinese （实用视听华语）which is used at the big universities here in Taipei. They recently updated the books and made it a bit prettier, but as far as I can tell the content is the same. I started at 2下 and went all the way through to book 5.
I found Far East and PAVC used together covered a large number of topics with complimenting vocabulary and perspectives. Both of those series come highly recommended from this long time learner in Taiwan.
Finally, I should note that these two series are in Traditional and of course there will be differences in usages from the mainland.
I’m helping a student prepare for her (high level) IB Chinese test. I wonder if any of you, experienced teachers or learners could recommend to us some online text resources for this purpose.
I’m also helping a student with her college level Chinese. We finished the Integrated Chinese Level 2. I wonder what textbook should we adopt to continue her Chinese after that?
For beginner’s level I thought Yong Ho’s two books (Beginner’s Chinese, Intermediate Chinese) were great. I really liked his explanations of the grammar, and the vocabulary is more practical than in most other books I’ve seen. It is fully aimed self-learners too.
For intermediate level I used ‘Helen and David in China’, like Ho’s books they focus on practicality. Can be used by self-learners too.
After David & Helen I went through the ‘Short-term Spoken Chinese’ series by BLCUP, which covered a huge amount of vocabulary and detailed grammar. I used the first four books just to revise and add more vocabulary, and the later books to advance.
I decided to not start my studies with the ‘Short-term’ books because the grammar explanations are far too academic, short and unclear for the average learner, especially self-learners.
However, these ‘Short-term’ books are great books to get into though once you know intermediate Mandarin already, to add a broader vocabulary and learn a lot of grammatical details.
For advanced level I also used any readers I could find and afford, at this stage things are mostly about building vocabulary. Favorite advanced books: ‘Advanced Reader of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories’ by Wang & Reed, and ‘Common Knowledge About: chinese culture, geography, history’ (3 books).
I agree that New Practical Chinese Reader is not as good as it seems. I suspect that many overseas universities use it as the staff is often from mainland China and they probably push it. The reality is that the dialogues are incredibly boring and there’s a lot of really strange vocab for beginners. Above not enough really high-frequency grammar. I went to China just on holiday and felt that I needed to find a dormitory somewhere so that I’d have a familiar word to use.
I really recommend Practical Audio-Visual Chinese. It comes in 4 hefty tomes with about 20 vcd’s. All the dialogues are acted out and far better than the boring actors in NPCR.
Also the grammar explanations are far more detailed than NPCR… only thing is it’s published in Taiwan.
Robert would you still happen to have those VCD’s? I’ve been searching for PAVC Volume 3 videos for some time now but to no avail.
I know almost nothing about Chinese text books, but I’m looking for someone who might be interested in some old Chinese texts that I came across. Examples: Chinese Language Lessons, California College in China Foundation, 1943;Current Chinese Readings, 1950; Pictorial Chinese-Japanese Characters – a new and fascinating method to learn ideographs, 1954. Do you have any interest in these or know of anyone who might? Many thanks.