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Review Encounters 1 by Cynthia Y. Ning (Yale, Beijing, 2012)


mvdberg112
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This is a review for a book that given for free on this forum (see this thread).

 

The book Encounters 1 is part of a multilevel series, published by Yale University. A publication by such a university creates high expectation, and they make it true.

 

Any course to learn a second language, should at least include:

* relevant language for performing tasks
* proper introduction into specifics that are not common sense
* start with audio
* focuses on developing skills
* has clear teaching points
* offers the learning points in a relevant combinations
The method "Encounter" we reviewed with this points in mind.
 
Each units starts with a clear statement of the learning objectives and concludes with a list with "Can Do" statements. This creates a clear picture for the learners what they should focus on and serves as a checkpoint whether they have mastered the learning points.
 
An overview of sentences and vocabularies at the end of each Unit helps the learner to review the new material.
 
The book uses quite a lot of English. A Chinese native speaker might have difficulty using the book if their English is limited. Given that the teachers usually choose the learning book, this will translate into lost opportunities by choosing a book that uses less or no English, without given this publication proper consideration. 
 
Especially the  vast number of foreigners who want to learn Chinese in-country, could benefit from this publication, as this method in stark contrast with most, if not all publications from Chinese Universities (and have reviewed dozen and dozen of them in the past), offers a solid Educational method with as a bonus a very attractive story line.
 
The pictures in the book create context that will call up relevant ideas in the learners mind. This helps the learner to anticipate (unconsciously) what the text will be about and what they can expect to hear/read. Natural language has virtually always some form of context that gives clues how the spoken or written text should be processed. For example, page 191 shows people doing daily routines.
 
The book contains quite a number of real life texts, something that is missing from many other methods. This is a strong plus, since that is one of the situations where finally the learner will need to use their new acquired language.
 
The book is designed along a story line based on a video. Unfortunately, the video and audio was not included with the review copy. This makes it hard to review its quality Each unit (chapter) is divided in a number of encounters from the story line, with one encounter containing written-out dialogs. Since in daily life we usually do not read dialog, but texts, like the label of a food product or the instruction for the aircon, we do not believe this not to be the strongest way of practicing reading skills. The quality of the Chinese seems to be quite good, using everyday expression that are often missing in stilted methods.
 
The various 'Encounters' consists mostly out of activities. Through these activities the learner acquires skills. For example in Unit 2, Encounter 3, the learner learns to find out someone's date of birth and to tell their own. The activities start simple, with first learning the months (including partner practice), then some writing of dates, the saying the dates in English and Chinese, then writing ones own date. After this 3 listening exercises practice the understanding of the spoken word regarding dates. Although the Encounter could have started with some listening and finished with speaking (the natural learning order), the activities are very strong and follow logically after one another, increasing the skill and difficulty level.
 
Throughout the units, the book informs the reader about cultural aspects. The aspects are relevant for the topic being learned. For example, when learning time and making appointments, the book explains the cultural background of the Chinese workweek and Beijing time, information which is assumed by a Chinese native speaker, and which is very helpful for a learner to know when making a appointments with locals.
 
The Encounter method includes DVDs, screenplays, teacher manuals, character writing workbooks and more. Unfortunately, these additional materials were not included, making this review incomplete. Book is difficult to use stand alone - a self-study student would require access to the teachers manual to get the maximum out it, while this was not included in the review
 
This course book is a delight compared with other common methods for learning Chinese. 
Pros: 
+ Situational learning - language is taught to be used in a situation
+ Relevant content and language for performing daily tasks
+ Exercises related to tasks of daily life
+ Educational sound
 
Cons:
- No Audio included
- Instruction leans to much towards English as instruction language. This will be difficult when a native Chinese wants to use this course to teach Chinese.
- Difficult to use stand-alone
- Reading material should include more sample of texts appearing in day-to-day life
 
To book is highly recommended for any English speaking Chinese teacher. And that is immediately the caveat : A Chinese speaker should not need to know English to use a book of this quality to teach Chinese.
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