A Guide to the Best Book to Learn Chinese
You might wonder what’s the best book to learn chinese? With so many books around, it is really difficult to know where to start. Here is my list of books you should have to learn chinese properly.
But before we go into the kinds of book to learn chinese, the first question is what is your expectation..
Table of Contents
1. What is your vision?
It is crucial to define what you want before you even start learning chinese. Otherwise, you will waste many hours and years doing something that might not be suited for you.
1.1. What is your scope?
Because the number of chinese characters one can read and manipulate define your level, it is important that you know how many chinese characters you want to handle. To give you an idea of what you can accomplish depending on the numbers of characters you can handle, take a look at the table below:
|TOTAL CHARACTER TARGET||5 Characters a day||10 Characters a day||What you can handle:|
|1,000||200 days||100 days||90% of chinese newspapers|
|2,000||400 days||200 days||Magazines|
|5,000||1,000 days||500 days||Bi-lingual|
Learn Chinese for beginners: a map
1.2. What you can expect?
As you can see, with 1,000 characters you can read and handle more than 90% of chinese newspapers. I talk in terms of characters and the ability to read, as the ability to speak is the easiest of the lot to handle. You just need to expose yourself to a chinese environment for a while and you will be able to speak. However, that will be a short illusion because as soon as you will leave that environment, your speaking level will take a huge dive. And since you would not have had spent time on the characters themselves, everything will be gone. On the other hand, if focus enough on the characters, you can still keep learning even if you are not in that chinese environment.
This road is clearly not the simplest, but it is the most rewarding. To be able to read and write in chinese is like going from a pair of eyes full of mud and fog, to having a clear vision of things around. Truly satisfying.
2. Book to learn chinese: the beginner’s guide
As a beginner, you can use this book to learn chinese: 汉语教程
It’s very well structured with the kind of conversations that befits someone starting. Moreover, you can learn to write chinese strokes in the right order. This part is essential if you want to build brain memory. If you just read the book to learn chinese, you will have problems once you stop reading for a while. A bit similar to the problem enumerated above when you only speak. Once you write, it is easier to read, write, memorise, and speak.
When I was in the university of traditional chinese medicine in shanghai, we used this book to learn chinese. For more details you can contact me.
2.2. Why can you use this book to learn chinese
The book includes pinyin, simplified characters and the English translation of the words taught. You get a good introduction in the way to pronounce the words correctly.
The only drawback in my view, is that it is too school orientated. They use a number of terms that chinese do not use such as 马马虎虎, or 你好; although the latter is a bit more used depending on the circumstances. This book comes handy with a cd. Moreover, if you watch the videos on YOUR FIRST 250 CHARACTERS, you will get a deeper understanding about chinese language. I know because I lived, worked and studied in china for nearly 10 years. After watching these free videos, you can start using this book. You can also use the book at the same time, as you have two sources with the same objective.
2.2.1. Use the free support with the book to learn chinese faster
I have to stress out the importance of learning the origins of characters in the long run. Most programs that teach “learn 100 phrases etc” or even universities, do no teach this. The problem is that, as you progress, you face a common problem. If you don’t learn every character by heart you forget them easily. However, when you learn their origins, you can easily remember them and guess the meaning of new ones, since they are set into families. For example, the characters related to sickness have similarities between themselves（病，疗，疫…）. 疒chuáng which is the radical, literally means sickness. 病，疫，疗, 瘦 are like members of the sickness family.
2.2.2. How good are you (好：Hǎo)? Quiz
Did you know that 好 represents a woman holding a child, and that’s the reason why it describes the word good. During the ancient times, if a woman could bear a child, especially a boy, this was considered a good omen.
3. Book to learn chinese the second level’s guide
After you feel comfortable dealing with the first few 100’s characters you can move to the next level.
I will still recommend the 汉语教程第二册, which follow from the first series. Additionally, there is listening and speaking 汉语口语 materials to support with your training. The levels intensify in comparison to the first series. You learn to use comparative sentence (bigger than etc..), indicate direction of an act, “not only…but also”, past experiences etc…
Despite the fact that it is still academically orientated, I would still recommend these second series of book to learn chinese.
I would also advise that you start stepping outside the school materials so that you can make use of the language effectively.
Materials you can use outside of the recommended books. Natives use this books to learn chinese as well. Contact us if you want to order these books. Alternatively, click on the link provided below to get directly to the content manufacturers.
4. Book to learn chinese: Intermediary level’s guide
These are the 3 series of book to learn chinese I would recommend:
· 中级汉语教程 – this is an intensive reading sets of books. At this stage you should be able to read, write and speak at a certain level. Unlike the previous two series; a minimum level of English is used. The texts are longer and more complicated. They start to give you an introduction into what real life chinese experience will be like. The focus is more into grammatically advanced materials such as 除了。。。以外 (In addition to or beside).
· 中级阅读 * 发展汉语 – this is another reading book that is really focused on reading. Unlike the previous book recommended above, this one has zero English text.
· 中级听力 * 发展汉语 – this is an advanced listening course that provide a cd and the corresponding texts.
5. Other ways to learn
If you made it that far, your level allows you some flexibility. At this stage, it is imperative that you step almost completely away from the study books, because you will find discrepancy between what they teach and the kind of chinese you have to face in real life. The key question is what book can you read to keep improving? Of course, there are many chinese books to choose from, but I found the best way to approach this step, was to read the articles of good magazines first.
5.1. What magazine
I recommend 三联生活周刊.This magazine is not easy to read but is rewarding. It’s great because they treat about subjects that are both local and international. And since they touch on a lot of topics from international politics, to economy, history and food you will find articles relevant to your level of interest. I learned more about Brexit, the attack in Paris; or MoMA from that magazine than from the newspapers; since international information was limited at the time in china.
5.1.1. What to expect
When you go after the content of this magazine, it will be like getting into the lion’s den. The first time I read an article from 生活周刊, it took me weeks just to finish one paragraph. Lots of these characters were new to me and I had also forgotten some of the ones I had learned. That’s why I truly recommend people to watch YOUR FIRST 250 CHARACTERS videos about the origin of characters. I also hope by now I have discouraged you from searching fast ways, 5 minutes a day potions， or other useless and disingenuous incantations that promise great chinese proficiency with minimal efforts. And that comes back to the very first point “What is your vision?”. If you just want to travel to china and find your way around check this article. But if you are serious, avoid these fast ways at all cost.
5.1.2. The extra boost
After you complete your first paragraph, your next challenge will be to read a full page. Since a page is the repetition of paragraphs, you now know it is achievable. But it won’t be easy. It will be easier. It will feel like going from 10 push-up to 100. Once you get anywhere near that 100 you know you have accomplished something great. Basically, you won’t be able to find two people like you in the vicinity.
5.2. What other book to learn chinese
Following the magazine experience, the next logical step will be to try and read a full book to learn chinese. Just as with the magazine, the ideal book is one that you know in your native language and that you love. Chances are you will find a chinese version of that book on website such as TAOBAO. You can use the support of apps such as XIMALAYA which is an audio book. You can guess how effective the combination of your favourite book in chinese text and in audio version can be for your progress. That is what I do with the book ‘100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE which is my ultimate favourite book. It is by no mean an easy task; and you will need to invest time and effort to achieve that level.
I tend to stay away from HSK level recommendation, even if the books I recommended will help.
6. What is the fastest way to learn chinese?
The fastest way to learn chinese depends on what you want to achieve. Assuming that you want to have a proficiency level that allow you to read, write and speak 1,000 characters, follow the list of books and the approach I cited above.
We are also creating a Hardcore Brain Fitness program where you will learn 1,000 chinese characters in 100 days. Personal investment of your time is the main input that will be requested from you. The realistic amount of time that you will need is 300 hours during that time. I know it’s far from the quick learning tricks many people have circulated, but it is realistic, based on my experience, plus the one of the local chinese who make this program.
7. Is it really hard to learn chinese?
This is a good question, and in my view the most appropriate answer is “Not if you take it as a jigsaw puzzle game (link to article)”. Mandarin chinese is complex, and this difficulty is exacerbated by the expectations many have of finding an easy way to learn fast. Instead, it’s better to think “I have a framework (e.g. 1,000 characters), I have great techniques from EAZZYCHINESE, I have great books to learn chinese and I will put the time. That equation will guarantee you success.
8. Can I learn chinese by myself?
Yes, it is possible to learn chinese by yourself; only if you have completed the first steps. In order to learn by yourself you should be able to handle seven to eight hundred characters and their grammar. Only then it is effective to learn by yourself. If you try to go at it alone too soon you will make common mistakes people without guidance make. You will spend lots of time to find the right contents; and every time you will have spent time on something bad, you will have wasted your efforts.