chinese textbooks

8 Best Chinese Textbooks for Mandarin Learners

Learning Chinese on your own is not the easiest thing in the world.

But this is where a good textbook can help!

Read on to learn about the eight best Chinese textbooks you can add to your library as a self-learner.


1. Best for Beginners: Integrated Chinese Integrated Chinese 4th Edition book cover

This book has a good command of the rules of pinyin, giving you a solid foundation on Chinese phonetics.

You’ll understand the pronunciation of each character and the difference in the tones used. There are dialogues and grammar explanations in every lesson. This way, you’ll familiarize yourself with the lessons’ practical side.

What’s nice about this book is that it’s available in both traditional and simplified Chinese so you can take your pick.

There are also separate workbooks that you can get to supplement the textbooks. The entire series contains four books, taking you from beginner to upper intermediate:

Integrated Chinese Volume 1

Integrated Chinese Volume 2

Integrated Chinese Volume 3

Integrated Chinese Volume 4

2. Best for In-depth Study: New Practical Chinese Reader new practice chinese reader level 1 chinese textbooks

The New Practical Chinese Reader books are written to take you from beginner to intermediate.

It’s slightly more advanced though than our previous option and it’s not as engaging. For this reason, we recommend it for more students who don’t mind less handholding in the study process!

You get to learn the language structure, practice with conversation pieces and get a peek into Chinese culture.

The lessons are focused on conversations with sufficient information regarding grammar, writing and idioms.

There are six books in the series:

New Practical Chinese Reader Level 1

New Practical Chinese Reader Level 2

New Practical Chinese Reader Level 3

New Practical Chinese Reader Level 4

New Practical Chinese Reader Level 5

New Practical Chinese Reader Level 6

3. Best All-in-one: Practical Audio-Visual Chinese practical audio chinese textbook

The advantage of using this book is that you’ll understand all the vocabulary in-depth.

Other books in this list provide sample sentences for select characters only, but with this book, you’ll know how each character can be used in a sentence.

The best part is that you can use all the characters introduced here in your everyday life. Thus, it lives up to its title as “practical.”

Plus, it’s one of the few books on this list that has everything in one volume: textbook, workbook, MP3 materials and teacher’s manual.

There are five books in the collection:

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Volume 1

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Volume 2

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Volume 3

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Volume 4

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Volume 5

4. Best for Practical Language: Chinese Made Easier chinese made easier textbook

This is another textbook that prioritizes teaching you 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 traveling to China, this one’s for you.

It contains the basic words and sentences used in self-introductions, time, dates, directions, transportation and dining out.

There are five books in this series:

Chinese Made Easier (Book 1)

Chinese Made Easier (Book 2)

Chinese Made Easier (Book 3)

Chinese Made Easier (Book 4)

Chinese Made Easier (Book 5)

5. Best for Exam Preparation: HSK Standard Course

If you’re planning on taking the HSK exam then this is the book for that. It was written using real exams and is highly recommended by those who are self-studying for the HSK.

The book is well-organized and the explanations are clear and easy to follow. Even if you’re not studying for the HSK, it’s perfect for beginners who want a book with a good structure and illustrations.

There are nine textbooks in the course series, as the higher levels have two books each. You can buy them with or without the workbooks, but we’ve linked them with the workbooks here:

HSK 1 Standard Course

HSK 2 Standard Course

HSK 3 Standard Course

HSK 4a Standard Course / HSK 4b Standard Course

HSK 5a Standard Course / HSK 5b Standard Course

HSK 6a Standard Course / HSK 6b Standard Course

6. Best for Concise Grammar: Colloquial Chinese

With this book, you’ll learn around 600 basic Chinese characters, how they are used in a sentence and character pronunciation using pinyin.

But if you’re looking for complete background information on the tones and the Chinese culture, I suggest you skip this one and choose the first book on the list.

What’s nice about this book is that the notes on grammar are brief but clear. There are sample dialogues and exercises included, which will teach you a lot about the Chinese language.

There are two books in the series:

Colloquial Chinese: The Complete Course for Beginners

Colloquial Chinese 2: The Next Step in Language Learning

7. Best for In-depth Grammar: Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar

This book is part of a series called Modern Grammars, which teaches grammar on the most spoken or popular languages such as French, Spanish, Korean and more.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on more standard grammar concepts such as word order and sentence structure.

The second part focuses on specific situations such as asking questions, making comparisons, apologizing and much more.

You can buy the book and the workbook separately:

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar Workbook 

8. Best for Characters In-depth: Fundamentals of Chinese Characters

If you really want to nerd out about Chinese characters, then this could be the book for you!

It’s a good option to use as a reference and if you truly want to understand how the characters are constructed.

This book explains the Chinese radicals in-depth, which are the building blocks of the Chinese characters as they’re used today. There are 214 radicals in total. This book also goes into stroke order

You’ll cover Chinese linguistics, so you can pair it with your other Chinese textbooks and use it as a supplementary guide.

How Chinese Textbooks Can Help You Learn Mandarin

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 Chinese for the first time, you probably don’t know where to start. Chinese textbooks give us much-needed guidance that we may not have access to without a teacher. These help us start with the fundamentals and guide us to expound on that knowledge, allowing you to learn Chinese one step at a time.
  • Helps you be familiar with the characters. Chinese is one of the most beautiful languages in the world because of its unique set of characters. But this is also why a beginner might find it challenging to grasp everything. Most textbooks will teach you the importance of each stroke, like how a character’s meaning can change by removing part of it.
  • Teaches you the basics of pronunciation. One of the trickiest parts of learning Chinese is the word difference. Unlike other languages that use the English alphabet, it has a completely different writing system. The good news is basic Chinese books have a corresponding pinyin of the characters, so you’ll learn how to pronounce each character using English letters.
  • Enables you to appreciate the characters. With books, you’ll notice how each character is written, allowing you to learn to appreciate the wisdom behind the writing. Every character is properly derived from the real thing. For example, (kŏu) is written like an open mouth and (rén) looks like a walking stick person.
  • Follows your desired pace in learning. In contrast to having a tutor or enrolling in a program, books provide 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, as you don’t have to abide by a strict schedule or feel pressured.

Tips on Learning Through Chinese Textbooks

Now that we’ve set those fears aside, here are a few tips 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 travels. But don’t. You’ll find it harder to understand the characters. It’s best to start with the basics and follow the flow of the textbooks, as understanding the root words and the vocabulary first will help you better understand the other words.
  • Learn the ABCs of Chinese. Before you learn the Chinese characters, get to know the alphabet first. Learn the sounds and the intonations through pinyin or Zhuyin.
  • Do the exercises. Most textbooks have accompanying workbooks or exercises at the end of the chapters, so take advantage of them!
  • Practice. Once you’ve mastered the basics, use what you’ve learned in your daily life. This will help motivate you to learn more.
  • Consider a variety of books. Different textbooks offer different advantages, and you can sometimes benefit from using more than one. Or, use a textbook alongside more specialized learning books. This is made easier with electronic learning materials and platforms, like Chinese e-books.
  • Learn five words a day. Learning is never done overnight. You’ll remember the words better when you learn a few of them per day. And when five words become too easy, add a few more to your daily word goal!
  • Don’t stop at just textbooks. Textbooks provide you with a much-needed stepping stone toward your goal of mastering the language. But they’re only a part of your learning, and studying exclusively with them will leave your skills uneven.

The best way to learn with textbooks is to accompany them with real Chinese media. This way, the textbook will teach you the concepts, while the media will help you understand how to actually use them like a native speaker.

For instance, you can learn about a certain sentence construction in your textbook, then look for it in a Chinese novel. Or you can take those five new words you learned and see them used in context with FluentU‘s library of over 1,000 authentic Chinese videos.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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So there you have it. Remember these tips, keep a positive attitude and start reading these Chinese textbooks.

You’ll learn those characters in no time!

And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

FluentU's Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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