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Short-term Spoken Chinese

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Important: This is no longer my main page about studying Chinese, please visit Hacking Chinese to learn more about how to study Chinese more efficiently!


I started studying Asienkunskap in Linköping in 2007, and during that first year of Chinese studies, I accumulated a lot of material that might be of use to other students. If not explicitly stated, everything here is written by me. This is what I currently have available:

Complete lecture notes (Nordostasienkunskap 2)
Take-home exams
(Nordostasienkunskap 2)
Papers (Nordostasienkunskap 2, projektarbete)
Reviews and reflections (course-related books)
Word lists (Short-term Spoken Chinese volume 1-3)
A list of all posts related to Asienkunskap

Lecture notes for Nordostasienkunskap 2

What follows is transcriptions of fourteen lectures relating to East Asia held by Mats Anderson and Göran Lindgren in 2007 and 2008. The files are in Rich Text Format, in Swedish and provided as is, meaning that I take no responsibility whatsoever that the content is accurate, although I believe most of it is. Click on the titles to download the files.

Noa 2-1 – Kina 1
Noa 2-2 – Mentalitet
Noa 2-3 – Japan 1
Noa 2-4 – Japan 2
Noa 2-5 – Sydkorea
Noa 2-6 – Nordkorea
Noa 2-7 – Japan 3
Noa 2-8 – Ekonomi
Noa 2-9 – Kina 2
Noa 2-10 – Taiwan
Noa 2-11 – Kina 3
Noa 2-12 – Kina 4
Noa 2-13 – Kina 5
Noa 2-14 – Japan 4
Noa 2-15 – Japan 5

Take-home exams

Noa 1 take-home exam – Take-home exams for our course in North-East Asian culture and history. They cover (among other things) Western imperialism, Korean history, the Meiji era in Japan, comparisons of different versions of events during the Long March in China, and an attempt to summarise Daoism. I received 91/100 on this course and Per Bäck earned 90/100.
Download my exam in Swedish (.rtf)
Download Per’s exam in Swedish (.pdf): part 1, part 2

Noa 2 take-home exam – Take-home exams for our course in North-East Asian recent history and politics. They cover (among other things) economy in the region as a whole, opposition parties in Japan, negative aspects of Chinese growth, Chinese system of guanxi, and politics in South Korea. I received 95/100 on this course and so did Per!
Download my exam in Swedish (.rtf)
Download Per’s exam in Swedish (.pdf): part 1, part 2

Paper (projektarbete)

Quo vadis, Taiawn?– Since I knew suspected I might be leaving for Taiwan later that year, I decided to write my paper about the election held in March 2008, which in many ways can be said to have been a crossroads in Taiwanese Cross-Strait (i.e. dealing with mainland China) politics. The title is Quo vadis, Taiwan? and the paper was written during and slightly after the elections were held. I received full points for this assignment.
Read more about Quo vadis, Taiwan?

Renminbi: Under värdering – This is a paper written by one of my friends, Per Bäck, who studied Asienkunskap at the same time as I did. It’s about the alleged under-evaluation of the Chinese currency (yuan or renminbi), a topic which was relevant then and is still debated hotly. Per also received full marks for this paper.
Download paper in Swedish (.pdf)

Course-related reviews and reflections

Miljoner sanningar – Per Bäck’s reflections on Linda Jakobsson’s book.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

The Journey to the West – My reflections on this classic by Wu Cheng’en. Probably not the pinnacle of reflective writing, but perhaps it might provide inspiration for someone. Note that the review and the document are complete different.
Download document in English (.rtf)
Read my review

Den törstige munken och hans dryckesbröder – Per Bäck’s reflections on this the first part of the Chinese classic 水滸傳. I’ll have to read it myself some day.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

China Candid – My reflections on this book by Sang Ye. Probably not the pinnacle of reflective writing, but perhaps it might provide inspiration for someone.
Download document in English (.rtf)

Röd åklagare – Per Bäck’s reflections on this book about crime, justice and corruption in China, written by Xiao Rundcrantz.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

One Man’s Bible – My reflections on this novel by Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, a lovely book which I highly recommend.
Read my review

Vitlöksballaderna – Per Bäck’s reflections on this book by Mo Yan, telling the story of a revolt in a small Chinese village. The farmer have been forced by the government to produce garlic, and when the garlic market collapses, the people decide that enough is enough.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

Mei Wenti! – My reflections on this Catharina Lilliehöök’s book about living in China, a book I found somewhat deterring.
Read my review

Word lists

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 youh aven’t changed already, you should do so now.

Short-term Spoken Chinese – Threshold, chapter 1-30 (汉语口语速成入门) – My lists of new words for ZDT (see the Tools section), sorted into categories, one per chapter of the book. I have often left out proper names and I take no responsibility whatsoever that the lists are correct (I doubt that there are many errors, though). Please use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Short-term Spoken Chinese – Elementary, chapter 1-25 (汉语口语速成基础)– Same as above, use at your own risk, but please report any errors you might find. Please note that proper names go in a separate category. Use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Technical Chinese – New words from our course in technical Chinese for ZDT – Includes basic vocabulary for math, chemistry, physics and biology. As for the lists above, use at your own risk, but please report any errors you might find. Please note that proper names go in a separate category. Use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Short-term Spoken Chinese (汉语口语速成) – Complete glossary for the first three volumes in .xls format, an outstanding word list compiled and contributed by Henrik Gustavson. Not only does it contain all the words for the first three volumes, but they are also neatly arranged in various useful ways. For the automatic generation of the lists to work, changes should be made in the tab named “kapitel”.
Download list (.xls)

Related posts

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Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsolete. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.

Most people who have studied a foreign language in a classroom situation (which should be most of us, I think) have depended on a series of textbooks, or a number of them, since different institutions and different levels might use different textbooks. The only situations I know of where textbooks aren’t used at all in a classroom are when the students have very special needs (no text book is applicable) or the students are too advanced. In these cases, the teacher might decide that the class is better off using a freer form of teaching. What I’m going to discuss here, mostly from a learner’s perspective, but also from a teacher’s, is the value of using additional textbooks as a resource for more comprehensive language learning.

Before even beginning to discuss the various benefits that using additional textbooks entails, it’s necessary to take a closer look at what a textbook can do in the first place. I’m convinced that textbooks are useful, but used alone, they will never lead to mastery of a language. Textbooks are good for a number of reasons. First, the authors have chosen vocabulary that they think is suitable for students. These lists are valuable, because the authors’ guesses are a lot better than yours and they also know not to use overly complicated language that might be a waste of time at a student’s particular level. Second, textbooks explain the language, which is crucial for some learners (myself included). I cannot simply learn a language efficiently only by everyday conversations, I need a top-down approach for some elements, including but not limited to grammar. That being said, there are of course lots of things textbooks can’t teach, but that’s not the subject of this article. Also, I should mention that I prefer as challenging environments as possible for my main courses, but that’s something completely different from what I’m talking about here.

Let us look closer at vocabulary for a moment, the essence of language learning. Repeating what I explained above, a textbook can be said to be the your guide in an unfamiliar landscape after having parachuted from the sky. It indicates a direction and leads you along a path of ever increasing difficulty as the topics gradually becomes more difficult as the starting point vanishes beyond the horizon behind you. However, you mustn’t fool yourself into thinking that being able to walk a distance in one direction means that you can do the same in another. A new language is a huge landscape and even the easier parts are vast. Approaching more difficult challenges doesn’t mean that the easier ones are all mastered. This is where additional textbooks come in, but before I explain how, I shall illustrate with an example.

Consider my Chinese studies. As textbooks, I’ve primarily used the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese (although I did use Short-term Spoken Chinese for my first year). This means than when I landed in alien territory, those books took me around a carefully guided tour, introducing various subjects and topics. Perhaps this guide also resulted in a false sense of security, because even though my vocabulary and grammar is now pretty advanced in some fields, I can fail very basic vocabulary tests for areas I simply haven’t visited yet (this is true for English as well, please don’t ask me about word for cooking or cars!).

So, how might additional textbooks be used here? The thing is that they constitute new and different guided tours through the landscape, which by now should be at least partly familiar. The vocabulary is chosen by different authors with slightly different perspectives, leading to another set of words somebody thinks you really should know. Of course, no author can include all words they want, so they have to choose, but if you choose more than one author, you can learn an enormous amount of extremely useful words (this also applies to grammar, but let’s continue using vocabulary as an example). The alternative would be to choose words that you encounter in everyday life, but they might be very far from universal or not even common at all; deciding which to learn and which to ignore is almost impossible. Since you can select textbooks already at your level or below, you can expand vocabulary and strengthen fundamental grammar in quite a relaxed manner.

Again returning to studying Chinese, I’ve recently started looking into a second series of text books called Far Eastern Everyday Chinese, which is the other major textbook series used in Taiwan, and I have also used Taiwan Today: An Intermediate Course (this was what gave the impetus that resulted in this article). All the chapters studied in these books can be said to be below my level of Chinese, but that’s the whole point. Studying these chapters, I found that I knew about two thirds of the words and most grammar, but the elements I didn’t know were truly interesting. The topics chosen in these books do of course differed from the ones in Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, so some specialised vocabulary were new (one book might have a chapter on going to the swimming pool, another about playing football, for instance). Some of these I could safely ignore, but I always found lots of words I didn’t realise I was lacking before I saw them, or expressions that are genuinely useful although I had never thought of them. Continuously reading more and more challenging texts is a very inefficient way of mastering basic language skills and doesn’t ensure a complete map of the most essential parts of a foreign language.

By way of conclusion, I would like to recommend people to use more than one textbook. You don’t necessarily need to study it carefully, but do at least make sure you know the grammar and the relevant words (ignore those that are too specific in areas you have no interest in). It’s an efficient way of strengthening basic language skills and makes sure that you cover as much of the truly essential language as possible. Which textbooks to use is of course impossible to give general advice about, but for Chinese, the Taiwan Today: An Intermediate Course is an excellent choice. Good luck!

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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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Important: This post is mostly obsolete. I no longer use ZDT and I see no reason that you should either. The words for these books are now available from within Anki, a program I think far superior to ZDT. The old lists will remain here, of course, but they won’t be updated.

I have now assembled all new words from the first three volumes of Short-term Spoken Chinese into two ZDT backup files ready to be imported for revision and reference. The volumes covered are for the second editions of Short-term Spoken Chinese: Threshold/Hanyu kouyu sucheng: rumen (汉语口语速成入门) and Short-term Spoken Chinese: Elementary/Hanyu kouyu sucheng: jichu (汉语口语速成基础). Please note that these word lists contain all words necessary to understand the texts, which means that they contain more that do the lists in the books. Up to and including chapter 12 also cover new words in the grammar sections as well.

I take no responsibility whatsoever that these lists of words are correct, but I highly doubt that there are many errors, since I have used them to revise for my own exams. However, should you find anything wrong, please let me know so that I can correct the mistake.

The translations were made in many different ways. If applicable, the included “CEDICT” was used. If not applicable, I have used the excellent online dictionary Dict.cn. In rare cases when all else has failed, I have translated my teachers Swedish translations into English.

Please note that proper names are put in a separate category for Short-term Spoken Chinese: Elementary/Hanyu kouyu sucheng: jichu.

Words from Threshold/rumen (71K)
Words from Elementary/jichu (86K)

Update: The word lists have been moved, but the links should now be working properly again.

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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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