You have been learning Chinese for a few months and you still don’t know whether you are approaching the subject right. You have trouble remembering the pronunciation of new vocabulary that you’ve learned, even though you repeated it correctly after your teacher in class and they typed the words down with Pinyin and other pronunciation guides. You’ve passed HSK4 and wonder how you can improve from now on. If this sounds like you, then one of the book recommendations below will benefit you. Besides, you can also better understand the Chinese writing system.
What are the 6 best books to learn Mandarin Chinese
1. Best textbook for beginners who want to focus on daily conversations: Our Chinese Classroom published by Shanghai Translation Publishing House
The Our Chinese Classroom is a beginner (初级) series published in 2011 that comes in three books: book 1, 2, and 3. It’s designed especially for foreign workers and their families who’ve just relocated to a Chinese-speaking environment with the aim of getting a basic grasp of the language used in day-to-day scenarios in a short period of time. The book contains practical conversations with locals written in English, Japanese, and Chinese, accompanied by audio (which you can find for free online, message me for links). According to students, the content is also suitable for people who do not necessarily want to learn Chinese characters.
2. Best guide book for exam takers: HSK Standard Course published by Beijing Language and Culture University Press
The name says it all. The HSK Standard Course runs from book one to six just like the test and is authorized by the HSK testing authority, Hanban, also known as Confucius Institute Headquarters. Sourcing from real test papers, the books are 100% consistent with the syllabus of the exam and cover all its content. Famous as this series is, most Chinese teachers will have the teacher’s books to lesson plan with.
3. Best graded reader for pop culture enthusiasts who know around 1000-1200 characters: Chinese Biographies published by Cheng & Tsui
This graded reader series comes in six books and familiarizes you with some of the best-known pop culture icons of Chinese descent: Vera Wang, Yao Ming, Lang Lang, Jeremy Lin, Jay Chou, and Ang Lee. You can opt for with or without pinyin, and answer the pre-and post-reading questions to test your comprehension. According to the Boston-based independent publisher, the books also come with additional exercises and audio recordings to improve your grammar and vocabulary. I think this series can be a very fun material to work on with your iTalki teacher!
4. Best textbook for learners from or in the U.S.: Integrated Chinese published by Cheng & Tsui:
This book is co-authored by teachers and scholars in both China and the U.S. and is the designated textbook for learning Chinese at a lot of U.S. high schools and universities. You will find a lot of familiar themes in American life in this book: football, color-coded transportation lines, Chinatown, and language labs. This textbook is especially good at explaining grammar points within contexts. Since it’s written with American student learners in mind, the book also pays attention to how one might be affected by their mother tongue when they learn new vocabulary. For instance, the word “to drink'' can be an intransitive verb in English, meaning to consume alcohol, while the Chinese equivalent “喝” is always a transitive verb and cannot be used to mean drinking alcohol on its own.
5. Best textbook for children: Easy Steps to Chinese for Kids published by Beijing Language and Culture University Press
A best-seller in its category on Amazon, this color-book series aims to help children who are total beginners, especially those who are not heritage learners, to build a solid foundation for learning Chinese as a foreign language. Each lesson has a song using all the new words and sentence structures. The emphasis is on communications skills such as listening and speaking, though recognizing and writing characters are also introduced.
6. Best textbook for those looking to learn Chinese used in Taiwan: A Course in Contemporary Chinese published by National Taiwan Normal University
Though New Practical Audio-Visual Chinese is probably better known among non-native Mandarin Chinese learners in Taiwan, A Course in Contemporary Chinese is more up to date. (There are some word choice and accent differences between the Chinese language used in mainland China and that in Taiwan, like British English and American English, or even the regional differences within America. Do you call a can of carbonated beverage a soda, a pop, or a coke?) The first three volumes focus on the spoken language, which would be Mandarin, and the latter three on the written language, which would be Modern Standard Chinese in traditional characters. Traditional character fans, this one's for you.
Tips for learning Chinese
Textbooks are not perfect, but they are the time-tested, proofread, and expert-reviewed essence of the studying of a language and cover all its basics. If you just want a quick answer to a question, asking the Internet or your friend is not a bad idea. But if you want a systematic foundation for your studies and a thorough understanding of the subject, there’s a reason why textbooks still exist. Even for learning to speak Chinese, textbooks are useful.
When I first started learning French, I could never understand the pattern behind certain pronunciation and grammar rules. I’ve asked more than a dozen native speakers, and most of the time they didn’t know either, having acquired their mother tongue naturally. Thanks to a textbook written for grammar and pronunciation sticklers like myself, I learned all the phonemes in French and their corresponding IPA symbols which I could refer back to, and the difference between a liaison and an enthaînement which allowed me to understand connected words in a speech better. I gave the book a try because it was circulating on the Internet, but unexpectedly, I found answers to many unresolved questions of mine from class and independent study.
So how to supplement a good book and make your study plan whole? The key is interaction. You have your book and the input, now you will need output and feedback. Practicing with someone like a Chinese teacher on iTalki is a great idea because since they work with you one-on-one outside of a traditional institution, they can tailor the lesson to your needs and pace. Trust me, almost all the teachers here would be happy to work with you with your own book material!
Most of us just google and read up a random article online when we need to brush up on a topic, but for those who have the patience and the will, books are usually more solid, authoritative, and thorough versions of such pieces of content that have been searched engine optimized to grab your clicks. The best part is, books also tend to pique your interest in areas that you didn’t know you would be and motivate you to research and look further. A good book will also gradually guide you in your learning journey and prepare you for more in-depth grammar and cultural knowledge that you will encounter in the future. Just like teachers, there is a book for everyone. If you speak English, you probably have an overwhelming advantage in finding resources for learning other languages. You are more than welcome to book a lesson with me here as well: www.italki.com/teacher/5763961. I will help you learn Chinese online with interest and ease.