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The Best Chinese Textbooks

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 Ive been working on.

Business Chinese,an Advanced Reader -Tongren Cui

Im 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.

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.

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 arent spending the lions share of your time in the dictionary, and this is the books 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. 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.

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. Its partly a matter of language ability, but also largely one of personality as well.

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.

* It shows the Chinese word order in English translation too. (!)

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 dont have a lot of experience with BLCU textbooks, but from what Ive seen, their 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 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, its 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 and , so I definitely feel like Im getting some practical use out of the book.

Hey, I mentioned before that The Independent Reader (ed. Vivian Ling, pub. 1997 by SMC Publishing, Taiwan) is the only language text Ive 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.

Im working through the series myself at the moment and based on my experience so far, its great! The stories are interesting, and youll learn a lot of often used vocab. Youll also learn words that you probably wont learn from chatting with people in a bar, but they youwillhear them from time to time and recognize them after learning them in these readers. More importantly, rather than just soaking up vocab and grammar, youll 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, Ill be adding reviews to my blog.

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. Ive seen at least one university program that refers to them.

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 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 approach,literature, business, culture, spoken chinese, newspaper reading,and you need to start reading everyday materials in chinese,books, essays etc.

And if youre not too busy, dont forget the Cpod Wiki. It would be nice too see your reviews there.

Id also strongly, strongly recommend the . Its a reference text, not a textbook, but its got explanations and example sentences for common colloquial and literary function words. No home should be without one.

Before that I used elementary books but I cant remember their names.

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?

Book 1- (Chinese Moral Tales), ISBN 957-09-1134-4

It has some lousy, skippable chapters too, like a uninspiring misplaced tourist guide to BJ.

the books you mentioned Book 1- (Chinese Moral Tales) etc. etc.

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.

I cant 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 werent quite a few other ChinesePod listeners like myself.

But now I think that Chinese people are really really smart b/c they speak English just like this books English. Its terrible, there is not one contraction, everything is I am instead of Im. 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 countrys English level will skyrocket!

Currently Im 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:

I have an old Beida text from the late 70s or early 80s cant remember if its Spoken Chinese or Modern Chinese. Dont have much of an impression of it, though it does have delightfully dated example sentences like That comrade enjoys watching Russian movies very much.

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 stopped byChinese Forums, which is always a good place to start for academic Chinese questions. People there seemed to likeChinese Made Easier(Shaanxi Normal University Press) andNew Practical Chinese Reader(Beijing Language Culture University Press). A Chinese Forums member named kudra even posted alist of 25 texts used in American universities Chinese programs. Seriously useful stuff.

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 ing and mentally substituting the words humping like rabbits. Try it some time; its fun.

After ZUT I went to using a lot of Mandarin on the job, which helped give me a lot of practice, but didnt 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 wasnt too great.

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 dont know how they can learn 30 words at a time. In any case most books seem a variation of this format. I think its really a product that is a result of being easy to make, rather than making learning easy.

Kevin S, whats like? Easy going or tough as nails?

Beidas textbooks are, Im sorry to say, unalloyed crap. Stay far, far away from them. Their reader series isnt bad at the advanced level, but the problem that I have with advanced reader textbooks is that Ive never seen any compelling argument for using a reader rather than just getting a book and a dictionary and doing stuff on my own.

Have you tried any of the Princeton University textbooks? Eg An Advanced REader of Modern Chinese: Chinas own Critics?

10: Has occassional sections which point out common types of error patterns students are likely to make.

7: Has hanzi, pinyin and English for EVERY word somewhere, for example a glossary. I would expect the glossary to have1000 words.

Fourth year:used a bunch of mainland texts, the only one worth anything was , which has a broad variety of excellent vocab-boosting content.

And of course theres 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 hasthe best lesson texts ever. (Link is to a lesson on the passive construction.)

1: Uses the 1000 most frequently seen words (newspaper, online, fiction or speech)

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.

Im 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? Im interested to hear both books intended for foreign learners and books intended for native Chinese speakers. Personally, I have found the writing of to be both easy to read and insightful.

With that in mind (and Ive spend easily $2k on resources and most of it was garbage) Id recommend: everything written by Yong Ho (Beginner, Intermediate, and frequency dictionary), the Pimsleur sets, the Starter Oxford Chinese dictionary. Schaums outline of Chinese grammar, and the software program called Pinyin Master.

* Relevant vocabulary, but not too overwhelming

Beyond the Basics is also pretty good, actually. Used that in my third year class, and it was one of the less painful textbooks Ive dealt with.

Bottom line: I havent 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.

Book 2- (Chinese Customs and Traditions), ISBN 957-09-1373-8

When I first began studying Chinese at University of Florida in 1998, we used a series by Yale the first year (Im not sure which textbook it was, exactly). I dont remember being overly impressed with it. The second year the Chinese program switched over toIntegrated 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 thateverything in the textbook was immediately useful. That is really saying a lot. [See also my full review ofIntegrated Chinese (Level 2).]

are they the books you referred to as the supplementary chinese reader series or are they separate additional mentions of other books? Thanks !

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.

BeiDas advanced newspaper reader

These have exercises and brief grammar introductions.

Its 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 have been hired as an academic consultant. That means I am working with the Ch

I took my beginning classes in the 70s with a textbook from the cultural revolution. Elementary Chinese ( 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.

It depends how you want to define textbook, but the most useful books Ive used out of the 10 or so Ive tried are:

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 arent 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 its quick to look up in the dictionary.

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.

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 cant say that Id 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 Ive 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.

5: Repeatedly reviews grammar rules with various vocabulary.

got confused of whether they are the supplementary chinese reader or not.

I have used several all published by Beijing Language University. And I think and ( 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.

Second Year: text, which I hated, but not enough to remember the title.

An Advanced Reader of Modern Chinese- Princeton

6: Mixes up the exposure thru short dialogues, stories, clippings, etc.

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

Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, Routledge press, 2004.

4: Is entertaining, has pictures, etc.

I suspect that the ChinesePod listeners are more like mepeople that have used Pimsleur and are looking primarily to learn spoken Chinese and are not yet ready for characters.

So now that Im working on the academic side ofChinesePodone 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.

Hey Ash, as to the difficulty ofwhy dont I give you a typical text straight from the book and let you decide.

My current teacher, a rabid nationalist, will not use the Princeton books because she believes that they are full of anti-China political propaganda. Shes right. Personally, I like them, but I have found that some of the translations, especially in the grammar section, are confusing at best. Chinas Peril and Promise is the best of the bunch.

It would be really nice to see a book or series that:

Basic Chinese; A Grammar and Workbook

For intermediate learners, theres 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 (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.

I dont think theres 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 now concentrate on the even dryer Spoken Chinese series (Peking University Press), which actually concentrates heavily on characters. I think its great but its not for everyone. Steep learning curve, as well.

3: Builds on grammar rules till at the end one can be relatively assured of encountering all of them.

To make up for this deficiency I highly recommend a) ChinesePod and b)Survival Chineseby Don Snow (Commercial Press 2002). The first chapter ofSurvival 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.

There is a thin series of three books called New Approaches to Learning Chinese that comes with tapes by . I haventt actually made my way through all the books but they seem pretty good. I think theyre more for motivated self-starter types than for the classroom, though.

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. ThetextbooksI used for that were pretty forgettable.

I dont think the perfect textbook has been written yet. John, your work is cut out for you.

As for dissing other recomendations, I cant dis PAVC since nobody recommended it. Lest anybody thinksImrecommending it, Ill say its pretty average.Integrated Chinesewas rough. Its 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.

Open for Business the Cheng and Tsui series

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 S

Thisis 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!

I have to look for the textbooks I used at Hei Da, but I didnt really care for them much.

* Hanzi, Pinyin with tones, English translations (of course)

9: Has occassionaly funny stories to help remember specific hanzi and radicals.

Conclusion:While my general opinion is that texts published in the States are the best,

Best of luck Ill 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.

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.

() – Intensive Reading

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 themhere

I never used Integrated Chinese, but from looking through a copy that a friend was using in his class, I wasnt very impressed. Prince Roys 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 find the bigram list most interesting.

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.

This set of readers has been used by Yale and other prestigious US schools. There are two major drawbacks for students in China, though. Theyre printed in Taiwan and therefore, have no simplified characters or pinyin. Zhuyin is easy to learn, though, and I think its worth learning for this series. Id 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.

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 think you should, and I also thing learning lots of vocab is necessary, and so I dig the older Practical Chinese Reader. Its 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.

Try (Hanban). Weve used this series in my Chinese IB course for the last three years and it looks like it hits most of your criteria.

For absolute beginners I found the approach in A study tour for learners of Chinese excellent. (ISBN 7-5619-1243-9).

2: Introduces the words based on frequency

I second Bens recommendation ofChinese 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.

Advanced Spoken Chinese BeiDas new orange book, not bad

Books 3&4-(),() (Stories from Chinese History Vol.1&2)ISBN 957-09-1221-9

This is a 300 plus page reference book, but very readable, with at least 1-3 examples for all grammar issues.

() – 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.

When I took a beginners course, I learned with Chinese for Today (, 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 Ive seen, but the usefulness for Chinesepod might be limited, as it doesnt seem to be suited well for self-learners.

I also enjoyed the Pimsleur series, even if I recall it having weird phrasing at times. I check out Chinesepod sometimes, theyre fun and I learn and its free, so no complaints. But I cant get past one question why listen to audio material from a foreign speaker?

(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.)

Chinas peril and promise Princeton

Doh yes, how could I forget? Big ups to sbbs suggestions. I never used the DeFrancis texts, but theyre great. There are a couple of idiosyncracies the versions I saw all used handwritten fonts and gave a reading of shenmo for but theyre really, really solid books.

Johns Role at ChinesePod

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.

Chinese An Essential Grammar is the best Chinese text Ive 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.

More recently, some more books have been added to the series, including(), and(),() (Chinese Folk Tales).

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 theChinese Odyssey SeriesIt is published by the well known Cheng & Tsui company and featured ontheir website.

One other book that has been indispensable to me isReading and Writing Chineseby William McNaughton and Li Ying (Tuttle 1999).Reading and Writing Chinesemethodically covers 2307 Chinese characters taken from the Yale 1020 list and the PRCs official 2000 list of most common characters and introduces these characters in logical, programmed sequences. It is available in a few different editions.

First Year:Beginning Chinese, John DeFrancis, (in fanti) Solid intro text.

Wow, lots of recommendations, but there seems to be no consensus! Im not sure how to use all this information. If anyone wants to (tactfully) diss other peoples recommendations for specific reasons, that would be helpful as well. ?

That said, Sinolingua has a series of 4 (I think) reader textbooks ranging from beginner to advanced. Ive only worked with the advanced one, but its 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.

8: The next level goes words 1-2000.

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 arent error-free or perfect, however just the best Ive used so far.


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