On my journey to learn Chinese, I struggled a great deal with finding an effective, structured approach towards progress. A lot of my time was spent searching for and experimenting with the free, and sometimes paid, online resources like ChinesePod. These resources proved to be invaluable as a beginner, but their random nature often left me with huge gaps in my conversational Mandarin Chinese.
In my previous posts, I recommended using these types of lessons to get started. I also recommended using these types of lessons while learning pinyin and while starting to learn Chinese characters. But, if you’ve followed my advice up until this point, it’s time to add some structure to your studies. There are a lot of ways to do this, but one particularly effective approach is to pick up a good Chinese textbook.
The best Chinese textbook will meet the following criteria:
- Materials are focused on subjects that will be frequently brought up in conversations and in various forms of media.
- Covers the highest frequency vocabulary, phrases and grammar first.
- The vocabulary, phrases and grammar covered will be immediately useful
- Provides cultural notes when appropriate to help the learner avoid common cultural/language pitfalls
- Provides some entertainment value so the learner can actually get through the materials without falling asleep
A quick search on Google will reveal the dozens of Chinese textbooks available, most all of which have mixed ratings. In forums, it seems that most learners just used whichever textbook their teacher or friend recommended. So, as a beginner its quite difficult to discern which of these is the best Chinese textbook to get started with, especially since there are dozens on the market.
Choosing the best Chinese textbook
Over the years, I personally ended up using about 8 different Chinese textbook series. But, of all the Chinese textbooks I’ve used and discussed with fellow learners, two series seem to stand out: Integrated Chinese and Practical Chinese Reader.
While the Practical Chinese Reader series covers a lot of really useful key phrases and grammar in great detail, it often fails to keep my attention and has been described by others as “painfully boring”. Worse than that though, it covers a great deal of incredibly low-frequency vocabulary. That is, unless you regularly discuss things like Tibet’s topography and/or Chinese folklore.
On the other hand, Integrated Chinese provides fairly entertaining lessons about highly relevant content. Also, most new vocabulary is introduced in order of frequency. All in all, almost everything covered in this series will be immediately usable in conversation and each lesson builds upon the previous in a logical fashion.
What you should do now
1. Pick up a Chinese textbook. My recommendation is Integrated Chinese
2. If you’re using Skritter, add the vocabulary from your textbook to your study list.
3. Start studying! Then, come back here in a few days to catch my next post in the series : )