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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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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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I think I made most progress using books published by Beijing Language and Culture University Press.  I've just picked them off the shelf and one is called 漢語教程 and the other 發展漢語.  They're both very formulaic and don't represent anything special as far as textbooks go (and the texts certainly aren't very advanced).  What made the difference at the time was the professionalism of the teacher.  I remember switching from someone who was just doing tuition part-time (an English major, I think) to someone who had an actual 對外漢語 teaching qualification.  The first lesson was a total eye-opener.  I remember coming out of the lesson thinking: "They are explicitly teaching grammar, but I don't know any of the words for verb, noun, subject, object, etc. oh shit." and "How have I managed to get this far by basically just winging it?"

 

I did a bit of stretch of going through Chinese language news websites and picking out articles I liked the look of, printing them out and reading them on the tube to and from work everyday.  That probably helped a bit.  A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese helped a lot as I ended up reading most of the texts after they had been translated into modern prose.

 

I know you're looking for "gems" aside from the ICLP books.  And I don't want to derail the thread, but I've added my thoughts on some of those books below:

 

NTU artificially increases the reputation of the books to some extent by not making them available to non-students.  To be honest, I found the texts in 'Thought and Society' a bit dull, whereas those in 'The Independent Reader' much more interesting.  However, the reason for this is probably a result of the intended function of both.  Thought and Society is intended to be read intensively (hence all the references to the texts being memorised).  This can be extremely dull, but very effective for bridging the gap students find themselves at that point in their studies.  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.

 

The two benefits of these kinds of texts are:

  • As people have mentioned, the classroom teacher and their familiarity with the text.  They know the grammar patterns and important vocabulary and they have practiced teaching it many times.  If the teacher is professional, they'll keep idle chit-chat to a minimum and focus on drilling the relevant grammar/vocab content from the text.  It can be tedious, but it works.  It's so easy to read an advanced level article and think you have understood it, whereas actually you have missed some subtle grammar use which significantly changes the meaning from what you expected.  The teacher will also help you with handling very long sentences, with non-standard grammatical structures, as well as nouns with 3, 4, 5 (or more?) characters.  I think this last point is really important, after all, if you're reading sentences where the author has used 而 three different times, with two different functions, I think we can safely say your Chinese is in a good place.
  • It is a curated set of texts.  I've always avoided reading newspaper articles due to two inevitable questions: (1) Is this at my level? and (2) Is this going to be interesting?  Even reading an English language newspaper, I'll stop reading a lot of articles after a paragraph or two once I've realised it isn't interesting.  If I do this in Chinese, there's always a nagging thought in the back of my head that I'm telling myself it's because it's not interesting, but actually it's because it's too difficult.  With a curated set of articles, they should generally be at an appropriate level, and hopefully interesting enough to deserve inclusion.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.)

 

Quote

 

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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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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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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