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Best book for learning Chinese by yourself?


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I need help. I'm in China and I know very little chinese and as many of you know, without chinese you're helpless here.

I've studied from Beijing Yuyan Daxue starter books 1 and 2 last year, so I need to continue learning and fast.

What do you recommend?

Thank you all for your help and I apologize in advance if I've missed a thread of this type, I'm in a wang ba and I don't have much time.


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For an accelerated approach to reading check Rapid Literacy in Chinese:


Maybe you can find the audio if you google: aprendizaje rápido del chino aprendechinohoy

For oral skills, get Pimsleur and/or the free FSI course tapes at:


You can do tapes labelled C-1 and P-1 on their own without the need for the books.

Hope it helps.

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I'm in the UK and studying on my own. In China I used the BLCU series of books in lessons so I've carried on using these here on my own. I'm familiar with the way they work. But when I have queries, or to check correct answers in exercises, I do use Chinese friends (from the UK, by email). I would guess you can ask people there to check correct answers to exercises. I think carrying on with the same books is good, the books are not bad - and there's a lot of them.

For listening, and because it's designed for people working on their own, I'd recommend ChinesePod. I subscribed for a while at the lowest level of their subscriptions, and I think the material's good, well presented, and relevant. This also goes up to a high level.

For masses of good quality free material online I'd recommend the University of Iowa's site: http://collections.uiowa.edu/chinese/index.html

The other thing I'd recommend is focusing on your real needs. I did some training for teaching English to migrants to the UK, and there, you always work from what the students' needs are. Your everyday life is presenting you with the material you need to study - what people are saying, and written material in the world around you. I think this type of material is starting to appear in the bookshops in China (look at the CCTV material, for example), but probably not at a high enough level for you. My impression is that it's mostly low level.

And last but not least, wherever you are, I'd recommend finding a private teacher / tutor. Don't start out with high expectations, but if you meet up with a tutor even only once a week, and plan just to do one of the units from the BLCU books, this gives you a basis to build on. This person, as they get to know you - and your needs - could be a great help. A student looking for 家教 would be cheap, and if it's a student on a teacher training course they would regard you as a good opportunity for getting relevant experience, and I've generally been pleasantly surprised at how good some of them have been once they get their head round the idea that you're serious about this. But I think they need something like your coursebook for building the basics of a session around. Every town seems to have certain places where students looking for 家教 hang out or advertise. One year I had lessons with a retired teacher, and that was excellent even though I was the first foreigner she'd ever taught - she'd always taught Chinese to Chinese before. Her lifetime's teaching experience meant she really quickly adapted to my needs and problems. That cost me more than a student tutor but was worth every penny. Wherever you live there are probably retired people sitting around on benches you could tell you were looking for a teacher.

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I too want to know what the best books are, all of them. I'll start college soon (mandarin major) and want as many books to complement my studies as possible. Please advice me on that.

I don't know any. Though I'll search in this subforuns threads.


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It's hard to get a good answer to a question like "what is the best textbook".

The consensus around here seems to be that the New Practical Chinese Reader (which I've used and which is excellent), Integrated Chinese, and the DeFrancis Reader (a bit old, but still quality) are all good choices that many people have used successfully.

Stuff like Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone and podcasts are, in my opinion, supplementary stuff that can be useful. I've never met anyone who managed to learn Chinese by using them alone.

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Before going any further, let me start by saying my comments below are born out of frustration and many (most?) people will not have had the same problems that I'm having - so perhaps the problem is with me. That being, said, let the rant begin....

There are no good books for learning Chinese on one's own, at least none that I've come across. All the books I've seen seem to be along the lines of here's a dialogue plus a vocabulary list, now get on and translate it yourself. Oh, and here are a few basic explanations to help you along the way. So far so good. However, there is no full English translation, so even if you believe you've understood everything, you are not certain if you have translated it correctly. It's easy to translate something and get the gist of what is meant. However, it's as easy to miss the precise meaning and not even be aware of this. The lack of a complete English translation might not be a problem in a classroom situation or if you have ready access to a teacher but if you are learning by yourself, it can be very frustrating.

NPCR has often been recommended but I'm less than impressed. It's "fun" but the grammar explanations are confusing. And I haven't found anything else that addresses this problem. Furthermore almost every textbook written and published in China which I''ve looked at has some distinctly odd English expressions which leads one to wonder exactly what the Chinese means because I sure as heck don't think it means what the English says. (NPCR to it's credit doesn't seem to suffer from this problem.) It's not that the textbooks are appalling. But they aren't very good.

I should say that I have come across some very good grammar books (published in the US or UK, not China) but I don't think these are primary learning material.

Yours grumpily


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Perhaps it is a little bold of me to claim the books listed below are "very good" because I haven't worked my way through any of them. However, when browsing they impressed me much more than anything else I came across and what little subsequent reading I've done hasn't changed my opinion. Nevertheless, treat my claims that these are wonderful books with the caution that you'd normally give to someone who enthuses over something without knowing very much about it!

You don't need to be an advanced learner (I most definitely am not) to enjoy these books but I think some knowledge of Mandarin is helpful.

(1) Schaum's Outline of Chinese Grammar by Claudia Ross. This is generally a bit less detailed than (2) below but I do like the larger format of this. It contains quite a few exercises

Pinyin+Traditional+Simplified characters

(2) Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar (Modern Grammars) by Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma. There is also an accompanying workbook.

I like this but have found some of the explanations a little brief.

Pinyin+Traditional+Simplified characters

(3) See this thread for the books by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington


Pinyin+Simplified characters

I bought the Basic and Intermediate Grammar and Workbooks as well as the Comprehensive Grammar when I was in the UK on holiday.

I'm now very slowly working my way through the Basic Grammar. Much of this is revision for me - at least I thought it would be just revision but I'm finding that it's clarifying many things that I was only vaguely aware of (or not even aware of at all.) There are plenty of exercises which I'm also finding very useful.

Hope this helps

Edited by HedgePig
Correct author's name in (3)
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  • 2 weeks later...

I bought the Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar but I hnestly don't know how to use it. How should I start? I'm not following the purpose of the book. I'm a complete beginner.

Shouldn't the book start with the basics such as "hello", "goodbye", "my name is", "here is...", "there is..."

please answer :conf

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  • 2 months later...

I have "Integrated Chinese" and it's so awesome. I'm learning chinese in college in a really fast pace, so this book is helping me with the stuff I don't understand, and proving more vocabulary, though I'm still on lesson 4. In my college I'ma lot more advanced, but I have no change to test my knowledge because they give us no exercises, so we all forget a lot. Nevertheless, I started using the book in past wednesday and my chinese got much better. I felt in in the classes. :clap

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These are the textbooks I use in my studies:


博雅汉语 Series (BOYA Hanyu)


汉语口语 Series (Spoken Chinese)


汉语综合教程 Series

All of the textbooks in these series included listening CDs of the text/conversations so I use those for my 听力.

I use to use NPCR before these, but got disinterested with it. Haven't tried the Integrated Chinese series, but heard it wasn't as good as NPCR. And then again, I gave up NPCR for the BOYA series.

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For the occasional German browsing through here, I would like to recommend Chinesisch fuer Deutsche7. Excellent grammatical recommendations, and no silly children's stories. If you get the CDs as well, all you need is something to cover you for characters and you're all set.

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For listening, and because it's designed for people working on their own, I'd recommend ChinesePod. I subscribed for a while at the lowest level of their subscriptions, and I think the material's good, well presented, and relevant. This also goes up to a high level.

I like chinesepod.com as well. I like how they explain the grammar and keep it interesting. Then you pair that up with a good textbook and you have a good combination. Just using a textbook I think is hard.

I am using the Japanese version for learning Japanese at a beginner level. I like the podcast better than Pimsleur which I also have. I think the comparison to Chinese is valid. I pair this podcast up with my textbook and the Japanese I hear everyday and I'm improving a lot faster than before.

Although I would say classes and tutors are always best if you can afford them.

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