While the digital seems to have the wind in its sail, it’s taking a little longer for it to find its way into education. In fact, there are still echoes of “turn to page 44” in modern foreign language Mandarin lessons where students complete exercises out of printed textbooks rather than on iPads or digital whiteboards.

While the “early adopters” have completely embraced digital technologies, older methods are still proving themselves to be just as effective as they’ve always been when it comes to teaching the Chinese language.

If you're looking to take Chinese lessons, there’s still a plethora of books that can be used by beginners an intermediate or advanced student.

In this article, Superprof is going to look at a few books that you should consider buying when you learn Chinese. Since some of these books can assist you to speak Chinese, some focus on traditional Chinese characters and writing, and some are full of useful for anyone looking to move to Mainland China or Taiwan, there should be at least one title in this list that you find useful.

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The Range of Chinese Books for Beginners Learning Mandarin Chinese

Without the assistance of their classmates, bloggers, or YouTubers, a Chinese student could end up lost in a book shop, where looking for a quality book on Chinese is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack.

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Certain books can make you want to learn Chinese even more! (Source: pixabay.com)

The sheer quantity of books for learning Chinese is so large that great caution should be taken in order to ensure that you don’t end with a piles of useless books on Chinese cluttering up your house.

It’s also  important that every student chooses the right text for learning Standard Mandarin Chinese since they’ll probably keep referring back to it throughout their language learning adventure.

If you spend more time studying Chinese online than you do in front of a Chinese text, you should also check out our favourite sites.

中文听说读写| Integrated Chinese

Integrated Chinese (3rd Edition) is a textbook written by Yuehua Liu and published by Cheng & Tsui. This book is highly recommended by Chinese professors and students alike and while it's probably a bit dry for some learners, it does have almost everything you’ll want to know about Chinese. While it doesn't focus heavily on pinyin, this is good for your reading, as a beginner or intermediate student, and will show you the key components of simplified Chinese through a pedagogy that reads like a story, as this text imbues elements of Chinese culture simultaneously. This is also one of the best books to have in stock as its approach to vocabulary and grammar is to break it down lesson by lesson, and give special emphasis to the tones related to each character, as well as useful tips to aid you to understand and memorise them.

How can you learn to read Chinese characters?
Learning to read and write in Chinese is far from as easy as ABC. (Source: pixabay.com)

The publication is highly rated on Amazon (between 3.5 and 5 stars, depending on the version) and though the paperback version might not be free (around $100), this is to be expected for a language textbook, and is worth the price. Unfortunately, if you’re wanting to do the audio exercises and any extra study, you’re going to have to pay extra for the CD or audio which can set you back an extra $60 or so, too. Ouch!

With all that said, this is a resource that you’ll be able to keep referring back to every time you need to refresh the basics. The blend of online and student led, written and speaking based learning will add immense value to your Chinese language learning story, as well as giving you confidence in reading by yourself. It’s perfect for those just starting out in Chinese, getting used to Chinese characters, how they’re written, and how to use them, and anyone preparing to stay in China (or any other Chinese-speaking country) for an extended period who needs to familiarise themselves with the basics of the language. And whilst this resource is a great start for learning how to read, write, and speak with confidence for a beginner, it's also one of the best for an intermediate student, as the transition from a beginner level is palpable throughout your study.

Chinese for Dummies

Never underestimate the “Dummies” series of books. The version on learning Mandarin Chinese by Wendy Abraham is worth picking up and is a bargain at $33 in paperback on Amazon (and for only a couple of bucks if you’re happy to buy a used copy!). Aimed at absolute beginners, the text can teach you how to have everyday conversations, get to grips with the tones used in Chinese, and get around in China. With an easy to understand pinyin interface, this textbook introduces you the art of character writing over time, taking a more traditional approach to helping English language students understand what the meaning of the word is in the context of mainland Chinese culture, and the role of Mandarin in day to day life. Its approach to study is to encourage you to practice vocabulary and grammar, and memorise these by subject area, giving you simplified help to associate the correct character with each term.

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Putting together words in Chinese may take you longer than it did in English. (Source: pixabay.com)

Furthermore, the accompanying CD can aid you to listen to actual Chinese being spoken by native speakers and help you to train your ear to the tones. It's great for anyone getting ready to go to China as it covers all the basics that you’ll need from the second you get off the plane.

Additionally, it also covers customs and taboos, meaning that you’ll not make any embarrassing errors and nor will you offend anyone when you go to China.

You should also consider buying the book of Chinese expressions for dummies.

新实用汉语课本 | New Practical Chinese Reader

Arguably the most well known Chinese language coursebook, this is aimed at a student at beginner level, but has several books in the series to enhance their learning further as they progress to intermediate and advanced. It's also a reasonably average price for a textbook and workbook combination, at around $100 on Amazon. While there isn’t much difference between the first and second editions in terms of content, the second edition has changed the layout slightly. The current one you're likely to find is the third addition, which factors in more technical terms relevant to the online age, and can prompt you to find ways of learning that are more efficient.

You’ll be able to get both the text and workbook for under $40 if you're happy with the first or second edition but obviously, do not buy a used version of the workbook as you’ll not be able to use it! The workbook is something crucial to add to your learning, as this is the main way to improve your writing skills and consolidate your new  vocabulary understanding in practice.

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar (Modern Grammars)

This book  series written by Claudia Ross and published by Routledge might end up being your Chinese grammar bible. It’s an invaluable resource that covers every single aspect and element of Chinese grammar as well as the inevitable exceptions to the rules that can sometimes have you tearing your hair out. This book is better than your average similar textbook and at around $85 new, you can’t afford not to pick up a copy to add to your Chinese library. As morphosyntax doesn't change that much over time, you might want to get an older but just as valuable edition, which costs noticeably less at $65. This is truly indispensable, as we've mentioned, for individuals who need to get their head around complex topics, and need the extra practice, as this resource acts as a way to put the skills that you acquire throughout your Chinese education to use, in a variety of contexts that your main books may not have shown you.

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500 Common Chinese Idioms

Once you move towards an intermediate or advanced level of Chinese, your interest in the nuances of the language shall inevitably be piqued. If that’s the case, this text details Chinese idioms alongside their English translations and explanations. The disparity between the cultures isn't as big as many people may think, especially considering the large interaction that exists between China and Australia. Despite the large and important role of the Chinese diaspora in Australia, there are still deep seated nuances that can be misunderstood, and this book is fantastic for helping an English speaker comprehend how and why certain phrases exist, and their importance in the context of society.

This resource is an exceptional way to refine your spoken Chinese by correctly using Chinese idioms which are an important part of the Chinese linguistic landscape.

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If you want to improve your comprehension of written Chinese, you're going to have to read. (Source: pixabay.com)

While it’s a little pricier than some of the other books in this list (a paperback copy is around $85, and new hard copy $235!), it’s certainly worth the investment if you feel your Chinese is starting to plateau and you'd like to make your conversations with Chinese people more diverse. The focus on the idiomatic element is quite rare, therefore getting your hands on a book that fills this niche will benefit you greatly since it enriches the cultural approach, and can make you sound more fluent, more quickly.

You may prefer to learn Chinese with these videos...

Niubi!: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School

Continuing on in the vein of cultural nuance, this book includes all the dirty words, slang, and colloquial Chinese you could ever want. While it won’t make you able to write essays at university, if could do wonders for your spoken Chinese in casual social situations. Beyond this, it offers an approach that is more human, rather than scholastic per se, meaning that you do not get as much of a structured approach to learning (despite the way that the book eloquently lays out the information you'll want).

The great thing about this resource is that it can be used by beginners, intermediates, and advanced students to make their own Chinese more interesting. It is also a fabulous contrast to in-class learning due to the way it makes you consider the language - maybe there's not always a right or wrong way to say something at a given point, as classroom language book would have you believe?

It includes language that can be used for a trip to Beijing, flirting online, or even just starting a fight in Chinatown! Since some of the words and phrases in this literature are very colloquial, we recommend you use them cautiously and if in doubt, ask your Chinese teacher when it's appropriate to use them.

It's not dirt cheap, but again, this entertaining book is a steal for anyone wanting to learn more about contemporary Chinese culture, and has a well placed price point due to its focus on nuance. These are a lot rarer than you might think, and a lot of language text markets are only dominated by a few publishers or textbooks themselves. For this reason alone, it's nice to get the perspective of a casual phrasebook which still has a clear framework for helping you put your newly learnt phrases into context.

实用速成汉语 | Chinese Made Easier

This book is one of the better resources for students who’ve just started learning Chinese, and although it is not simple to find on Amazon, it's a highly trusted resource, with various complimentary online activities and support for teachers. Check out their website to get an idea. It focuses on using Chinese rather than studying it academically and gets you conversing in Chinese more quickly than some of the other textbooks in this list. The application of grammatical, linguistic, and vocabulary related skills is crucial in language learning, and finding a way to immediately contextualise the content you've acquired while having fun doing so will really help you a) feel like you have your own personalised command of the language, b) make it jump off the page rather than just feeling like an academic subject, and then the combination of these factors will c) make you a more confident speaker, all the while helping you to memorise information more easily.

It's also not typically very expensive, at around $30, so it's cheaper than some of the textbooks in this list. If your goal is to get some Chinese under your belt before travelling to a Chinese-speaking country, this is probably the resource you want on your shelf. It's also a rarity in the way that it presents information in an academic style, which helps you consolidate information more than a  classroom based book would, yet places you in the position of a tourist on the ground in a Chinese speaking country.

There are also several other books in the series so once you’ve finished with this one, you can move onto the next and keep improving your Chinese. However, the later books are very advanced and may be indecipherable without the assistance of a private tutor to explain them. Don't be put off by this - progressing in a language journey can take years, and may present new hurdles along the way. For this reason, it's worth sticking to it, and beginning with this series in particular, as it sets you up with the right foundations for how to visualise yourself in a Chinese speaking context, and work out your own ways of using the language that make you persevere and maintain interest in the topic.

On that note, you may also find help with these recommended apps... which can get you learning Chinese on the go. This is particularly useful when travelling, as you'll be bombarded with new words and expressions all the time, and will need to find ways to recite and memorise them. And just as much as there are apps for language consolidation, there are also ones to help you with expression - even many dictionary apps often give an example of the phrase in Mandarin and the equivalent in English. We do also recommend travelling as much as possible, and where this is not possible, try and get into contact with native speakers so that you can see whether what you're learning is working for you, and how to adapt this in a natural context.

Easy Peasy Chinese: Mandarin Chinese for Beginners

This is one of the best sellers on Amazon and a highly-recommended resource for beginners. The book comes with a CD so that you can also listen to Chinese being spoken. Costing around $25, this is also one of the cheapest books on the list (which might explain why it sells so well) and to get the most out of the series, you’re probably going to have to invest in the workbook, too. That said, the workbook is also very cheap and you can easily get both books for under $50.

If you’re travelling to China for a business trip or just on holiday, you should think about getting both of these books and working towards speaking conversational Chinese before you get there. Make sure you use the CD as well so that you can hear the Chinese pronunciation which is a hugely important aspect to speaking Chinese well. The combination of books may appear simple, but the publisher, DK is highly trusted in the field of academic books, and will present the information in a way that prioritises the key content you need to address the issues you may face when travelling in China.

Pocket Oxford Chinese Dictionary (Oxford Dictionaries)

It goes without saying that if you’re learning Chinese, you should probably invest in a dictionary. However, if you’ve just started, don’t waste your money on one of those huge dictionaries as it’s very unlikely you’ll come across half of the words in them as a beginner. Like we've mentioned too, dictionaries give highly useful contextual understanding to phrases and how the word is used by a speaker day to day, so having the dictionary handy is worth tis weight in gold. It's also highly practical, as you can whip it out in situations where you have no internet, and it is highly portable - unless you're going for a comprehensive, all-in-one hardback that weighs 10kg.

Instead, opt for a smaller dictionary like the Pocket Oxford Chinese Dictionary which is both easier to carry and easier to look up words in since there’s less pages to scour through. Furthermore, you can always bring smaller dictionaries with you when you travel as you can never guarantee that you’ll be able to access Wifi or data when you’re travelling, after all. However, remember that the term “pocket” is used very liberally by those who make dictionaries!

Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook & Dictionary

You may just want to cut to the chase and find the word or phrase you need on the spot, and while a dictionary is always useful, if you’re going to China sooner than you can master the basics, having a phrasebook is always a useful investment. The Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook & Dictionary comes with all the expressions you’ll want to look up during your travels as well as a dictionary to look up specific words.

Furthermore, it includes a pronunciation guide so that you won’t end up saying the wrong thing. Don’t forget that Mandarin Chinese uses tones that can drastically change the meaning of words! The book only costs $12 new (and even cheaper second hand) and is one of the most popular options amongst travellers heading to China. Keeping this by your side is useful, but do also account for the minutes you'll spend flipping through pages back and forth to sections where your target vocabulary is.

If you're living in Melbourne, why not look at Superprof's Mandarin lessons Melbourne and our tutors offering Chinese in Melbourne.

You should also check out Chinese apps to complement your private Chinese tutorials!

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