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Short-term Spoken Chinese – Elementary

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

Changing authors from the first two volumes, one might have supposed that some things in Short-term Spoken Chinese ought to have improved. This is indeed the case, but the price paid is much too high, since many things in the Elementary volume are much worse than in in the Threshold volumes. However, on a general note, what I said about the first two volumes mostly holds true for this volume as well, so I will not bother to reiterate all the short-comings of the first two books, but instead focus on a comparison.

Advantages: One thing has improved greatly, and that is the explanation of grammar. The sections now include many and various examples which enable the student to understand the grammar explained in a broader sense than was previously possible. Very good.

Disadvantages: Sadly, the new grammar sections are rife with problems. Most notably, they contain a vast amount of characters the student has no chance of understanding (usually 20-30 new characters for each chapter, almost doubling the total number used in the book). Using a dictionary to look up all the words necessary to understand the examples is incredibly time consuming. Also, many of the characters are extremely rare (one sentence is about make-up equipment to such a detail that I did not know the words in either Swedish or English).

Furthermore, and perhaps even worse, the chapters themselves contain characters that are not present in the glossary. This might have been understandable if it was a stand-alone elementary textbook, but it is not. The authors know exactly which characters they have covered previously, and ought to be able to include all the new ones in the word lists. Fortunately, our teacher provided us with extra word lists for each chapter (sometimes comprising twenty characters that were omitted from the original lists). This is unforgivable.

In order to alleviate this problem for other people, I have composed word lists myself that cover all the texts and the grammar. Those lists, and much more, can be found in my Chinese section. (Edit: These lists are now available from within Anki, the old ZDT-lists are still available from the Chinese section, but won’t be updated).

Oddly, the letter “e” is missing from the appendix. Admittedly, there are not many words beginning with e, but still there are some.

I discussed these various points with my teacher, and he withheld that these books still are among the best available. That might be true, so I advise you again not to make the mistake of taking me for an expert. I have only used these text books, and for all I know, they might indeed be the best around. Still, I do not like them, and find in them too many errors or signs of flawed thinking to give them more than a couple of snails.

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