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Topics you don't find in textbooks, but you need!


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Hi everyone!


Wanted to start a new discussion about all those useful topics you would need, but can't find in any of the Chinese textbooks out there. I've been learning Chinese for 6+ years and teaching Chinese for almost a year. I've noticed that living in China you end up in situations where your "textbook Chinese" just isn't enough!


Most of my students are housewives living here in China or women working, but mostly need Chinese outside the office. They want to learn how to say things when they go to the tailor to make clothes, having a massage or answering a call from that taobao delivery guy. 


At the same time textbooks have dialogues and vocab that isn't useful or practical for my students. I'm using Our Chinese Classroom textbook, as that's still the best I've found, but still it includes office Chinese that my students doesn't need. Why I use a textbook then? To keep the studying more organized and making sure that the basic vocab and grammar gets covered.


As a master's degree student in teaching Chinese, I've been thinking of doing my thesis around this topic. My supervisor suggested creating an outline for "Housewife Chinese" (working title) as that's the majority of my current and future students.


So I would love to know what topics you are missing in your textbooks? In which situations in China have you though "I wish my textbook would have covered this topic"?


In a sense it's a questions of your dream Chinese textbook, for someone (men or women) living in China.

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Yeah, good luck with that.  :(  Chinese textbooks still have dialogs where you go to the post office to send a letter home, or change money at the bank.  :wall  How about an entire chapter of the most commonly-used characters in the current version of Microsoft Windows?  What I've learned from asking this question in the past is that the sort of people who assemble textbooks look down on this practical kind of knowledge.  They'll tell you, "go get a phrasebook, you're not interested in learning Chinese as a complete language."  The assumption is that every learner desires the textbook writer's level of complete fluency (reading novels for pleasure, etc.) while many of us would be quite happy with being able to communicate in another language.  If you want to use a book like this in your classroom, you're probably going to have to write it yourself, because the mandarins in Beijing sure ain't gonna do it. 



arguing with the taxi driver who doesn't want to take you somewhere (and winning the argument)

calling the landlord, telling him to fix the leaky sink, and making him pay for it because it's in the contract (and winning the argument)

deliveries, "just leave it on the front doorstep" or "hide it in the bushes near the door" or whatever instead of letting the driver take it back to HQ as undelivered (and winning the argument)

I can think of dozens more dialogs like this that don't consist of David and Lee discussing which optional electives they should take next semester.  :roll:

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"Housewife Chinese" (working title)


I know it's only a working title, but you'll definitely want to change this, and make sure not use the word "housewife" anywhere in your marketing, because no-one who isn't a housewife will want to buy it, and even many people who would fit the dictionary definition of "housewife" wouldn't call themselves as such (preferring terms such as "full-time parents") and may even be offended by the term. In fact, using any gendered terms in your marketing is probably a bad idea, unless the product is something that as a category is generally marketed to a specific gender (beauty products, women's/men's magazines etc.) "Women's textbooks" doesn't exist as a category. You could change it to something like "Chinese for Living" or similar.


Daily situations you'll need Chinese for? Off the top of my head...

  • Buying groceries
  • Buying clothes (sizes, too big/too small etc.)
  • Haggling in markets
  • Asking where stuff is in the store, then getting the person to take you to the item instead of just vaguely pointing in a direction then continuing their conversation with their friend
  • Asking for and understanding directions (I was able to do the former long before I managed the latter...)
  • Eating out
  • Going to the bank
  • Taking taxis
  • Renting an apartment

I'm sure there are loads more I've forgotten.

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This would be a super useful book. Even the Chinese teachers catering to the ex-pats in China who make their own curriculum don't tend to make it very practical from what I've seen. Many of the ex-pats I know in China give up on the language because they find the pay off for learning takes too long.


- Ordering stuff on Taobao (obviously this would be a reading/typing issue)

- Using Chinese Apps (弟弟打车, 百度地图, 陌陌)

- Definitely dealing with rental agents/renting an apartment would be helpful. I had rental agents.

- Conversations with Ayi's about house work/child care issues.

- Speaking with a private driver about where to go, where to be picked up, asking estimates of how long a trip will take

- Telling off telemarketers

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Cooking vocab has been difficult to find all in one place. By now I've kind of figured out a good deal of it. but it took time and effort (plus the help of some local friends.)


In fact 98% of the stuff I've learned in the last 3 or 4 years has been practical things like this, just picking up what was needed for daily life as I went along.

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i would really like a book with more focus on cooking vocab as well. And how to read a menu at a restaurant.


In NPCR you basically learn how to say 旗袍 and 京剧 before you learn how to say chicken and soup. Something i really struggled with in China during my year there.

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@vellocet My views of learning Chinese has really changed through teaching it, everyone has different goals and it's not a matter of good or bad method, just different needs. My students want to live a comfortable and interesting life in China for a few years, then most of them go back home. Love your topic suggestions!

@Demonic-Duck, I was a bit hesitant to actually write that there, as I'm not a fan of gategorizising because of gender. I'm sure I can find another way to describe that it's for living, not working.

@roddy, Good ideas!

@eion-padraig, It's an ongoing challenge to make the most practical lessons, lacking material and having structure as well. Nice topic ideas!

@abcdefg, Cooking vocab could be related to ordering in a restaurant and telling your ayi what to cook.

@bigdumorge, Thanks for the topics!

@realmayo, Haha, so needed! And happened like every single day.

@Frederik451, NPCR just doesn't work for and adult who is outside the campus environment, lots of campus talk in there as well. With Our Chinese Classroom I want to get rid of the work/office Chinese. Other textbooks I've seen are just too general, my students don't spend their days talking about the weather for example.

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For me, I agree with some of the above especially...

- Haircuts (as a man)

- Renting an apartment

- cooking vocab but also askingn questions about the ingredients when buying them.

- telling people off ... But not in a way that will get me beaten up. Eg. Someone cuts in line, wont let me off the subway as they're getting on, someone tries to steal my taxi, etc etc

And, the key thing for me, is learning what people actually say... Rather than this over formal, polite speak you find in textbooks that no one actually uses in daily life.

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@ChTTay, Just last Tuesday my student, lived in China for two years, was surprised to hear that Chinese don't use 你好 that much. Two days later she said how she was listening people and really noticed herself that Chinese people mostly say 你好 to foreigners. Of course in some cases what the Chinese really say can be a bit too advanced for a beginner textbook, so need to find the balance.

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Definitely agree about haircuts - vocab for simple styles for guys and girls, as well as some all-purpose stuff ("just like in this photo" can pretty much cover all possibilities, as long as you have a smartphone!)


Chinese people say “你好” plenty, just never to people they already know well. But a lesson on casual greetings wouldn't go amiss (just some simple "stating the obvious" or "asking the almost-obvious" one-liners would do the trick).

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I thought that the idea of a textbook was to teach forms, patterns and grammar. Then you learn the vocab you need in your life/work/hobbies etc and plug it into the forms, patterns and grammar that you have learnt.


One thing I like about NCPR is that is has a Substitutions and Extensions section in each lesson where you get to see and learn how to use what you have learnt in the lesson with different vocab.


Lesson 10 (which I am working through) is about shopping, yes they are buying fruit but also CDs and books so I supposed that I would just substitute what I wanted to buy for the fruit :)


So maybe what you actually need is a list of words for everyday life for each person and teach them how to plug them into the lessons in textbooks.


I have been learning Chinese for 25 years but have decided to start again because I felt my hotchpotch attempts have left big gaps in my knowledge.


Tailoring courses for specific purposes may end up leaving gaps that later cause problems.


I also feel it will be more like a phrase book with "I want to buy ________ (add word from list) and so on.


If the reply they get is not in their phrase list, things are going to be tricky, not only do people need to learn what they want to say but what might be said to them.


Either people want to learn Chinese, which will give them the option to converse more freely, or they will repeat parrot fashion from a phrase book and not have the ability to manipulate the language to help them get on better in their daily life.


All this is only my opinion from my learning experiences and I am not a teacher so I know nothing about teaching but I do know about learning :)


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I have the opposite experience, but then I'm not in China. I find that most textbooks are very communicative, and I miss texts telling stories in the third person. We use Chinese 101, and if we practise retelling what happened, which is a good exercise, I find it hard. All these communicative books seem to be about greetings.


I have definitely had a textbook with a chapter on the hairdresser's, though - maybe Chinese in Steps 4?


Would anyone tell me where are these books that want to help you read a novel?


Btw you can find lots of food vocab if you google for it. And there's some advice in an old Sinosplice post:


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I reckon there's probably a small but affluent market of largely female accompanying spouses with lots of time on their hands. I think Xuefang may be onto a winner...


Useful skill for anyone is turning around the 'standard' conversations you get onto more interesting topics. Which country are you from can lead into when did you move to this city, how tough has it been, do you get back often, what are things like at home. There are too many people in China becomes how big is your family, do you think the one child policy was fair, what do you think about the changes, (my personal favorite) which group of people would you like to eliminate to solve over population. How much do you earn becomes how much do YOU earn, what's your rent, are you able to save anything? 


Zeppa, maybe start with short easy novels

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I'd suggest a whole book devoted to Telephone Chinese.


Not only do phone conversations have their own conventions, but they're especially difficult for foreigners -- at least this foreigner -- since you're talking blind without those visual cues telling you whether or not you're getting your point across. Add in noisy, weak connections, recorded menus, and fast-talking call centre operators, and you've got a situation I do my best to avoid.


Of course we're talking commercial calls here: calling the bank to tell them your debit card has stopped working, ctrip to tell them the hotel you booked won't take you because you're not Chinese, 12306 to book a train ticket, etc.

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