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


Miko869
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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. 

 

I thought about this issue a bit when I looked up the criteria for the CEFR language rating system that goes A, B, C1, C2, etc.  If you grow up in a language and go to a normal high school, you are exposed to words in all kinds of fields, along with whatever you know from everyday life.  The same applies if you go to college in a second language, especially if you take a range of subjects in your courses.  But if you don't, can any single textbook really substitute for that?

 

I can think about this also with respect to my husband's mastery of English, which is his third language and which he didn't even start until he was more than 30 years old.  Sometimes he startles me with unusual words he knows, and then I think, well, he got two masters degrees (business and computers) in English and then worked in an English-speaking environment for many years, so of course he was exposed to a very wide range of words. 

 

One of the articles I read about the CEFR rating system talked about language learners matching the level of mastery that a well-educated person would have in their native language - beyond the level of conversation that someone who only finished high school would typically have.  It sounds to me like the kind of textbooks talked about in this thread are trying to get students there, but I suspect the students themselves also need to supplement such textbooks with exposure to sophisticated materials on topics that they are interested in.

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Wow! This thread has grown to mention a lot of interesting points. I didn't have a chance to write earlier, but @Moshen just said what I had in mind: that no, no single textbook can really substitute for giving you the wide variety of vocab and sentence structures needed to be at the level of an educated native speaker. Of course, some textbooks can be better guides than others, which is why @Miko869 started this thread. 

 

In this sense, I agree with @realmayo in that the value depends very much on how they are studied – emphasis should be on becoming completely comfortable using/producing more complex structures/vocab, and not just on passive understanding. Meanwhile, whether studying a certain textbook gets you into C1 territory or not depends on what else you know (previous learning), and what else you're exposed to at the same time (studying other textbooks/native materials simultaneously). But a text like T&S can certainly be a very helpful stepping stone to mastering more complex structures, which you can then use to understand other texts that give you more variety in terms of topics and vocabulary. Of course, there could very well be better texts out there – in my case, the ICLP ones are my reference because I studied in Taiwan and focus on traditional characters, and saw how these books could be put to good use. (In fact, while T&S was a bit dry for my taste, I loved News and Views, because each chapter was used as a starting point in my class for discussions and oral presentations on related – and sometimes controversial – subjects around the world.)

 

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One of the articles I read about the CEFR rating system talked about language learners matching the level of mastery that a well-educated person would have in their native language - beyond the level of conversation that someone who only finished high school would typically have.  It sounds to me like the kind of textbooks talked about in this thread are trying to get students there, but I suspect the students themselves also need to supplement such textbooks with exposure to sophisticated materials on topics that they are interested in.

 

Absolutely, and I think the above applies to advanced learners of any language. 

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On 6/22/2022 at 11:43 AM, Miko869 said:

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.

 

@Miko869, I take all fluency "measures" with a grain (or handful) of salt, but it certainly makes sense for the levels to overlap – after all, they're all a continuum of a person's ability to express themself appropriately and understand a wide range of topics and registers. As for T&S, I'd actually argue that in order to study the textbook – or, maybe better said, in order to benefit from it the most – a person should already be at a B2 level, or certainly very high B1 – anything less than that, and I think the subtleties of language would be a bit lost on the student, and the student would instead spend lots of time scrambling to study vocab. Just my opinion though, based on what I've seen a B2 level in other languages to be – which is able to communicate semi-spontaneously about a number of topics, but while still making some grammar mistakes, with gaps in vocabulary, possibly issues with pronunciation/accent, etc.

 

That brings up an interesting comment I remember from a teacher at MTC in Taiwan. She believed that for a student to be at the "right" class level, they should already be familiar with around 70% of the vocabulary to be covered in the textbook, because that way they could a) solidly learn new vocabulary without being completely overwhelmed, and by connecting it to what they already know and b) focus on other important aspects, like new sentence patterns, new uses of old vocabulary, etc. 

 

I don't know if 70% is the magic number, but I think it makes sense to look for materials that are challenging but still within reach.

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On 6/22/2022 at 3:17 PM, Miko869 said:

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.

 

Maybe what we need are more textbooks that are -like- the ICLP ones (digestible, and full of handy 语法词), but featuring more topics. 😅

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I think that when the CEFR guidelines talk about "the level of mastery of a well-educated person", the reference is less to the "completeness" of vocabulary and more to "how" advanced student learn new vocabulary and tackle the language. Foreign language students and native speakers learn new words (and tackle the language) in completely different ways, but C1 or C2 students should tackle new words in a way more similar to a "well-educated" native speakers.

 

After all, in my mother tongue too, I have never stopped learning new words, and sometimes I forget the meaning of words I don't use anymore. Completeness in vocabulary is an impossible hope, a "chimera", as the words we know depend on our age, studies, family, interests, friends etc.

 

However, there is a "core vocabulary" for each of the activities and each of the levels described in the CEFR guidelines (the latest document is more than 100 pages), and that core vocabulary should be introduced in language textbooks.

For example, "English File" introduces, in eight textbooks (from A1 to C1+), more or less 10.000 words, the same topic (food, sport or art history etc.) sometimes is repeated and discussed at different levels in order to increase complexity, idioms and vocabulary. Completeness will never be reached, but there is a lot of variety. There will be some gaps,  some topics are not discussed at all, but there is at least a sort of "mixture" of topics that makes less stressful and exhausting the process of expanding your vocabulary diving into native material as you already have a good basis for a lot of topics. In ICLP core textbooks social science (applied to Taiwanese society) is the only master.

 

I've developed this idea (the importance of variety in textbooks) as very recently I've started to read Taiwanese magazines, and when I find words I don't know, I check them in my dictionary, and very often I discover that those words were covered in my English textbooks, but not in my ICLP textbooks, and that's because my English textbooks offered more variety. There are a lot of "important" English words I don't know, for sure, but the number is smaller than the Chinese ones I don't know, and I think the reason is that my English textbooks were not so focused only on social sciences.

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C1 or C2 students should tackle new words in a way more similar to a "well-educated" native speakers.

 

As for the CEFR guidelines, it's much more than vocabulary at stake.  In order to pass C1, you need to be able to cope with the kind of syntax that one would find in, say, college-level material in the foreign language.  My Chinese isn't anywhere near the C level yet, but for Spanish I took an online test and was astonished to see that I came out in the CEFR system as C1.  When I thought about it, I realized that the test incorporated increasingly difficult and sophisticated syntax that I was able to deal with because I'd long been listening to news in Spanish and reading novels in the language (with a dictionary app nearby) along with being exposed to more colloquial language in the telenovelas I like to watch. 

 

I'm sure the same process of learning needs to go on in Chinese as well.  It is not just a matter of vocabulary...

 

And one more point:  this process of learning never ends, even in one's native language.  I recently picked up Henry James's novel The Golden Bowl in English and put it down after about 10 pages because most sentences I had to read three or four times!  I decided to tackle another one of his late novels first and then go back to the incredibly complicated long sentences of The Golden Bowl when I'd gotten more accustomed to his style.

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learn new words (and tackle the language) in completely different ways

@Moshen as you can see from the quotation, I have specified, just before the sentence you have cited but cut in half, "learn new words" "and tackle the language".

Tackle the language means having acquired a lot of familiarity with syntax, abstract argumentation, idioms, colloquialism etc.

 

But vocabulary remains an important part, I would say that vocabulary perhaps is the most important part. You can know all the grammar rules, you can have all the familiarity you want with syntax, but to speak a language you need words. Languages are made first of all of words. Without words (and for level C1 and C2 a great amount of words, from 10.000 to 20.000), understanding the meaning behind abstract argumentation or syntax is impossible.

 

I don't know what is your native language, but you tested at level C1 in Spanish just listening to news, watching TV etc. because thanks to Latin, we (the so called "westerners") can infer the meaning of a lot of Latin derived words (in languages different from our mother tongue) just listening to them.

 

Information is information in French, Information in German, information in Italian, información in Spanish, informação in Portuguese... and that rule applies to a lot of words.

 

80% of English words are borrowed from Latin, 85% of Spanish words are borrowed from Latin.

 

As you can see they have a common root, and as you write in English in this forum, you automatically can infer the meaning of a lot of words in all the neo-latin languages.  

 

Then what you were listening to when watching TV, was not only a complex syntax, but a syntax full of new words that you (even without noticing it) had never encountered before but you could understand and accumulate in your memory without too much effort because they shared the same roots with your native language (or with English, a language you know and use fluently on this forum).

 

I regret to have to tell you that this process doesn't happen with Chinese (unless you speak Japanese or Korean). Not because the language is inherently difficult or special, but just because it was not influenced by Latin.

We need a very great amount of words to understand complex and abstract argumentation in Chinese, and watching and listening to TV will require a more systematic work on our vocabulary, with much more effort than we need to put in our study to learn languages influenced by Latin.

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I don't know what is your native language, but you tested at level C1 in Spanish just listening to news, watching TV etc. because thanks to Latin, we (the so called "westerners") can infer the meaning of a lot of Latin derived words (in languages different from our mother tongue) just listening to them.

 

I don't agree with the above.  There were quite a few questions in the test where I did not know some of the words but was able to answer because I could follow the syntax and use logic to figure out the answer.  Now you could argue that the syntax of English and Romance languages is similar, but some of the questions did require familiarity with word patterns that are specific to Spanish.  I remember this because it surprised me how often in the test I had to show a grasp of something other than understanding the meaning of words.

 

I do agree that Chinese has no cognates with English (other than loan words), but for me complicated sentences in Chinese don't get unraveled by knowing the vocabulary so much as by understanding how things are said (and very often unsaid) in Chinese.  I often have had the experience of knowing all the Chinese words but not understanding the sentence.

 

 

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On 6/22/2022 at 5:44 PM, Moshen said:

but for me complicated sentences in Chinese don't get unraveled by knowing the vocabulary so much as by understanding how things are said (and very often unsaid) in Chinese.  I often have had the experience of knowing all the Chinese words but not understanding the sentence.

 

I agree.

'Normal' vocabulary can be studied easily enough with any materials, beyond a certain level they certainly don't require a textbook.

'Confusing' vocabulary e.g. what's the difference between 严厉/严肃/严格 can be explained by a moderately experienced teacher, or perhaps an HSK coursebook.

'Subtle' vocabulary e.g. 既然、 即便、即使、既是、即是, or perhaps 所以、所能、乃至、就算, and of course all the accompanying 才 or 还 or 也 etc ... I think these need more work. And I'd want a textbook full of that kind of 'subtle' vocabulary if I was to study it very intensively.

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Great conversation, y'all making some great points about desirable things in a great textbook.

So does anyone have some more recommendations?

Something with engaging texts that are broad in topics and also focus on reinforcing those "语法词" as @realmayo calls them.

And preferably also good audio to go with it.

 

 

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@Moshen The fact that they were asking you to go "behind the words" is absolutely normal, C1 level exams are specifically designed to test your ability to go over the meaning of words and syntax: if you read the C1 CEFR guidelines you find that a student "should demonstrate the ability to understand the implicit meaning". 

 

But that doesn't mean words are not important at that level because always the C1 CEFR guidelines say that a student should be able to "read texts on a wide variety of topics even not related to his field", have "a wide vocabulary", "without searching for words and expressions" etc.

 

And a wide vocabulary to tackle a wide variety of topics (even if with gaps to be filled) is exactly what ICLP core textbooks lack.

They just give you a wide vocabulary to tackle (even if with gaps) social sciences texts.

 

I think that it is better to follow what modern English courses for foreign learners do: acquire a wide and varied vocabulary in several fields (not only related to social sciences), then fill the gaps. I find it embarrassing that I know how to say "Paleolithic age" but have sometimes problems with modern and common vocabulary. I would have preferred learning "Paleolithic age" through my personal readings, and important advanced general vocabulary through ICLP core textbooks.

 

Anyway, that a wide vocabulary is necessary is something that has never been put in question by anyone, not even by ICLP teachers. In the introduction to "The Independent Reader", an ICLP textbooks, Vivian Ling states that the objective of the textbook is on one hand to increase to 10.000 words the vocabulary of students, on the other hand to teach the essential techniques to deal with "the explosion" of new words students face when move from textbooks to native material.

 

The problem is then which words to learn. I thing that learning a lot of words related to social sciences and ignoring a lot of important words related to natural sciences, technology, "hobbies" etc., is a wrong methodology. But, I repeat, there are academics who thinks the contrary.

 

Not learning enough words (at least 10.000), for the entire academic community, Vivian Ling included, is wrong.

This is not to say that syntax is not important, but that while at a certain point syntax is rarely a problem, while learning Chinese vocabulary is an endless and hard job, especially if you are not a Korean or Japanese language speaker.

 

Why did you get level C1 in your Spanish test?

There could be several reason: the quality and accuracy of the test, the fact that being English and Spanish two cognate languages there are a lot of words in common, but even ignoring the words, being England and Spain part of the same cultural sphere, you may have implicitly understood the answers from non verbal communication (the tone, the pauses, implied cultural references, hints that your native language uses too and that makes it predictable what follows...). 

 

Why sometimes you know all the words but don't understand the meaning of Chinese sentences?

This happens often, but I never think it is due to my scarce knowledge of syntax or grammar. 

Sometimes the reason is simply that you are still at an intermediate level, so there is still a lot to do in term of "internalization" of syntax (syntax and grammar should be internalized by the end of level B2).

If you have internalized syntax, and then you are at the advanced level, the problem could be the fact that you don't have really internalized the words used in those sentences (it happens to me with English, I have a general idea of the meaning, but still some doubts about the precise "meaning range"), or another reason could be that you lack the cultural references/background to understand those texts.

Or, simply, the last reason could be that those sentences have been written using a syntax so articulated that even native speaker would have some doubts about them, if I am not wrong, that happened to you when reading Henry James.

 

Ps. This is not to say that syntax is not important, but only that at a certain point words are more important than syntax.

 

 

 

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@realmayo that a student needs to internalize 既然、 即便、即使、既是、即是、所以、所能、乃至、就算 is the foundation of a serious study of Chinese, I agree.

That ICLP textbooks explain in detail those words... I don't know, I have almost all of them, but other textbooks published in the USA, in Hong Kong or in Europe have been more useful.

 

The same for vocabulary. Only the fruition of native material can fill all the gaps, I agree with you, but before diving into native material a student need a solid foundation otherwise the progress from textbooks to magazines will be too discouraging and exhausting.

And for this foundation the number is always the same, 10.000 words, and this number, as written above, is accepted by ICLP teachers too.

 

What has aroused in me some skepticism towards ICLP textbooks is that those 10.000 words just turn around social sciences.  

Is it better a foundation made of a varied and modern vocabulary of 10.000 words, or a foundation made only of 10.000 words related mainly to social sciences?

I think the former solution is better, other think the latter is better, it's just a question of personal preferences.

 

For me, the textbooks in question offer good articles, interesting selection, but are more similar to "specific purposes" textbooks than "general textbooks". A social science graduate probably will use the words "Paleolithic age" 50 times a week, but this is not the case for every student.

 

The same for the method particles are introduced, while "general textbooks" tend to have detailed explanations, "specific purposes" textbooks tend just to give a "refresher" as they build on what students have learned in other courses. And ICLP core textbooks tend to do the same.

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Anyway, I understand that "our dream textbook" is a hot topic, and that @realmayo @squishafish and @Moshen, for different motivations, like ICLP textbooks.

I think that also all the other forum members now are well-informed about our positions and ideas about how language textbooks should be written.

 

But now, instead of continuing on this (as the last comments are quite repetitive, and who likes ICLP textbooks will continue to like them, and who finds in them some flaws will continue to think that they are not, in 2022, the best choice on the market), 

 

I'd like to bring the discussion to the original topic, the reason why I open this thread: I was curious to hear about which textbooks, behind ICLP core textbooks, have made the difference in your studies, the gem of your textbookshelf. 

 

I understand that this question can bring in people who say "I like Thought and Society" or "The Independent Reader", but behind that?

 

Otherwise the result of this discussion will not be to "enlarge" our horizons, but just an endless back and forth between who says "I like them" and who says "I don't like them". Which has proved to be very fruitful, but at a certain point, if it involves always the same members, the posts we write will always touch upon the same reasons and sound quite the same.

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On 6/22/2022 at 9:57 PM, Miko869 said:

That ICLP textbooks explain in detail those words... I don't know,

As I said, the textbooks don't teach these words in great detail, but the teachers can.

 

I think I'm genuinely misunderstanding things a little. For me nowadays, a typical textbook is one that contains texts worth studying intensively! But I guess that's because I'm thinking about relatively advanced ones. (And the ICLP textbooks I'm aware of are relatively advanced ones.)

 

I don't know anything about beginner-level Chinese textbooks. But: the best language textbooks I've ever seen are Elementary Korean and Elementary Vietnamese, both by Tuttle: they have enough thorough and clear explanation to function as teach-yourself books, they are very challenging, and have lots of great audio. I was hoping they'd done a Cantonese book in that series too but no, only Mandarin (which I've not seen).

 

Maybe the broader point is: there aren't advanced level language textbooks with detailed explanations! Instead, learners just need a basic explanation, and then need lots of exposure, whether through reading lots of texts extensively or a few texts intensively.

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I've found several advanced textbooks with detailed explanations, just to give an example "Reading into a New China - 2nd edition" is at the same level as "Thought and Society", some texts are even at a higher level, and is full of very useful and detailed explanations about Chinese particles.

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I think the real gems in my collection are the supplementary readers and textbooks that we didn't use in class. I think this might be obvious to some, but to the others, I think it is imperative to read as many sources as possible. Quantity over quality. My sweet spot is to use other sources about one level down from where I feel my current level is. In class we used the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese books 1-4 and then A Contemporary Course in Chinese 5-6. Because I didn't study at ICLP, I used some of those books as supplemental textbooks for self-study. Enough people have spoken about those books in this thread so I will mention the gems of my collection that haven't been mentioned yet. At the intermediate level, I really liked Taiwan Today for the cultural focus and Biography Of China's Master Of Water Ink Painting: Qi Baishi; An Intermediate Chinese Reader. Also the Chinese Moral Tales and Chinese Folk Tales readers were really useful. Twenty Lectures on Chinese Culture is a good segway into Thought and society, but I could see this book being a love it or hate it kind of book and I have heard it might be similar to Talks on Chinese Culture but I haven't read that book. For advanced learners, I haven't seen it mentioned yet on this thread, but A Reader in Post─Cultural Revolution Chinese Literature is excellent. It is also compiled by Vivian Ling. I have looked at a few exerpts but as supplementary material, I'm not quite ready for it yet.

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I also want to point out that I found out about all of these books by going through these forums and reading reviews and recommendations posted by others. It's worth taking the time to go back and search the older threads as well. I just found this video on Youtube about intermediate and advanced textbooks by @OneEye that people here would probably enjoy watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMUqwb1kMdY

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The idea was to go beyond ICLP textbooks 😅, because for those textbooks sometimes not only there is a lot of "guided information" and "spectacularization", often exaggerated in order to make us buy or know about something to buy, but also because when I got them on my desk I discovered they were absolutely insufficient from a didactical point of view. A selection of interesting articles, with some patterns vaguely sketched, and two or three questions for discussions or exercises in the style in the '90's language exercises were written, is not the best modern didactics in 2022 can offer, but more details about the flaws of those textbooks in the comments above.

Anyway, as I can see, opening a post and writing ICLP has had the effect to attract just members who continue to list textbooks from that program, despite the idea was to go behind those and find something else.

When teaching my mother-tongue, if I proposed a textbook (I would say a reader as ICLP textbooks, out of their context, are just readers) old (more or less) 20 years (no matter how good that textbook was when it was compiled), my colleagues would have a lot to murmur 😚

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On 6/25/2022 at 8:31 AM, Miko869 said:

there is a lot of "guided information" and "spectacularization", often exaggerated in order to make us buy or know about something to buy,

As @realmayosaid earlier on, I’m not aware of anyone exaggerating the merits of these books in order to sell them or anything else. @weimakesells them, but hasn’t made any grandiose claims about what the books can do. Other forum members over the years have left very detailed comments on their own experiences with both the books and the ICLP program, but I don’t recall any of them doing so in order to sell anything? 

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