Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Our favourite textbooks


Recommended Posts

Hi!  I don't know if this has been done before (a forum search didn't yield anything likely), but I thought I'd start a thread to share our fave Chinese textbooks.  They can in or out of print, new, old, beginning, intermediate, advanced - whatever.  Just the one(s) you like the best.  Oh, and why you like it so much,


I'll start:


Far East Everyday Chinese Book 3 遠東生活話語3, Far East Publishing Company, Taiwan


Upper intermediate level (B2-ish)


I love this book because of its sheer usefulness for everyday life and conversation, especially the first 8 of the 12 chapters.  Even the later ones on more arts based topics made me feel interested in Chinese art, history and so on, (although I defy any textbook to make me interested in Chinese literature! :D).  


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Okay I will put my two cents in on this.


My favorite text book is Practical Chinese Reader Book 1 and the Character Exercise Book No.1.


Why? because i still remember the excitement and anticipation as I opened the book for the first time and saw Lesson One.


There were characters, pinyin and tones :shock: wow i am really going to do this.


This was in the late 1980.s. Never looked back since.


Have been revising using New Practical Chinese Reader, good but the original will always have a place in my heart :)

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The DeFrancis Readers, because I started out with those back in the old days when that was about the only textbook available. I still have the whole set here. I liked the vocabulary build up and how he would pull up excerpts in Chinese for reading practice, even a snippet of "Romeo and Juliet" in Chinese, I thought that was really something. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My favorite textbook was Intermediate "Reader of Modern Chinese: Vocabulary, Sentence Patterns, Exercises" by Chih-p'ing Chou and Der-lin Chao out of Princeton, which uses the philosophy that if you empower students to talk about controversial topics, they will *want* to speak Chinese. So during that semester I learned how to converse about co-habitation, abortion, and the Tian'anmen "incident", and the phrase 我觉得 will always remind me of that period of my Chinese learning. This textbook may also have influenced me somewhat to attend Princeton in Beijing, which Zhou Zhiping was directing at that time.




However, I'll always have a soft spot for (not a textbook) the red Oxford Concise Chinese↔English dictionary. Spent sooo many hours with that one.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Woah, that "Reader of Modern Chinese: Vocabulary, Sentence Patterns, Exercises" textbook is pricey, it had better be good!


My own recommendation is "Language Through Literature"  http://www.amazon.com/Language-through-Literature-Chinese-Edition/dp/7040283301


It's a set of very short stories (approx 3 pages each) about all kind of aspects of modern Chinese life (looking for a job, dating, countryside vs the city etc). Each chapter consists of a short story, extensive vocab list, exercises, and then a newspaper article on the same subject (with it's own vocab list and comprehension exercises).


There are two aspects I really like about this book. One is that it's about modern CHinese life, so no chapters or ancient Chinese pottery and such like. This means you'll have lots of interesting things to discuss with you language partner or tutor, as they're likely to have opinions and direct experience of a lot of the topics covered. Secondly, the book exposes you to two different types of writing styles, literary/novel and newspaper. This is great for intermediate learners, as it acts as a bridge between textbook and native materials.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I'm allowed a second textbook then I'd choose "A Course in Chinese Colloquil Idioms"




Despite the cover loking like a business textbook, it teaches exactly what the title suggests. Most of these idioms can't be found in any dictionaries, and are hard to work out on your own when you come across them in conversion or on TV shows. If you want to increase your comprehension of Chinese TV dramas, then this is a good choice.


When we were studying this our teacher recommended us to watch the TV drama 一仆二主. It's pretty fun to watch and full of everyday dialogue (no long scenes with lots of specialised vocab), so I'd recommend it too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not my favourite textbook in terms of usefulness, but it sure is one of the textbooks that I'll always keep on my bookshelf. It was given to me by a friend of my grandpa, who took it from Singapore a long time ago. 


"Teach yourself Chinese" from 1947, the good old times when pinyin and simplified characters weren't used yet.






  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes I know Gubo and Palanka well :)


I remember one lesson being derailed with the question of what nationality are they and what country are they from, bearing in mind they had to have come from a China friendly country, we finally settled on Albania.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yay!  Gubo and Palanka!  Yes, I met them too as when I was doing my level one year at Leeds Uni, PCR 1 & 2 were the core texts.  They were replaced in 2002 by 'Modern Chinese - Chinese for  Beginners', which is OK as well, but I too remember with affection the original PCRs.  AND the red dictionary, which I too, still have on my shelf. :)


I didn't know that Princton set that msittig mentioned had an intermediate level as well.  We did the advanced set in our final undergrad year for part of the 'Modern Documentary Chinese' module.


I must see if I can get that idioms volume as I'm sure Sir would love that.  He loves learning and using 成语。


Keep 'em coming, team!  ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For me it is Basic Chinese: A Grammar and Workbook by Yip and Rimmington (I had the original print with the yellow cover, but as far as I know, the contents of the latest prints are the same).


When I started out with Chinese, it was more out of curiosity than with any particular goal in mind. Basic Chinese exactly met my need at the time - to introduce me to the mechanics of Chinese in a systematic way, satisfying my curiosity, and provide exercises, which were like fascinating puzzles. If it hadn't been for serendipitously finding that book in a local bookshop, I may have never become hooked on Chinese.


Personally, I hate those books that start off with dialogues, which are usually extremely tedious and uninspiring (sorry, but Gubo and Palanka would definitely have put me off learning Chinese - I have that book, but I don't think I ever got further than the first few chapters).


I would love to learn Japanese, but as yet have not found any book comparable with Basic Chinese: A Grammar and Workbook. I have a few Japanese textbooks, but all are of the dialogue style (first unit is inevitably international students arriving in Japan and introducing themselves, then the obligatory "hanami" outing to see sakura, and all that kind of mind-numbing trite), and I can never progress beyond the first few chapters because, although the language is interesting, its delivery is just too insipid.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes I know Gubo and Palanka well  :)


I remember one lesson being derailed with the question of what nationality are they and what country are they from, bearing in mind they had to have come from a China friendly country, we finally settled on Albania.




I know them well too, and this was about 1990 or so. My classmates and I were always debating the relationship of Gubo, Palanka, and Ding and always came up with extremely inappropriate scenarios involving the three-some. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

新视角 高级汉语教程 (上下)by Peking University Press. These books are used in some schools during the 5th and 6th years of Chinese instead of NPCR 5 and 6, so their level must be around B2, or HSK 5/6. I've already finished 新视角(上) and NPCR 5, and I think the former, in my opinion, is much better than the latter: the texts are all (adapted) newspaper articles, from a wide range of topics (from unemployment to globalisation, environment protection or migration). They're more challenging, but also far more interesting than the ones in NPCR 5. The audio is also harder than NPCR 5, they speak faster and about difficult subjects like economy, and finally at the end of the book there's an answer key for some of the exercices, which is great for those of us who are self-studying.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think I've ever seen a finer textbook for any language than T'ung & Pollard's Colloquial Chinese. Apparently it's been used in the first year or so of classes at SOAS, but it's equally suitable as a detailed and thorough "teach yourself" course. Its introductory section explaining what Mandarin is (and the alternate terms for it), as well as about Chinese "words"/morphology, characters, Pinyin, pronunciation, tones, word order, and the layout of the lessons, is all a marvel of concise yet informative writing, and this succinctness carries over into the grammar explanations generally (which deal not only with structures but also with concepts, functions, and the keywords around which they may all revolve). In the words of the authors, 'All the basic syntax of modern spoken Chinese is contained in these pages', so there will be little real need to buy supplementary grammars (and such books probably won't explain, and certainly won't contextualize, the points so well).

The core of each lesson is its Dialogues, but even when matters might be (and would be, in lesser, sterile courses) mainly transactional, such as shopping for (n) items, and paying X amount, things are livened up by humour, emotions, even various forms of "impoliteness" conversation-wise (incredulous answerers, somewhat argumentative spouses, etc etc etc). When one goes back to other courses, most if not all seem very pedestrian, plodding, not at all lively in comparison. A case in point is the old PCR course mentioned in above posts - the trite characterization invites ridicule, due no doubt to students feeling bored and frustrated with the unimaginativeness of the set-up and writing in it. Another plus of the CC course is that there isn't a static cast of characters every.single.lesson, and it's more what the different people say (and how they say it - the original audio is excellent, with animated speakers, and certainly not too slow) that provides the interest. Names ("personalities" in lesser courses) don't get in the way of genuine personalities many and plural. The overall effect is like having a window opened into Chinese social life, where it certainly isn't all exchanging endless polite boring pleasantries and platitudes with lionized foreigners like Gubo and Palanka, but rather how the Chinese more interact among themselves, slight warts and all.

Methodology-wise there is lots more besides the generally excellent explanations and the lively and imaginative Dialogues: Presentations help set the scene, Sketches help recycle the key items, Speech Patterns highlight and contrast structures while providing umpteen additional examples and plenty of really-nail-it drilling, and finally the Exercises are reasonably challenging and without answers (so one has no option but to understand - actually grapple with, learn and master - the material they help review). The Exercises involve manipulating various aspects of sentences*; answering regarding yourself and in Chinese in reply to questions posed in Chinese; answering questions on the basis of information given in the lesson contexts; and translating from English into Chinese, and sometimes vice-versa. One particular feature I really like and think very useful is that in each of the first nine lessons (the book contains seventeen in total, of increasing length) there are a couple of Expansion Drills (see attachment below, though there are limited previews available on Google Books: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jMofKEBKQ4AC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false ). These are basically "backchaining" drills, the idea being that it helps (in ELT, at any rate) the student build up speed/fluency and get the stress and intonation right if he or she starts at the end sometimes; stuff like this can also aid "parsing" too - chunking the language into logical and more sayable units. Each Expansion Drill line is a complete and well-formed utterance in itself, though the addition of extra items each subsequent line can obviously change the context a fair bit.


As stated in the first paragraph, this is a course in spoken Chinese and is "thus" Pinyin-only in the main textbook (and if characters had been incorporated into the one volume, imagine how much space would've been taken away from more immediately valuable stuff), though an excellent supplementary Character Text is available that teaches all the necessary stroke orders (and its traditional version includes at least the simplified orders, and vice versa) and presents all the material from the book in character form (though the characters actually used in the texts themselves will be traditional or simplified depending on which version one buys), see scans here: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/45121-my-fluentu-review/?p=339300 . To really learn how to read extended texts (that operate and cohere beyond the sentence level), and how to compose written Chinese (in the sense of composition that may necessarily have to differ e.g. in terms of formality from how you would simply speak - writing differs from speech, sometimes subtly, oft times not-so-subtly, in all languages) rather than just learn how to write the characters, one will therefore need other books, but IMHO it takes less genius to cobble together and annotate reading texts (which've usually been written by others) and from them extract exemplars etc than it does to design a course that is redolent of and conveys enough of the essence of speech (and its here-and-now contexts, discourse patterns etc), so the market for literal text textbooks would seem much more open than the market for spoken-language courses. Either way, it is valuable to be able to "read" and "write" out the dialogues of the CC course (this stuff will certainly come in when writing informal letters, emails, text messages and the like), so the Character Text is a worthwhile investment too.

The publisher (Routledge) has periodically reprinted this original version of CC despite having released a new (and IMHO vastly inferior, certainly far less ambitious (though that may just the thing for the more casual learner e.g. short-visit tourists)) split-level version by a different author (Kan Qian), so there must still be some demand for quality LOL. Some reviewers note that in some respects the original course is a little dated, but the great majority of the material is still very much relevant and remains in current usage (and incidentally, vocabulary-wise the course must cover well over a thousand items, and the Character Text at least 850 characters (I'd need to check the exact figures)). Looking just now on Amazon, I saw that the main course, Character Text and audio can all be bought for as little as $35 (it's always the audio that will be the most expensive item, but it's an absolutely essential component that really helps enliven the course even more! Indeed, one won't be able to memorize the dialogue, intonation etc even half as well without it). Edit: Routledge has made the audio freely available! http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/50783-colloquial-chinese-audio-is-legally-available-for-free/

In summary, if there were any item from my Chinese collection that I would rescue before all others in the event of a house fire, or just a single Chinese textbook I could take with me to a desert island, this would definitely be it!

*For example (and some are slight paraphrases): 'Make these sentences negative'; 'Replace whichever word is appropriate with the word in brackets and make any other attendant changes then called for'; 'Into which of the gaps below should the marker** de go?'; 'Think of choice-type questions which might draw forth these answers'; 'Combine these sentences'; 'Add X-type clauses** to the following'; 'Explain the function of the particle** le in these sentences'; 'Rewrite these sentences to emphasize X rather than Y'; 'Put complements** in the blank spaces'; 'Rewrite using the ba construction'; and so on.

**It should go without saying that the book explains whatever grammar terminology as and when it is alluded to, and in terms of English, before comparing how things work in Chinese. Inattentive, impatient or plain intransigent "students" may however be put off by "all the grammar", but then, it must be said that this is hardly a course for complete slackers!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

@Gharial, did you write this review by any chance? x-D

You have similar points of view, hehe.

Well, I own 4 textbooks:
T'ung & Pollard's Colloquial Chinese.
Assimil Chinese with Ease Vol 1 & 2.
Teach Yourself Chinese

FLR Method Chinese - Level 1 (A phrasebook/method, Difficult to classify)

Colloquial Chinese is the book.
The first Mandarin words that came out of my mouth in a conversation came from this book. I made a comment about the weather to a group of Chinese students within a couple of days of learning from this book/CDs (I said, "jīntiān tiānqī hěn hǎo a! Bù lěng, bú rè"). 17 lessons that advance at a steep rate but are still beatable if you take a couple of days before moving on. Not a single lesson has a tittle! This build thrill since you never know what lesson/topic you might learn next, yet it still makes sense once you realize how useful they are. It's almost like playing a video game!

Within every lesson there are multiple dialogues to give you ideas on how to use the words introduced. Set in communist China, it still holds relevant learning content. This book is hardcore. The grammar is more detailed than my Assimil series, yet well explained and less theoretical than the average Modern Grammar book series (like, 
http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Mandarin-Chinese-Grammar-Practical/dp/0415700108/). Not a single Chinese character will be learned the day you decide to study this book, but trust me, you'll have one hell of a ride!

Assimil Chinese with Ease Vol. 2
Lots and lots of conversations covered in its 4 CDs along with short snippets of grammar and Chinese patterns make this an indispensable media to gain more input in the spoken language. This one is more approachable than the 80's Colloquial Chinese =-p In fact, whenever I got stuck in Colloquial Chinese, I would open this one instead. Always have several media to study from in case you get stuck or need to try need things.
The snippets cover additional examples, so you won't feel lost if you couldn't understand the grammar jargon. 

It has nice drawings at the end of every chapter using characters you learned in that lesson.
The exercise drills are short, but once you understand how words are connected, you can simply write your own random sentences or essays. This way you emulate a SRS and remember words faster. I have found tone-mark errors and one of my Chinese friends found an incorrect character s-=


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Pokarface. I didn't write that review, but it seems anyone who is familiar with both the original T&P versus newer Kan Qian versions of CC cannot help but be a lot more positive about the former than the latter (I guess that whatever positive or even glowing reviews the Kan Qian gets are from those who are only familiar with that edition). I'll give it another go though at some point, and this time the whole way through, just to be sure I'm being absolutely fair to it and perhaps in order to write a detailed review of it (I'm thinking, how about a new thread entitled "Our worst or LEAST favourite books: Battle of the Krud"? LOL. First up, Boye Lafayette De Mente's Chinese in Plain English. How can a book not bother with tone marks or even numbers?! And why bother with a less accurate respelling system. Mind you, his book did make me endeavour to produce my own "more western alphabetically-arranged" than bopomofo-y chart of Chinese syllables, but improved and on a single page, so it ain't all bad).


In an ideal world Kan Qian's course would've simply been published with a different title and thus avoided the unfavourable comparison (as the apparent successor or heir) to the original CC course, but it obviously wasn't in Routledge's interests to start a whole new language-learning line or have any new titles divorced from the existing Colloquial one. We should just be thankful that the original is still available and that they didn't try to (unsympathetically) update it!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll put in a good word for the 发展汉语 (Developing Chinese) series, which has a good number of textbooks for a variety of levels and different focuses. All of the ones that I've used (中级口语(1、2)、高级写作(2)) have been excellent materials with authentic texts, useful vocabulary and clear explanations. I've used them in the context of various classes, but I imagine they'd make decent self study materials as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...