Let’s face it.
Learning Chinese on your own isn’t easy.
Where do you begin?
Where do you get explanations for concepts you don’t understand?
Clearly, there’s a lot that can go wrong when learning Chinese.
This is where a good textbook can help.
Why Reading Textbooks Can Help You Learn Chinese
Here are a few reasons why it’s worth checking out textbooks.
A good textbook:
- Provides you with a framework for learning. If you’re trying to learn the language for the first time, you’ll probably not know where to start. Most of you will feel lost. Some of you will even think of just giving it up. Chinese textbooks give us the much needed guidance that we may not have any access to. These allow us to start with the fundamentals and guide us to expound on that knowledge. You can’t immediately jump to sentences and phrases without understanding the structure of the language. These books will allow you to learn the Chinese language one step at a time.
- Helps you be familiar with the characters. Chinese mandarin is one of the most beautiful languages in the world because of its unique set of characters. But it is also for this reason that a beginner will find it a challenge to grasp everything. Some characters have more strokes than the rest. Most textbooks will teach you the importance of each stroke like how a character’s meaning can change just by removing a part of it.
- Teaches you the basics in pronunciation. One of the trickiest parts in learning Chinese is the difference in the words. Unlike other languages that use ABCs, it has a totally different alphabet. It’ll take some time getting used to. The good news is basic Chinese books have a corresponding pinyin of the characters. You’ll learn how to pronounce each character using the English alphabet.
- Enables you to appreciate the characters. With books, you’ll notice how each character is written. You’ll learn to appreciate the wisdom behind the writing. Every character is properly derived from the real thing. You’ll realize that how 口 (kŏu) is written is very similar to our open mouth or that 人 (rén) is similar to a walking stick person. It’s very fascinating and you’ll learn that there’s always a reason why the characters are written that way.
- Follows your desired pace in learning. In contrast to having a tutor or enrolling in a program, books provide you an avenue for learning at your desired pace and level. Some of us find it difficult to learn a new language while others are still unsure if they’re serious about this. So books are the best way to get started, you don’t have to abide by a strict schedule or feel pressured. You can take it slow.
Tips on Learning Chinese Through Textbooks
Now that we’ve set those fears aside, here are a few tips you have to keep in mind.
- Follow the sequence. I’m sure some of you would want to skip the primary lessons and go straight to phrases that you can use in your business or in your travels. Don’t. You’ll find it harder to understand the characters. It’s best to start with the basics. Follow the flow of the textbooks. These are written in the way to help you out. The characters are slowly introduced to you and most books will use them again and again so you can clearly remember them. So don’t skip the lessons. Don’t jump to the middle. Understand the root words and the vocabulary first. It’ll help you better understand the other words.
- Learn the ABCs of Chinese. Before you learn the Chinese characters, get to know their alphabet first. Learn the sounds and the intonations through pinyin and zhuyin. You’ll be able to learn the characters better once you familiarize yourself with these pinyin and zhuyin.
- Do the exercises. Most textbooks have accompanying workbooks. Some have exercises at the end of the chapters. Make sure you do them. Don’t think that as long as you browse the lessons, you’ll easily remember the way the characters are written. That’s not true.
- Practice. Once you’ve mastered the basics, take time to use what you’ve learned in your everyday life. This will help motivate you to learn more. Once you see its practicality and the fact that you can now inject Chinese characters into your daily life, you’ll want to keep learning and keep practicing.
- Consider a variety of books. Different textbooks offer different advantages, and you can sometimes benefit from using more than one, or using a textbook alongside more specialized learning books. This is made easier with electronic learning materials and platforms. VitalSource, for example, specializes in e-textbooks, and studying with their Bookshelf app can save you time and money as well as offer you more flexibility in your learning.
- Learn 5 words a day. Take it slow until you get it. Learning is never done overnight. You’ll remember the words better when you learn a few words a day. You’ll get to understand them more.
Alright, perhaps the above tips confirm everything that you’ve been dreading. Learning Chinese will still take a lot of work.
If it makes you want to throw your hands up, there’s also another option: FluentU.
If you’d like the guidance of a textbook while using FluentU, you’ll be interested to hear that FluentU has flashcards for all of the popular textbooks.
And these aren’t just any flashcards. They are very detailed flashcards that include grammar patterns and carefully written explanations. They come with example sentences and pictures. And they’re interactive video flashcards.
All in all, this means that you can learn the vocabulary recommended by these textbooks, and along with that, learn them through fun videos. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
5 Best Chinese Textbooks
There are a lot of Chinese books out there so before you get lost in them, here are 5 of our favorite Chinese textbooks. The fact that they’re used in different parts of the world proves that they are effective for every Chinese learner out there. You’ll learn the characters, the pronunciation, the strokes and the sentence structures. Basically, these books provide you the much needed stepping stone towards your goal of mastering the language. But if you’re already an intermediate or advanced learner, check out the novels we’ve shared with you previously.
This book has a good command of the rules of pinyin. It gives you a solid foundation on the phonetics of the Chinese language. I like this one and I’m sure most of you will, too. You’ll understand the pronunciation of each character and the difference in the tones used. There are dialogues and grammar explanation in every lesson. This way, you’ll be familiarized with the practical side of the lessons. What’s nice about this book is that it’s available in both traditional and simplified Chinese so you can definitely take your pick.
This comes in six volumes but it’s available separately. These are written to accompany your progress as a Chinese learner from beginner to intermediate. You get to learn the language structure, conversation pieces and even get a peek into the culture of the Chinese. The lessons are focused on conversations but there is sufficient information regarding the grammar, writing and idioms.
The advantage of using this book is that you’ll get an in-depth understanding of each vocabulary. Other books included in the list provide sample sentences for select characters only but with this book, you’ll get to know how each character can be used in a sentence. The best part is that you can use of all the characters introduced here in your everyday life. Thus, it totally lived up to its title as practical.
This is another textbook that is leaning towards the practical uses of the Chinese language. All the vocabulary included can be used in your everyday conversations. If you’re looking for a book that will fit your needs when travelling to China then, this one’s for you. It contains the basic words and sentences used in self-introductions, time, dates, directions, transportation and dining out.
With this book, you’ll learn around 600 basic Chinese characters and how they are used in a sentence. You’ll learn the character pronunciation using pinyin. But if you’re looking for a complete background information on the tones and the Chinese culture, I suggest you skip this one and choose the first book in the list. But what’s nice about this is that the notes on grammar are brief but clear. There are sample dialogues and exercises included which will definitely teach you a lot about the Chinese language.
So there you have it. Just remember our tips, keep a positive learning attitude and start reading these Chinese textbooks. You’ll learn those characters in no time! Good luck!
And One More Thing…
If you like learning practical Chinese, then I would be remiss not to tell you more about FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks and turns them into Chinese learning experiences. It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Chinese language and culture. You’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos—like music videos (check out below the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”), dramas, TV shows and TV commercials:
FluentU makes these native Chinese videos manageable with interactive transcripts. Tap on any Chinese word to instantly look it up. All definitions have examples, and they’re written to help you understand how words are used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU’s learn mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. While answering questions, you can swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The most interesting part is that FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and it suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. Every user has a 100% personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.