Book review: Chinese for Beginners

Chinese for Beginners is an introductory book for busy learners starting out with Chinese. I previously enjoyed using its Korean language counterpart by the same publisher (reviewed here). What follows is my review of the Chinese version.

Easy-to-follow structure

The book is split into 16 chapters with a couple of dialogues for each. The situations given are typical for a beginner course, ranging from greeting a new person in Chinese to eating in a restaurant.

Full of interesting cultural information

I really liked how the book is packed with cultural details. It’s a nice touch that gives you some background knowledge about Chinese culture. Indeed, I was impressed to see Chinese poems from the Tang dynasty appearing at the end of most chapters! The below is a famous example from chapter 1 of the book:

Thoughts for a Quiet Night – Li Bai

The bright beams shine

across my coverlet,

Reminding me of frost

covering the ground.

I gaze up at the bright moon,

then bow my head,

And suddenly think of home.

Of course, the book includes the Chinese for the poem. The audio for is also included on the attached CD. Very cool.

Basic grammar notes

There are also some notes explaining new language points, but I thought these could have been a little more detailed. It’s a little bit curious that while the cultural sections are packed with information, the authors are relatively silent regarding explanations of the various linguistic patterns. That said, this may be a positive point for newbies who are easily overwhelmed by technical explanations and who would prefer a simpler book.

Other details

Chinese for Beginners retails at $12 on Amazon and comes with a CD with 190 audio files included – very reasonable as language books go. Interestingly, there is also a Kindle version available with the audio available for download online. Up until now, not many publishers of language resources have gone the e-book route, but perhaps this is a sign of more to come. My long-suffering bookshelf certainly hopes so.

Conclusion

All in all, I found Chinese for Beginners to be a gradual but useful introduction to the Chinese language. It’s not going to take you to an advanced level, but it’s a good start for learners who like to take things a little more slowly and would like a glimpse into Chinese culture.

If you want something a little more challenging, I recommend picking up the excellent Assimil Chinese course. That’s all for now. Watch this space for more reviews of Chinese learning materials in future!

Full disclosure: We received a free review copy of Chinese for Beginners from Tuttle Publishing. If you have also used this resource, why not leave your review in the comments below? We’d love to hear your opinions!

We are planning several updates for the site in the near future. Like us on Google Plus or Facebook to stay in touch with what we are doing!

Assimil: An underrated gem for Asian languages

As far as I’m concerned, Assimil is one of the best kept secrets in language learning. They offer materials for a number of Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Thai.

I was first introduced to Assimil by Professor Arguelles, who claims to have extensively used their courses to achieve a grounding in a multitude of languages.

Largely unknown in the English-speaking world

If you have ever been to a bookshop in France, then you will know that Assimil titles can be found there in abundance. Their unavailability in stores across the UK and US is a crying shame because Assimil produce some excellent courses for the independent learner. There is a certain French academic rigor to their books with no dumbing down permitted.

Great dialogues

Assimil seem to create more interesting and realistic dialogues than other publishers. I was especially impressed by the quality of the conversations in their Japanese course (see below).

Helpful explanations

Perhaps my favorite thing about Assimil is the detailed notes which are placed on an adjacent page to the dialogues. They are well-written and to the point, so you easily pick up tons of cultural and grammatical knowledge. It’s nice to be treated like an adult for a change, with new items explained properly, but not too much that you get confused.

Logical progression

Assimil’s courses progress in a systematic manner with acquired knowledge being built upon later. What you learn today will be used again tomorrow and next week. This is a common factor shared with other good courses such as MT and Pimsleur.

I have successfully used both volumes of the Chinese with Ease course. The content is a little basic but the dialogues are both humorous and of high quality. You can pick up a brand new copy for only $50. Check it out here.

Assimil have also produced a course for learning to write Chinese characters but I have yet to check it out for myself.

I have not personally used Japanese with Ease, but I got my dad onto it. He has been learning some basic Japanese for his annual trips to visit me here in Tokyo. According to him, a combination of this course and Michel Thomas have been very helpful. He still can’t remember how to say “Gochiso sama deshita” to save his life though.

I have listened to the Japanese dialogues and they are extremely authentic. None of the stilted, oversimplified crap you often find in audio courses produced by publishers in the UK and US (sorry guys). It’s impressive how far they take you by the end of the course. Some of the points covered took me years of living in Japan to understand! It would have been a much faster process for me if I’d had this course at my disposal. Highly recommended.

Unfortunately, the Assimil Korean Course is only available in French. If you have a decent base in Korean then you may still find it useful. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, it will also help you brush up your high-school French too! By the way, the “Sans Peine” (literally “Without Pain”) series is the equivalent of the English “With Ease” courses.

After a business trip to Southeast Asia sparked my interest, I have recently started on learning some basic Indonesian. Assimil was naturally the first course I turned to and it has delivered so far. Again, it is only available in French but give it a shot if you fancy a challenge or simply want to show off in front of your friends!

Thai is another language that has long been on my wish list. I will definitely pick up the Assimil Thai course if and when I decide to learn Thai. Too many languages, too little time!

That is all for today. Do you know of any other high quality courses for Asian languages? Let us know in the comments!

We know you are on the edge of your seats for the next update. Follow Perapera Language Tools on Google Plus or on Facebook to get notification when new plugin improvements/language articles are released. Cheers!

Two great Chinese readers

1. Chinese Breeze

This is a great choice for those starting out reading Chinese. The Chinese Breeze Graded Reader Series was recommended by one of our users in response to our best Chinese books post and I have to say that I am really impressed with it so far. It is published by the Peking University Press. I bought a load of these books during a recent trip to China although it is also available on Amazon and other sites. There are 8 levels in total with level 1 covering 300 characters and level 8 apparently going up to 3500!

The Breeze series is fun and conversational with the audio included on a CD so you can listen while you read. There is both a slow and normal speed audio track for each story which is pretty awesome for building up listening comprehension. One gripe is that there is no pinyin included so it can take me a while to look up the readings for some of the unknown words. Most of the stories are easy to follow though and are much more engaging than the stories in your average readers. It feels like you are reading a real story for entertainment rather than just studying.

2. Beijing Language and Culture University Press Series (Chinese name)

The second series of readers I want to cover is by the Beijing Language and Culture University Press. This series is also a solid choice for improving your Chinese reading although it is much more difficult and more academic than the Chinese Breeze readers. Each book is a series of essays on a given topic such as being a foreign professional working in China. I find myself constantly looking up the new vocabulary. On the plus side, the topics are also pretty interesting and the pinyin equivalents are given for the content covered.If you are looking for some challenging content to read this is a good choice but it is definitely not for beginners.

 

Perapera makes its way to Chrome!

Featured

Thats right, surprise! I have actually been working on this and a pre-release version is now finished and available to download on the Chrome extension site. You can get it here:

Perapera Chinese for Chrome

Yes its only Chinese for now, and some features are missing, but let’s not dwell on whats missing. The main functionality is there and the new themes as well. Features will be added one by one until it is on par with the Firefox version. Install now and you will receive all those updates automatically as they are added. We look forward to your feedback!

We plan to expand this site significantly in the coming weeks and months. Like our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest updates!

Perapera Chinese 9.0 Finished!

You asked for it and now it’s here. After being out for most of the past 6 weeks, finally had some time to sit down and finish the Perapera Chinese 9.0 update. The main update, as expected, is the ability to customize the tone colors. The default ones I put in there were what showed up on my Pleco app, but I know people wanted to use other colors as well, so here it is:

Also in this update:

  • Latest entries from the CC-CEDICT as of 1/7/12
  • Fixed the clipboard copy bug to now copy what you would expect
  • Removed some lingering references to the lookupbar which has long since been removed
It is the Mozilla extension review queue, so should be updating for everyone very soon. Look forward to your feedback!
Update: It’s now approved and available here.

Perapera Chinese 8.0 now live!

The updated version of the Perapera Chinese pop-up dictionary and study tool is finally out and available for Firefox! Download it here.

Basic Features

With Perapera Chinese, you use your mouse over any Chinese words on a webpage and it gives you the pronunciation and definition. English, German, & French dictionaries; Pinyin and Zhuyin supported; Simplified or Traditional characters. You can also save and export words for studying later!

Dictionaries

The plugin comes with Chinese-English already installed, but you can install additional dictionaries with the following links:

How to use

Will be uploading a video later explaining how to use the plugin.

Other Details
  • If you have more than one dictionary, you can cycle through with the SHIFT key
  • Supports Simplified and Traditional characters (display either or both)
  • Pinyin with tone numbers or tone marks or Zhuyin (Bopomofo) for pronunciation
  • Shows the Hanzi using tonal colors (one color for each tone) to aid memorizing
  • Save words to a manageable Wordlist and export them later to Anki etc. for studying

We plan to expand this site significantly in the coming weeks and months. Like our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest updates!

Our 10 best books for learning Chinese

Continuing the book collecting obsession into my Chinese studies, I have amassed around 20 books and courses in Chinese over the past 3 years. Of the ones I’ve purchased, borrowed, or been recommended by friends studying in China and Taiwan, here are what I can say are quality and useful to others.

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide

If you buy only one book for Chinese, get this one. Easily the best book I have found for everything. It is split into two parts, Part A for the structure of Chinese and explaining all the grammatical features, and Part B for situational Chinese like how to describe things etc. Explanations are solid, provides tons of example sentences and everything is in Simplified and Traditional characters.

Practical Audio-visual Chinese (Traditional)

My friend in Taiwan swears by this series and he used this at his language school when he studied in Taiwan. He was on book 3 and was at a very impressive level of Chinese. Comes with CDs and has workbooks if you want them. Only Traditional characters and starts with teaching you Zhuyin, but also has all the sentences in Pinyin as well. I am on book 3 now also and have to say it is my favorite course book.

Colloquial Chinese: The Complete Course for Beginners

This was actually the first book I used for Chinese that a friend recommended when I was starting out. A solid beginner course that is lesson based and comes with CDs. Spent a good bit of time with the pronunciation using this one. Another good option if you are looking for a starter course. Also has an intermediate book as well in the series.

New Practical Chinese Reader: Textbook 1

If you want more of a course-type book this series is a good introduction. I did the first book in their series using Simplified Characters. Concise and nicely organized. Would recommend it as your first introduction to Chinese and Chinese characters. Especially good if you like the dialog lesson format. Comes with CDs.

Conversational Chinese 301

Bought this one when I was in China. It goes at a faster pace than the above course, but would still say it is good for beginners. Either one of these are a good introduction course. No CD though, so take that into consideration.

The Michel Thomas Method: Speak Mandarin Chinese For Beginners

For working on speaking this is probably the best starter course. Harold Goodman does a good job of introducing the tones with concept of colors as an aid for remembering them. I love the Michel Thomas method and have used this series for other languages as well (French, Russian and German!).

Pimsleur Chinese

Pimsleur courses tend to be a little slow for my tastes, but if you are looking to learn a language while exercising or driving this would be the one to get. If you are sitting down and can focus, Michel Method is better and will get you to think more about what you are saying, while Pimsleur kind of hypnotizes you into memorizing, and that’s better than nothing when you cant devote all of you attention.

Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters

I don’t actually own this book but I’m a big fan of the method and used it to learn all the Kanji in Japanese with the original “Remembering the Kanji” book by the same author (see my Japanese book reviews). Comes in Simplified or Traditional versions.

Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters

Since I did Japanese before Chinese, I had already done my time learning 2000 characters, so I don’t actually own this one either. My friends at a language school love it though, and the method sounds very similar to the “Remembering the Hanzi” mnemonic system. So I would just pick either one and stick with it.

Chinese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide

A good overview of the Chinese language. I personally would buy the Modern Chinese Grammar over this one if I could only choose one, but that one can be intimidating since it is rather thick and does read a bit like a textbook with alot of explanations using grammatical terms. If that puts you off and you want a gentler overview of Chinse, but still with solid content, I would recommend this one.

Perapera Chinese 8.0 Submitted!

If Firefox can do it than so can we, announcing Perapera Chinese 8.0!

<rant target=”Firefox”>
It has been a struggle with Firefox over the past year with them releasing a new update every week that breaks this plugin. What was once great browser, I personally find now to be extremely annoying, and this latest penis envy pissing contest that Mozilla has where they have to release a new version every week because Chrome has passed them in a meaningless version number is absolutely absurd. Nobody cares what version you are. That thinking is so old, and you should just stop it because you will feel really dumb when you are blasting adds everywhere for Firefox 27 and nobody cares.
</rant>

OK rant is over. I wanted to say I just submitted the new version of Perapera Chinese (version 8.0) to Mozilla for approval, so everyone should be getting that update automatically very soon. For Japanese the update will come shortly after. Many bugs and broken things are now fixed, and of course some great new features as well. We have been working hard here over the last month to get this out the door, and are pleased to announce this next step in our vision for this plugin. We are also pleased to announce that the team is now more than just 1 person and we have a renewed commitment to this project going forward. We will be releasing updates to all the dictionary files every month with all the new entries and definitions.

Here are a summary of the new features and some teaser screenshots:

The plugin comes with Chinese-English already installed, but you can install additional dictionaries with the following links:

  • Chinese-German HanDeDict Dictionary (optional)
  • Chinese-French CFDICT Dictionary (optional)
  • If you have multiple dictionaries, you can cycle through them with SHIFT key
  • Supports Simplified and Traditional characters (display either or both)
  • Pinyin with tone numbers or tone marks or Zhuyin (Bopomofo) for pronunciation
  • Shows the Hanzi using tonal colors (one color for each tone) to aid memorizing
  • Save words to a manageable Wordlist and export them later to Anki etc. for studying

We will have a YouTube video up in a few days showcasing the features and showing how to use.

Showing Simplified and Tradition characters, using Hanzi Tonal Colors and Pinyin w/ Tone Marks. New “Charcoal” theme.
Showing Simplified and Tradition characters, using Hanzi Tonal Colors and Pinyin w/ Tone Marks. New “Sepia” theme.

Earthquakes, China, and FF 4.0

Hey guys, sorry for such a delay in getting at least a beta out for version 4.0. Live in Japan and everyone I know was ok thru the earthquake, but I did lose my computer. It did a backflip off the desk and was shattered on the floor when I got home.

Shortly after the earthquake I had a long planned business trip to China which I extended to wait out the Fukushima concerns a bit, and just got back last week.

This FF4.0 compatible release is really nothing fancy and I just know the essentials work, so cant guarantee it will work so great but at least its something to use until there I get the time to make it work proper (sometime after I get a new computer).

In other news I will be open sourcing this and making a Github project for it, so if anyone would like to work together to improve this or add other languages etc, let me know.

In FF4.0, here’s where you would find the Perapera-kun icon:

Step1: Right click on the toolbar and click “customize”


Step 2: Drag the Perapera-kun icon over to the toolbar.