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Teach Yourself Chinese by Elizabeth Scurfield

by Luís

We all know that books from the Teach Yourself series are usually quite different from each other, because of the different authors they have. Some are naturally better than others, as one would expect. This is perhaps one of the best I've seen so far. The explanations are clear and simple and there are a lot of exercises to practice what you've learned.

This book is ideal for beginners, since it starts explaining everything from scratch and without making it very complicated. You can also decide if you want to learn the script or not. There is an introduction to pinyin at the beginning and everything in the book is written in it, so you can use it to practice your conversational Mandarin without bothering to study the complicated script.

The first lessons include pinyin and English translations, while from lesson 13 onwards, you are introduced to the Chinese script and every lesson is then presented in Chinese characters, pinyin and English. If you're particularly interested in writing/reading the characters, you can find all the previous 12 lessons written in characters at the end of the book, which means you can come back and practice what you've learned before, now in the Chinese script.

Each time new vocabulary is introduced, you are given the stroke order of each character. That is very important for someone who wants to learn how to write Chinese properly. At the end of the book you can also find some extensive vocabulary lists containing all the words used throughout the book. Exercises are pretty much traditional: fill-in-the-gap, translate from and to Chinese and the like. They could be more interesting, but overall they provide you with a good resource for testing what you've learned in the lesson.

The audio cassettes that come with the book are a precious help, especially when we're dealing with such a different language as Mandarin Chinese. If you want to get the tones and the sounds in general right, you'd better pay attention to the speakers on the tapes. They are native speakers and at the beginning they speak in a slower than normal speed. You'll notice that they increase the speed of speech as you progress. You'll be understanding spoken Chinese in just a matter of time! However, the sounds on the tapes don't always follow the schemes on the book and sometimes it's difficult to find out where the things they are saying are written in the book, since there's absolutely no indication whatsoever. This is even worse when it comes to the oral exercises.

A good complement to this book could be Teach Yourself Chinese Script, from the same author. With this and a good dictionary you can certainly learn a bit of Chinese and enjoy the wonders of this marvelous language. Overall, I rate it 3.5/5.

Written by Luís

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Originally published in Babel Babble