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Is there anyone that uses this Text from MIT?


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Hi, My name is Samuel (撒母耳) and I'm at the beginner level teaching myself, and found this textbook online from MIT: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/foreign-languages-and-literatures/21f-101-chinese-i-regular-spring-2006/readings/

so far it seems pretty good though their explaination of the usage of 了 contradicts what I've read elsewhere, and a chinese friend told me that it wasn't quite correct. I was wonder if anyone else was using this and how they were working through the PDF files? As I haven't even made it through the first unit, and I'm having a hard time motivating myself.

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  • 1 month later...
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Hi Samuel!

Hmm, considering it's free, the MIT OCW Chinese material really doesn't seem half bad (I mean, doubtless there is stuff that one could pay good money for that could be a lot "worse"/not nearly "as good"!). Sure, some things in it could be clearer or better expressed*, but like I say, one can't really complain when it's a freebie.

That being said, having a bit more of a range of study materials can obviously provide "much-needed" variety (though everybody's definition of that varies!) and help maintain one's interest, and depending on any one reference can have obvious drawbacks (as you more or less say regarding the explanation of le offered, not that I've read that bit of the MIT stuff!). Then, it is often better to buy stuff, though not because one necessarily has to literally invest in the learning, but simply because wanting to actually buy an item is probably a very good indication of its worth, of what you believe it might have to offer you in particular. (So I for example am keen to get the new ABC E-C/C-E dictionary, and perhaps Xiao et al's A Frequency Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese, because I ultimately quite like empirical, corpus-based approaches to language learning).

Anyway, I'm sure that there are more than a few threads with suggestions for learning resources, should you become dissatisfied with (or remain not entirely convinced of the value of?) the MIT stuff.;):)

*For example (from just a quick looksy): Why in section 1.2b on page 2 of the following http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/foreign-languages-and-literatures/21f-101-chinese-i-regular-spring-2006/readings/unit_1_jan_06.pdf were 'sin' and 'seen' chosen as roughly illustrative of Pinyin 'xin' (English 'shin' would probably be the better and indeed only real choice, so there should really be only one instance of 'xin', paired with 'shin' IMHO), and 'Jean and 'lean' used for 'jin' and 'lin' ('jin' has again actually already been illustrated on that page, by comparing it to 'gin', whilst something like 'Lynn' would be the better match surely for 'lin'), when all the rest of the examples are much better choices? [i guess the point the author might've been trying to make or imply is that any supposed "long i-sound" ('as in seen, Jean and lean - iiiii/eeeee' :roll: (sh) :ph34r: ) can be long in English but not so in Chinese, but that really isn't much of a point when the actual letters used in the supposed "long i-sound" English examples are 'ee' and 'ea', and the apparent "short i- sound", like I've already mentioned above, exactly the same in 'xin' and 'shin' (due to it being just the letter i used in 'em). So the apparent pusuit of a somewhat spurious point has risked potentially mystifying if not completely confusing and misleading the reader, who should've been presented purely with "facts that speak for themselves" (e.g. that ao and ou in Pinyin are long simply on the basis of being obviously two vowel letters long, whilst i and o etc are short on the basis of being just the one vowel letter long)]. I also wasn't too sure about e.g. the implication in the convention f), immediately above section 1.2, that subjects are always so obligatory in English - what would be wrong with 'Busy?' (from which 'you' would know that it was him or her who was being addressed), but perhaps I'm starting to nitpick a bit too much now (though maybe not - again, any average, halfway-intelligent student should be able to simply see that anything overt meaning 'you', i.e. ni3, is not present in the Chinese version of that particular example).

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Hi Gharial,

Thank you for taking the time to look into and reply, I really expected to only get a few people who have actually used the material. I have a become dissatisfied over all with the MIT course, because of the inaccuracies I've already found, but mostly because the set "class" order of material just hasn't motivated me to do it. The primary issue I have is with money. I haven't bought nearly anything, not because learning chinese is not high on my priorities, but because I literally don't have any money for it, I am currently one of the many unemployed in the US and so far for learning I've relied on the internet and my local library. I just can't afford anything more right now,..

Thanks Again,


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Heh, you're welcome, Samuel! And I really hope you can find something better and more to your tastes (though I wouldn't completely write off the MIT stuff until then!). It sure isn't easy finding a really really good one-stop resource at the beginner level, especially online/for free!

[if (but only if!) whatever money you might sometimes have could perhaps just about stretch to even one or two items, I'd like to still suggest trying to get something like 1) Scurfield's relatively self-contained 'Teach Yourself (Mandarin) Chinese' (even just the book without any CDs - the pronunciation guide in the book is quite good), which is a course that will teach you the basics of grammar pretty painlessly, and a couple of hundred characters, and 2) the very dinky Oxford Chinese Minidictionary by Yuan & Church, which although it doesn't include traditional characters (only the simplified are given), at least offers full Pinyin for all its entries and examples (unlike Oxford's more advanced dictionaries, which seem primarily designed for Chinese learners of English than the other way around!), which along with its concise explanations of basic usage will all nicely complement and sometimes help one go somewhat beyond what's in the Scurfield. NB: The actual entries of the Mini are exactly the same as the Oxford Starter or even the Oxford Beginner's (latter has a few additional little appendices tho), but the Mini's physical dimensions are much handier, it's bound in a hard-wearing flexible vinyl cover, and its characters are still perfectly legible. Or one could skip the Oxford Mini (because eventually one will need a more comprehensive dictionary, certainly for working in the C-E direction e.g. when reading and/or translating written materials) and hold on for the soon-to-be-released ABC E-C/C-E (ECCE), which although more expensive would be more economical in the long run. But ultimately I only mention buying printed resources because internet access also has its costs, and at least with books they can't get cut off once you've bought 'em! I suppose a lot depends if you've already got at least a dictionary like the Yuan & Church - if so, then perhaps ignore this paragraph entirely! :wink: ].

I'm actually in a similar situtation (though in the UK), in that I'm now "self-employed" (due to being unwilling to return to any UK language-mill TEFLing, even if only temporary jobs!) and don't therefore have quite enough money nowadays to get all the stuff I would like to (so I might need to get just that ABC and put off the Xiao et al until some later date. The last thing I bought was Harbaugh's Chinese Characters (though this is effectively available online at zhongwen.com)).

Yet in some other respects I'm fortunate: I was able to get quite a few resources for studying Chinese whilst I was at uni (studying History over a decade ago, and ironically the time when I had the most disposable income!), resources to which I'm now slowly returning now that my TEFLing days seem over.

I hope one day to be in a position to offer online and for free most if not all of the original materials that I've developed and/or am still in the process of developing, but realistically (rather than idealistically, unfortunately!) I'll need to gain a bit more of an income before this is really feasible in the long term! (sh):)

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Hi Samuel,

I'm sure there is a lot of free material available on the internet and I'm sure you could learn well without spending a single dollar for learning materials. However computers break down after a while, a book doesn't. In the end books might be cheaper.

You also might get some used books for a cheap price. I would be willing to give you my beginners books for free, but I'm on a different continent and the shipping fees are not so nice. I just checked ebay, there are a few offers you might want to look at.

You should find one or several Chinese persons for a language exchange so your pronounciation will be fine. Just make sure they speak putonghua and not some dialect. Finding new friends might not only improve your Chinese, but may be even helpful finding new job opportunities.

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  • 1 year later...


I started with the MIT materials. I worked with the PDFs until about half-way through, at which point I bought the book (which is essentially the same, just a bit better organized and edited, with extra material).

I was really satisfied with what I got out of the book / PDFs. I went in rather confused (having only used Rosetta Stone and Wikipedia). Although the course is not super exciting, I found the answers to many of my questions about how the language operates. I also found that I benefited from the pinyin-only material at first. I worked on characters in parallel for about a year before I felt more comfortable with them vs the pinyin.

I recommend also the Teach Yourself Chinese Script, which doesn't cover pinyin at all. It is a great complement to the OCW material. After those two you can move on to character-only textbooks and then start authentic materials.

See also http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/37246-advice-needed-for-self-study-textbook-guoyu/

Happy Holidays!

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