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Chinese text book

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Title: 實用視聽華語
Year: 2008

Arriving in Taiwan in September 2008, I first encountered Practical Audio-Visual Chinese at Chunghua University in Xinzhu. I had studied one year of Chinese and jumped straight into book three, which was quite a challenge at the time. Still, a semester later, we had finished book three, half of Taiwan Today and had also started on this book, being number four in a series of five books in total. Moving to Gaoxiong in the spring, I started with book five, which means that I had to study book four on my own, which I did quite a long time ago, even though this review is quite late.

There isn’t much new to say about the book as such, since it more or less follows the same pattern used in the first three books. It is by far the best series I’ve seen and book four gives no reason whatsoever to change that. I have only one complaint. I realise that vocabulary becomes more and more specific as the learner advances, but some vocabulary in this book is, frankly speaking, utterly ludicrous (like “nose cancer”, ever needed to use that?). This is quite a minor disadvantage though, so don’t let it stop you (the other series I’ve seen have been far worse in this regard, especially the Far Eastern Everyday Chinese).

As usual, I have also compiled word lists for ZDT for book four. This time I’ve been a lot more careful, entering vocabulary almost verbatim. There probably are some mistakes in there and by reporting them to me, you can help me helping other people to learn correct Chinese. The file can be imported to ZDT via the “Restore data” function (in other words, do not use “Import”). Since I’ve now skipped most of book five, striving even higher, it will probably be quite some time before I review that book and publish my word lists, but that day will come, too. In the meantime, have some fun with the vocabulary for book four!

Important: The lists for ZDT will still be here, but no longer updated. The vocabulary can and should be accessed from the Anki software, which is far superior to ZDT. If youh aven’t changed already, you should do so now.

Download ZDT word lists for Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 4

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English title: Taiwan Today: An Intermediate Course
Chinese title: 今日台灣中級漢語課程
Language: Chinese and English
鄧守信, 孫珞
Year: 2004

I first encountered this book in Xinzhu last semester, when our teacher thought it would be a good idea to have more than one text book, a decision I support wholeheartedly. Taiwan Today might also be the perfect choice as a companion text book to more dialogue-focused books such as Practical Audio-Visual Chinese. Gradually, the student is introduced to formal and written Chinese, with the first few chapters being fairly easy, but with rapidly increasing difficulty toward the end. The level was about right for me as a student of book three in the Practical-Audio Visual Chinese, roughly one year after I started studying Chinese.

I like many things about this book. To begin with, the product itself breaths quality. The cover is nice, the paper quality is good and the overall impression is sound. Furthermore, the actual contents of each chapter is interesting, which isn’t true for any other text book I know of. They concern various topics relating to Chinese and Taiwanese society, instead of being carefully designed dialogues between fictive characters. The topics include tea, night markets, sports and leisure activities, food, marriage, religion and much, much more. Each text is presented both in simplified and traditional characters, which would make Taiwan Today a good choice for intermediate students outside Taiwan as well (most topics are for Chinese society in general and not specific to Taiwan).

As if this was not enough, the grammar and exercise are lot more comprehensible than those I’m used to from other text books, including a key at the very end, enabling students to study these chapters more or less on their own (also a somewhat unique feature). The English used is flawless most of the time.

By way of conclusion, this book is really good. It succeeds in areas where most other text books fail (self study, English level) and actually accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. I recommend this book to anyone who is at roughly the right level or slightly above, regardless of if Taiwan is your main focus.

Update: It seems like the book can be ordered here (thanks to Faraaz Damji for the link). It seems to be a new edition, but I think we can safely assume that it’s not worse than the previous one.

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Title: 實用視聽華語
Year: 2008

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese is the second series of Chinese text books I encounter, the first being the one I studied in Sweden, namely Short-Term Spoken Chinese (see reviews of Threshold and Elementary volumes). When I first came to Taiwan, our class started from book three, but I covered the previous two volumes on my own to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. On the whole, I think these first three books are outstandingly good, especially when compared to my previous text books. Of course, they are far from perfect, but they have no obvious and major flaws.

Each chapter is structured around a text (fairly normal, focused on dialogue), and then the vocabulary is presented, each of the more complicated or non-obvious words having one or more sentences to clarify usage and meaning. Although the English is sometimes a bit odd, the overall impression is very good. These examples contain almost no characters the student doesn’t know from earlier chapters (which was a serious problem with Short-Term Spoken Chinese). For a complete list of the vocabulary used in the first three volumes of Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, please refer to this post.

After the vocabulary comes a comprehensive and intelligible explanation of relevant grammar, nothing fancy, but it works. Sometimes, the exercises deviate a lot from the explanations, leaving a solitary student clueless (having a teacher doesn’t always help either!). Also, a few more examples would have been useful, since it is difficult to know the right answer without a teacher. Still, they are worthwhile. At the end of each chapter there is a supplementary text, which we didn’t spend too much time on, but they are the whole quite interesting. Since the main texts always are dialogue, the extra texts (which are usually in some other format) are good to vary reading material a bit.

On the whole, I have nothing much to complain about, and that is very high praise when it comes to Chinese text books. The authors know what they’re doing and they have done good job. In addition to this, the layout is neat and pleasant to the eye. I can recommend this series to anyone who is interested in learning Chinese (using traditional characters, of course), or who want a supplement to another series (a very good idea, in my opinion). The books are a bit expensive compared to others, but they are also thicker, containing a total of roughly 1100 pages. I’m currently studying book five in class and book four on my own and even though the vocabulary gets rather non-practical after a while, Practical Audio-Visual Chinese is a good series throughout!

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Important: I no longer use ZDT to learn Chinese. The lists for ZDT will still be here, but no longer updated. The vocabulary can and should be accessed from the Anki software, which is far superior to ZDT. If you haven’t changed already, you should do so now. Please visit Hacking Chinese to read more about how to learn Chinese more efficiently!

Since I came to Taiwan, I have been studying a series of books called Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, 2nd Edition. I have over the past three months assembled a complete list of all the new words from the first three volumes in this series. Before I present the links to the files, there are a couple of things I would like to say. To begin with, these are my personal lists, which means that they are not proof to mistakes or misunderstandings. I take no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy of the definition, although I am fairly sure they are mostly correct (most of them are identical to the book). Since this series of text books use traditional characters, I have made no attempt to type in correct simplified alternatives. Also, since the characters from book one were much too easy for me, I have not been very careful with the English translation (most of the time is straight from the dictionary). Please use with caution. If you find any other mistakes, please let me know so that I can update these lists.

Second, the format I present these lists in is the ZDT backup format. This program is a wonderful help to learn Chinese and I have spent many hundreds of hours using it (the website is here and the program can be downloaded from here). Please refer to my article about revision in order to learn the advantages of ZDT’s time filter. You can use these lists in two ways. First, simply download and install ZDT, then use File >> Restore Data and select the files listed below (please check the box name Ignore stats, because otherwise my stats will disrupt the filters you use). Second, open the backup file in a text editor or spreadsheet software, and use the lists for whatever purpose you desire; the backup format is in plain text, so the lists should be useful even if for those who do not wish to use ZDT.

Finally, here are the three word lists; I hope they will help you study Chinese more efficiently!

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 1
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 2
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 3

Link to words from book four, along with a review

Update: The word lists have been moved, but the links should be working properly now. I’ve also added a link to book four.

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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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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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