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Review of Contemporary Chinese (Revised Edition): Textbook 1 by Wu Zhongwei (吳中偉)

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This is a review of Contemporary Chinese (Revised Edition): Textbook 1 by Wu Zhongwei (吳中偉), . I'm writing this as a participant in a giveaway.
tl;dr: Meant to be used with recordings and a classroom. Will get the job done, but does not exhibit the fact checking and polish of the best textbooks.



This is meant to be used with recordings, an exercise book, and an instructor’s book, which I don't have.

This book is meant for complete beginners, and aims to bring them to a level where they can participate in simple transactions. Using the ACTFL standards, this would be somewhere in the Intermediate level.

There are eight units, plus an introductory unit (Unit 0) about Hanyu Pinyin, ranging from greetings to giving directions.

Each unit contains two dialogue-focused sections, and one “language points” section. Each dialogue section starts out with a list of learning objectives, key sentences (demonstrating the types of sentences the learner may be able to produce from the lesson), preliminary exercises, a vocabulary list, and a text (in the form of a dialogue). The dialogue is to be used with recordings and some group activities. The “language points” section contains explicit instruction about grammar, phonology, morphology, etc. It also includes some cultural notes. After the units are an extra dialogue called a “supplementary text” about pandas, and two “folk songs”: 賣湯圓 and 康定情歌, both modern compositions.

Many of the learning activities in the book require either the recordings, learning partners, or an instructor (using the teacher’s book). Obviously this was meant to be used in a classroom environment. Using this book alone, a careful student can be able to use all the language skills taught in the book, but will miss out on a lot of the learning experience. There is adequate English, and it is generally natural. Because this is unlike some other Sinolingua-published books I’ve reviewed before, I must commend this.

As far as the pedagogy is concerned, it seems to encourage a modern interactive learning style. This is good.

Typesetting is clear and appropriate, although still lacking the polish from a typographer’s eye. I think I remember seeing a section heading at the end of one page and the body text starting on the next page. Ink colors used are only black and orange, but their usage is appropriate. Note, however, that full color would be expected in an American textbook.

Let’s talk about accuracy. Overall, the feeling I get from this book is “close enough”. I’ll use Unit 0 as an example.

The layout of Unit 0 is slightly confusing. It starts out explaining Mandarin syllable structure, initials, finals, and tones, but it's all in Pinyin. At this point one would expect IPA. Only after these tables is it implied that this book, and the tables before, were using Pinyin. This is followed by a table of initials and finals in Pinyin, IPA, and Zhuyin Fuhao. Perhaps in an attempt not to confuse the reader at this point, some Pinyin is written improperly, e.g. "uen" and "uei". This is followed by a table of properly written Pinyin with initials in rows and finals in columns. No IPA. This may be good or bad depending on how much information the reader can handle at a time. For some, this temporary inaccuracy is less intimidating. For others, this is irritating. Personally, I prefer to be given a straightforward table or two.

...But their approach would work, if they described the speech sounds correctly. For example, I think their explanation of /y/ is backwards. They want the learner to first form /u/, and then "pronounce" /i/. That doesn't make sense. You pronounce what you pronounce. The default explanation around here is to say /i/ and round your lips, as the only difference between /i/ and /y/ is rounding of your lips.

Props, though, for not calling Mandarin tones 四聲. Too many textbooks mess that up. Too bad Pinyin letters are called "phonemes" though.

Of course, if the reader has the recordings, I'd imagine they would follow the textbook while listening to the recordings. This may compensate for the lack of complete explanations on phonology. For example. that b, d, z, j, zh, g are voiceless is implied at one point, but never explicitly stated.

As far as mechanical errors, there are a few. They are what one would expect without a careful editor (or two).

Here’s what it comes down to though: For self-studiers, this isn’t the most appropriate book. It can be used, but there are better options. For teachers, I personally wouldn’t use it. The money saved will not make up all the corrections and extra materials I’d have to make. It would be almost as if I made or found all the teaching materials myself.
The textbook that my university currently uses for beginning Mandarin students is Chinese Link. It is five times more expensive, but it obviously took more than five times the work to write, and it is the standard to beat. That also includes access to MyLanguageLabs, the companion website. If you don’t either (1) write a better textbook or (2) write a textbook just as good for cheaper, don’t even bother.

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