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Short-term Spoken Chinese – Threshold Volume 1 and 2

Title: Short-term Spoken Chinese, Threshold
Ma Jianfa
Year: 2004

It is not without hesitation that I write about these books, because even though I have studied them carefully, I have no experience whatsoever of Chinese text books in general. This might indeed be a very good book in comparison with others, so if you are interested in a comparative review, look elsewhere. I intend only to convey my impression of these two first books as a student.

Advantages: The books look and feel rather nice, with friendly print and adept layout and design. It is also fairly easy to understand the concept in the early chapters, even without tuition, so in this regard it would be ideal for those who have limited access to a teacher (this is only true for the first few chapters, as we shall see).

Disadvantages: There are many problems. First and foremost, the English is bad at best, but incomprehensible at worst. Some grammar paragraphs feel like someone with limited knowledge of English has used a dictionary to look up all the words s/he did not know, and the result is a mishmash of fairly advanced English words, which do not work very well together. It is often possible to understand what is intended, but it is seldom straightforward or easy.

Second, the glossary for each chapter is occasionally unhelpful and if it were not for exterior dictionaries, one would be helpless. Stating that a character is “a particle” does not say anything useful, nor do identical descriptions of words which seem to mean the same thing, but in fact do not. The list at the end lacks an English-Chinese section, which makes it next to impossible to find a word you have learnt, unless you know how it is pronounced, which might be the very thing you want to look up.

Third, the exercises are sometimes mysterious and require a whole lot of detective examination before even starting. Although there are good exercises, too many consist of copying segments from a text, rather than practising on the relevant grammar. The key only covers the listening exercises, so there is no help given at all when it comes to grammar.

Conclusively, Short-term Spoken Chinese Threshold volume one and two work fairly well with a teacher, but are not good at all if you want to understand something on your own. This is a bit silly, because I think the books ought to be able to make one understand on their own (if the reader has to rely on the teacher all the time, I do not see much point in having the book in the first place).

Addendum: I forgot one thing which further lowers my impression of these books: a tendency to use characters and words in example sentences from upcoming chapters. This is extremely annoying, since the grammar might be hard enough to understand without having no idea what some of the characters mean (and when you do not know which chapter they will appear in, and you do not know how to pronounce them, there is simply no way to know what they mean, save for consulting an external dictionary).

Update: These lists are now available from within Anki, the old ZDT-lists are still available from the Chinese section, but will not be updated.

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  1. margarette’s avatar

    Snort! My students are forever complaining about Taiwanese text books, so your lament rings true to me. And the english is always notoriously bad. I keep threatening to write a text for a Taiwanese publisher, but I never have the time!


  2. Olle Linge’s avatar

    Actually, the English in our current book is very good, but I still don’t see how authors of such books can make so many mistakes. Do they never ask the students what they think about how the book is structured? Sometimes it’s so obvious that something works that the same problem must have occurred in every class every singe time the book is used, so how come it’s still there?


  3. Carmen’s avatar

    Using Anki. How can I practice the flashcards per chapter? I saw the filter section, but how do I apply it to viewing/practicing? Thanks.


    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      The easiest way is to first suspend all the cards you don’t want to study immediately and then unsusupend them as you encounter them in your textbook. Hope this helps!