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All that fuss about ICLP textbooks, which are the real gems of your Chinese bookshelf?


Miko869
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I'm starting this topic after a bad experience with an on-line seller, but what happened has helped me to understand that maybe I was victim of a hidden "Chinese language textbooks marketing behaviour" and I'd like to know about your experience in order to acquire a more balanced view, and maybe help others students to evaluate which resources they really need.

Thanks to this forum and some blogs I discovered the InterUniversity Program in Taiwan (ICLP) and textbooks such as "Modern Chinese Conversation", "Talks on Chinese Culture", "New Radio Plays", "Media Chinese", "The Independent Reader", "News and Views", "Television News", "Business Topics"... the list is quite long 😅. Most of them where described as the "holy grail" to reach the advanced level and then I've bought a lot of them.

What have I found?

Pros: some issues are quite interesting as a lot of those textbooks are composed of material published for native speakers in Taiwan (a western style democracy).

Cons: grammar and structures explanations very, very poor.

Influenced from political bias and misguided information on the web, I used to exaggerate, like many others, the merits of those textbooks, but now that I see the whole picture from another angle, I have to admit they are just collections of articles.

And I have to admit too, that a lot of people who used to praise those textbooks, now are trying to use the popularity of some titles they have contributed to spread on the web, to sell you something and make money.

Nothing wrong about that, but I think it's time someone starts to tell the truth: they are just articles (sometimes edited for intermediate/advanced learners) selected and packed for you, with the addition of vocabulary lists and very concise grammar explanations. What really makes the difference for ICLP students is not the kind of textbooks they use but the context in which they use those textbooks, a context and a method you will never be able to create without going to Taiwan.

On the basis of my experience, without the help of some other resources, it would have been extremely difficult to take advantage of the ICLP resources I've bought.

I do not regret having bought them, but they are helping me just to expand my vocabulary and practice the language, while other books have given me the skills/the method to tackle the Chinese language. Hadn't I been influenced by what the web says about ICLP... certainly I would have more money to spend on more fruitful activities.

Anyway, practicing a language is good, but sometimes I feel that if I had started to use "native fresh material" earlier, my Chinese would be at a higher level now, but as I told myself that searching and selecting takes time, I was convinced that using articles others had selected for me was a good idea. Maybe only today I've understood that my approach was wrong, at a certain point nothing gives you more in terms of "payoff" than diving into magazines and Tv shows.

And you, which are your "gems" in your Chinese bookshelf? And do you feel that sometimes posts and blogs are just written to catch your attention and make you spend money?

 

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Interesting question. The two books I've studied that they use at ICLP are Thought & Society and The Independent Reader, I don't know how good the books are for earlier levels.

 

As has been said before, for their main textbooks ICLP requires students to prepare the text before class very thoroughly, almost memorise it. So in this context a "good" textbook is one with audio where the texts are worth studying super-intensively, for hours. The text from one chapter might easily be eight hours of intense work. Self-studying this way, those texts are more rewarding than other textbooks I've come across.

 

But you're absolutely right, if you want serious explanations of grammar, they won't come from these textbooks, but from teachers. If you want a textbook to explain the fundamentals of how Chinese works, I guess one of those teach-yourself style books would be best. Also I doubt there's anything special from ICLP textbooks like 'Reading newspapers' etc.

 

On 6/15/2022 at 10:02 PM, Miko869 said:

which are your "gems" in your Chinese bookshelf?

 

I really liked the 发展汉语 series of Listening Comprehension textbooks because you can buy the student's book and the teacher's book, and the teacher's book has the answers and has a full transcription of the audio: a very convenient and efficient way to drill hard on listening. Other 听力 books might be just as good or better, I don't know, but the crucial thing is to have the teacher's book as well as the student's book.

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My answer might contradict the title of this thread 😅. I studied at the MTC in Taipei for 2 years after 2 years of Chinese study at my university in the USA. At university, we used Integrated Chinese; at MTC, I started off using the Practical AV series and went on to a number of other textbooks.

 

The classes that made the biggest impact on me, where I felt like I advanced the most, happened to be classes using ICLP texts: News and Views, and Thought and Society (taken in that order, interestingly enough, which is the reverse of ICLP's order). To echo realmayo, the teachers were essential in helping us get the most out of these texts through a lot of close listening and reading, followed by production.

 

For News and Views, we would do the lesson's audio dictation in class; discuss the topic using the lesson's key vocab; and finally give a prepared presentation each on something related to the topic, again using the key vocab and structures. For Thought and Society, the strategy was similar, but without audio; we read the text together as a class, but the bulk of class time was dedicated to really using the relevant vocab/sentence patterns and getting feedback. Here, I'm sure the ICLP students are expected to prepare much more outside of class (we certainly weren't expected to come in with the text memorized), but even with a more "relaxed" approach. I felt I got a lot out of these two classes. 

 

I left Taiwan in 2008 for Europe, where I've been focused on romance languages, so sadly I haven't had much time to keep up my Chinese (my mother's Taiwanese though, so I get some exposure through family and whatnot). I do want to make up for lost time and continue to learn more, and the texts mentioned above will be some of my key references – mainly because they helped me gain more confidence in facing native-level material. (In fact, I also purchased some books from the same online vendor mentioned by OP, and the audio for News and Views, since I never had a copy.) Long story short: it's probably more about how one approaches these materials, rather than the textbook itself. Though I'll be keen to see what "gems" others have on their shelf!

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Yes, rewarding texts to practice with if you're interested in social sciences, interesting the selection of articles for "The Independent Reader", but in general nothing that couldn't be replaced by other good textbooks and a personal selection of articles from major newspapers or magazines.

At the moment I'm reading "GQ Taiwan" and articles from "rti, radio Taiwan international" and "fresh material" is proving to be more effective than any textbook. 

In general, having quite an "academic" personality, I like ICLP textbooks to practice my Chinese, the disappointment comes when some people out there exaggerate their merits just because they want to sell you something 😒.  And obviously, the more a textbook is difficult to achieve, the more we are fascinated and ready to spend money on it.

To be honest, ICLP textbooks could be considered the gems of my collection just because they are "rare" on the market and because some articles are quite interesting.

 

Quote

听力 books might be just as good or better, I don't know, but the crucial thing is to have the teacher's book as well as the student's book

 

I totally agree, I prefer textbooks based on authentic dialogues (conversations not based on written scripts) and I've always bought the teacher's book/transcripts... really crucial to improve listening skills.

Does 发展汉语 use authentic dialogues or dialogues based on written scripts?

 

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I have a lot of ICLP texts, but unfortunately I didn't find something particular or special about them, neither they thaught me certain things systematically. The "essays" and the "news" are whithout any doubt interesting (even if a little updated), but to be honest, and this is also the theme of the topic, sometimes a lot of people praise ICLP textbooks merits just because they want to sell something, or they want to help someone related to them to sell something. I love this forum, and I think that this kind of behaviour should be limited. I've been looking for those textbooks for quite a long time, got it thanks to the same on-line vendor you have referred to, but at the end I discovered that offers nothing more than a selection of articles, without any systematic introduction to the structures of advanced Chinese. But this is just a personal opinion. Anyway, the objective of the topic was also to make readers pay attention to certain comments/topics as sometimes there could be a specific interest (which is not helping others to find good textbooks) behind them.

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On 6/20/2022 at 2:05 AM, Miko869 said:

sometimes a lot of people praise ICLP textbooks merits just because they want to sell something

I'm really not aware of this happening anywhere: I think there's only one person out there selling them? Not sure how - I guess ICLP has dumped a bunch of textbooks it's no longer using (because it has some 2.0 versions up on its website right now, and the books being sold are 1.0).

 

On 6/16/2022 at 2:20 PM, Miko869 said:

Does 发展汉语 use authentic dialogues or dialogues based on written scripts?

Not "authentic" at all, at least not in that sense. But that makes it better, not worse, I think.

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On 6/20/2022 at 9:15 PM, realmayo said:
On 6/16/2022 at 9:20 PM, Miko869 said:

Does 发展汉语 use authentic dialogues or dialogues based on written scripts?

Not "authentic" at all, at least not in that sense. But that makes it better, not worse, I think.

 

I've just had a look at the 發展漢語 book I once used and it has edited texts taken from authentic materials.  And this is even at the 中級 level.  I can't speak for the listening books though, as I only ever used the general textbooks.

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Memorize The Independent Reader (從精讀到泛讀) 🤦‍♂️!😅! I think my Chinese would benefit from that, a lot, really, it would boast my abilities. No to mention that, I think it's the best textbook of the ICLP series, or at least the one I really enjoy reading.

But it is so huge, I need an elephant brain to remember all those essays and articles.

Anyway, I'll try. Considering my "textbookshelf", and the resolution not to buy new Chinese textbooks (something I violate quite often, I was just considering to buy 发展汉语 😅), maybe it's better to find new ways to exploit all the textbooks I already have. 

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On 6/20/2022 at 9:21 PM, somethingfunny said:

The Independent Reader contains too much content for such a close reading, so you get a lot more exposure to different content.  On this last point, I find the translation of the Chinese title interesting as 從精讀到泛讀 captures the purpose of the book a little more closely.  I have, however, heard of teachers who expect a similar level of 'memorisation' of the text as with Thought and Society.

It seems silly to expect memorization when extensive reading is the titular goal (as somethingfunny points out, the direct translation of the Chinese title for the Independent Reader would be From Intensive Reading to Extensive Reading). I think it looks excellent and I'm trying to make the case to my teacher now to use it next.

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I think the first time you study it, you can focus on your passive skills and "just" develop your ability to read extensively (the author says in the preface "if after having completed advanced textbooks and a basic introduction to Classical Chinese, you still have problems reading newspapers and essays...this is the book for you"). But when you get accustomed to having three or four pages full of characters on your desk without going crazy, I think going another time through the textbook, memorizing the essays, could have a beneficial effect.

It's a bit scaring as 從精讀到泛讀 is really "dense" in terms of words, chengyus and structures, and something I've started to think about only after @somethingfunny comment, but I think memorization maybe is the only way both to internalize how Chinese educated people support their ideas through logical and complex argumentation, and to get rid of some bad "elementary" habits, I'm referring in particular to the habit of simplifying too much or using "odd" (to the ears of a native speaker) structures to give your opinion on abstract topics.

 

 

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On 6/21/2022 at 7:31 PM, Miko869 said:

I think memorization maybe is the only way both to internalize how Chinese educated people support their ideas through logical and complex argumentation

 

I think that's the point of Thought and Society.  There are only ten articles in that book, but more than fifty in The Independent Reader.

 

And with Thought and Society, it's not about setting out to actually rote-learn the text, but rather a case of becoming so familiar with it that you know exactly what is coming next and can recite whole sentences from memory.  I think a lot of teachers would expect you to be able to read the text with the same fluency as the audio recordings, and be able to write out any sentence on hearing it a maximum of two times.  I think that is sufficient internalisation.

 

But after that it's basically just extensive reading.  Read a newspaper, read a novel, or read a curated set of articles you have to pay for.  Each to their own.

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The problem is also that unfortunately I don't like "Thought and Society" so much, I feel that the topics selected are interesting but limited in variety, and at the same time the style of the language used doesn't convince me: sometimes it seems still basic and simplified, other times it is not enough formal and bends too much towards spoken Chinese.

That impression was confirmed when I read the full title (in Chinese 思想與社會 - 高級 會話  教材), the preface, and an essay in the book "The Field of Chinese Language Education in the U.S.", which clearly state that the articles have been edited to reflect the colloquial semi-formal style.

Moreover, I discovered that at the ICLP Flagship Program "Thought and Society" is used at ACTFL "Advanced low" level (CEFR B1.2/B2.1).  This is when a student can use more freely the language, but there is still a lot to study to reach ACTFL "Advanced High/Superior" (CEFR C1), which is the level where your skills start to be quite good in terms of accuracy, sophistication, formalism etc. 

Anyway, I think that all depends on one's level and objectives: considering that I want to improve my writing skills and my ability to listen to formal and complex Chinese, but also that I don't really like memorizing things, I think the best solution for me is to memorize only one textbook, and in particular the textbook which is the most advanced, authentic, formal and complex in terms of argumentation. 

 

PS. I'm really glad about how the discussion has evolved, I haven't find other gems to add to my collection, but a new technique, memorization, I had never considered before. Thank you!

 

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Slightly off topic, but I actually picked up Aspects of Life in Taiwan after reading @Miko869’s summary of its contents in another thread. Sounded like a more interesting companion/follow-up to Thought and Society! As mentioned in this thread though, it’s probably more about diving in and putting (whichever) techniques (work) into practice, rather than adding more books to the (dusty!) shelf.
 

As for how Thought and Society lines up with the CEFR…  I’m a bit dubious of attempts to use CEFR labels on Chinese  courses or exams, with the resulting standards sometimes seeming too low or too high. Having learned different European languages to C1/C2 standard, I’d say that if I had T&S fully internalized (and I don’t, much less so now than a decade ago) — meaning totally comfortable reading it, with the vocabulary mastered, and the ability to easily pull similar sentence patterns out of my head to use appropriately in speech and writing — then that would feel like C1 territory. Just my two cents!
 

 

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@squishafish Level C1 is where you can switch from formal to colloquial and vice versa, the EU guidelines say "adapt your language to the reader/listener", and is also where you can read about a "wide variety of topics", even "if not related to your field of specialization" and understand "a lot of details". 

For the rest, C1 overlaps with B2, the new Cambridge Assessment English too is based on this new concept, for example if you take the exam for level B2 (B2 First, once FCE), and you do extremely well, you get a "First" certificate but at level C1.

Considering that, I would say that "Thought and Society" helps you to build a strong foundation for level B2 (those abilities which "overlap" between B2 and C1), but only together with "Aspects of Life in Taiwan" and "The Independent Reader" you are exposed to the varieties of language and topics typical of level C1. There remain still some gaps, but nothing you can't cover with the help of a good teacher, other good advanced textbooks, and native material.

 

For level C2, I do not speak any foreign language (not even English) at that level, the tendency I observe is that there are very few courses (to learn English, Spanish, German etc.) who put the C2 label on their textbooks. From that, and from the CEFR guidelines, I deduce that certainly C2 too overlaps with C1, and you can acquire those skills through textbooks, but what makes C2 different from C1 (the readiness/quickness/promptness and accuracy with which you use and understand the language, idioms, literature etc.) can be acquired only through a large and constant use of native material. 

 

PS. I know a lot of essays repeat the mantra that CEFR is difficult to adapt to Chinese. But I think the contrary. The problem is that sometimes one hasn't "internalized" and understood "in depth" the CEFR, or hasn't approached the Chinese language from a systematic point of view.

Put together a good understanding of CEFR and a systematic approach to the language, and you will see that Chinese can fit in CEFR.

Only an aspect need to be diversified: the amount of words to be learned. If a French student learn English, 9000 words (thaught explicitily) are enough for level C1 as a French student can implicitily understand the meaning of at least other 5000 words because French is a neolatin language and English received the influence of Latin.

If you're learning Chinese, things go in a different way and learning words should become your greatest obsession 😅. And it remains, even at the advanced level, your greatest obstacle.

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On 6/21/2022 at 2:21 PM, Miko869 said:

I think the best solution for me is to memorize only one textbook

 

I agree with the earlier notion that memorising is more about studying a text so well that you've internalised (内化)the important parts. Trying to memorise The Independent Reader might be too time-consuming to be worthwhile. But you could read the texts so thoroughly that, as you say, you are used to the general patterns of 文章 construction.

 

I think what is most worthwhile is focussing on the so-called 语法词. A list of these appear at the end of every text. If you wanted to memorise something, I'd suggest memorising those sentences where these listed 语法词 appear. Then answer the discussion questions about each text, trying to use those 语法词.

 

And they are a big focus of the book: a few years ago over here https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58245-“虚词”-the-independent-reader/#comment-452340 I pasted part of the intro to The Independent Reader because I liked what it said about 语法词. I used to think they were just 'empty words' that got in the way: oh yeah, here's yet another word that kind of means 'but'. But now that I've realised their purpose is simply to make it easier to understand the direction each sentence is taking, I'm really happy and grateful to see them when they occur.

 

Having said that, it was super-intensively studying Thought & Society that resulted in a huge improvement to my reading Chinese: that's where I really saw the light about 语法词.

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Just to add to the above: I wonder if the focus on HSK word lists and grammar lists, particularly when studying from formal materials like textbooks, can have one negative consequence (alongside positive consequences). That is, there's a temptation to raid a text for those words and grammar points, 'extracting them' from the text and 'inserting them' into your memory, ready to be recalled for a test. But the 语法词 really do need absorbing and internalising, rather than just having their general meaning memorised. You could say that's true about any word, but I think there's a qualititive difference beween 香蕉 and 即便.

 

 

 

On 6/20/2022 at 2:26 PM, somethingfunny said:

I've just had a look at the 發展漢語 book I once used and it has edited texts taken from authentic materials.  

I don't think that's the case with the 听力, which is lots of fake conversations (but like I say, that's a good thing, not a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned).

 

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@realmayo unfortunately I used HSK textbooks as you have just written: I "extracted" words and "insert them" into memory. A total waste of time. When I say "teach explicitly 9000 words for level B2/C1", I just mean that your textbook series should use, from the beginner to the advanced level, more or less 9000 words, so that a student get exposed to them acquiring at least a passive knowledge. But learning "deliberately" words, is something that hasn't never worked for me. 

 

Another big problem is which words should be included in those 9000 words, and how much texts should be modified to include only those 9000 words 😒. The flaw of many, many, textbooks.

 

HSK word lists and grammar lists are useful, but they should be used after you have completed your textbook, and only to fill the gaps you have accumulated using your textbook, as, no matter how good it is, certainly it will have some gaps.

 

For example, (no matter the topic was open to share other good textbooks beyond ICLP 😅, and I assure you they exist, and often are even better), ICLP textbooks have a lot of gaps with regard to natural sciences and technology vocabulary, not the vocabulary only "doctors in sciences" use, but the vocabulary we use in our everyday life. Words related to hobbies are also "on the downside": how do you describe, not sounding too "elementary", the best Netflix series? Or your favorite Chinese drama? Novels or theatrical pieces? Your favorite dish or restaurant? Your trip to Egypt? Or your last quarrel on an Internet forum?

You do have studied some words related to these topics during your elementary and intermediate studies, but at the advanced level you should add sophistication, accuracy, idioms... while ICLP very advanced textbooks (which are the best of the ICLP series) are mainly focused on social sciences and literature. You could fill those gaps reading a lot of native material, but how wonderful would it be if your textbook introduced you to that kind of language? How much effort in searching and selecting would you spare?

"The Independent Reader" 從精讀到泛讀 tries to fill those gaps (I remember the first essay about "should we read Laozi" and it was fantastic), but as it was edited in 1997, more than 20 years ago, the topics nowadays are quite outdated, the same for "Aspects of life in Taiwan" and "Thought and Society". At ICLP they are revising them, now they use "Aspects of life in Taiwan 2.0" etc., but I have the old version of ICLP textbooks so I don't know how much has been changed.

This is also why I opened this topic: sometimes I don't understand all those praises, or they are just a "copy and paste" of things written 10 (or more) years ago (but language pedagogy and the world have evolved in the meantime) or it's just misguided information.

Some ICLP textbooks are good, for sure, the readings are interesting even if more than 20 years old (anyway, maybe I found them interesting because I like history 😅), but from an objective point of view, they can be considered just good readers with two main gaps.

I talked about the first one in a post above, and it is that they do not explain the "rules under the language", certainly you can acquire those "rules" implicitly, just absorbing the material, but I think that non native learners need clear and extended explanations to avoid misunderstandings.

The second one, stimulated by this discussion, is the range of vocabulary you are exposed to, which is too leaning towards social sciences and literature, leaving a lot of areas uncovered. Obviously you can fill the gaps, but a good "general" textbook should use just the opposite methodology: cover a wide range of topics (from social sciences to natural sciences passing through hobbies, the job market, psychology and the Internet), and then students, on the basis of their interest, should select autonomously which areas of vocabulary enlarge and study in deep. 

 

Now, coming back to memorization of words and HSK word lists, a word is memorized only when it is "internalized", agree totally with you. Endless repetition out of context, or mere memorization can do little to improve vocabulary.

HSK word lists, on the other side, for a large part are only the words that often constitute the structure of a text, an example: "It is a truth ---- acknowledged, that a single man in -----  of a good -----, must be ----- a wife". Good to orientate yourself in a text, but again gaps to be filled.

I have developed several strategies to "internalize" words, but again the post is becoming too long. 😅 

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I agree, if you want teach-yourself grammar explanations, you have to look elsewhere or hire a teacher.

 

And if you want broader and more up to date vocabulary, you have to look elsewhere too -- but once you're a proficient reader you won't need textbooks for mass vocabulary input, you can get that from novels, magazines, TV, conversation.

 

However for the three main books that I'm aware of (Talks on Chinese Culture, Thought & Society, and The Independent Reader) it's my opinion that the texts they contain are worth studying intensively, particularly for the 语法词 etc, and I don't think that's true for all textbooks out there. It's those 语法词 that, in my opinion, are the ones that need internalising, and you can do that just by reading widely, or you can choose texts (or textbooks) that focus on them.
 

On 6/22/2022 at 12:55 PM, Miko869 said:

sometimes I don't understand all those praises

 

I wrote this:

 

On 4/6/2019 at 12:50 PM, realmayo said:

I hope no one coming new to this topic is under the impression that this textbook is some kind of magic bullet. It was designed to be used by teachers working to a specific methodology, with students at a certain point in their studies.

 

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/45797-where-to-purchase-audio-for-textbook-thought-and-society-used-at-iup-iclp-mtc/page/2/#comment-451970

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@realmayo I agree with you, not a magic bullet, but good texts, with the use of specific methodology even better, and without any doubt better than many textbooks out there.

 

But I think also that if ICLP textbooks would cover a wider spectrum of topics, students would be put in a better position: they would spare a lot of effort to search and select materials (or teachers) to have explanations and to fill the vocabulary gaps, gaps which (from my point of view) are a bit unusual/strange at the advanced level.

 

Fortunately, I have found good and extensive explanations in other good advanced textbooks edited or curated together by eastern and western teachers (often native speakers who teach the language do not understand the needs and peculiarities of western language speakers).

 

For the vocabulary, I'm not talking about "massive" input, you're right when you say that "massive" input can be obtained only through native material, I'm talking about the vocabulary every B2/C1 CEFR (Advanced High/Superior ACTFL) language learner should know, the vocabulary which constitutes the basis of advanced levels.

If you take a look at courses such as "English File, fourth edition" or "New Headway" published by Oxford University Press and which are the best selling textbooks to learn English as a foreign language, you discover that the first unit is devoted to social sciences, the second to natural sciences, the third to traveling, then to the job market, to food, to art history, there is always something related to new technologies... They help students to acquire well-rounded C1 skills and vocabulary in several fields. ICLP textbooks instead are a bit too narrow. As you have just written, you can "expand" your knowledge through reading native material, but at the moment, going so deep in just one field is not the best practice in compiling language textbooks for foreign learners unless your are editing a language textbook for specific purposes (business, history, sociology, biology etc.).

But this is the opinion of some academics, other academics say the contrary, and think that the best method to learn a language is through immersion in specific contents, which is a bit what ICLP textbooks do, they teach Chinese through social sciences. 

 

For the "praises" obviously I'm not referring to your posts which are balanced, objective and helped me to discover ICLP textbooks, but I am referring precisely to those who present those textbooks "as a magic bullet". What you wrote in 2019 is perhaps one of the best description I ever found. I wrote too, maybe unconsciously influenced by your description, that those textbooks give the best experience in a certain context and with a certain methodology. 

 

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