Dàjiā hǎo! (Hello, everyone!) Chinese is a challenging yet intriguing language for native English speakers to learn, due to its complex characters and tonal sounds. You might worry that you'll need a good memory in order to remember how to read and write each new word - but there's no need to feel intimidated! There are lots of great books out there that are designed for learners at all levels, including beginners.
Whether you're after simple conversational phrases, enjoyable reading exercises, or something to improve your writing, we're here with some top-rated recommendations. We've selected 10 brilliant books, including the bestselling titles Easy Mandarin Chinese and Mandarin Chinese for Beginners, for you to browse for inspiration. Ready to learn a new language?
Did you know that Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world? Although there are other popular Chinese dialects such as Cantonese and Hakka, Mandarin is the official language of China and Taiwan, meaning that it's considered to be more useful at an international level. So, Mandarin is what we'll be focusing on in this article!
Mandarin has four main tones: a high tone, a rising tone, a falling then rising tone, and a falling tone. Since many written characters have a similar sound, tones are used to differentiate between words and convey the correct meaning.
Written Mandarin consists of hanzi (characters) which are logograms - this means that each character has a different definition and pronunciation. In rare cases, a character can have two different readings, but usually, it just has one.
Pinyin is the romanization of hanzi, with the pronunciation and tone indicated for each character. Pinyin is used in almost all Chinese language books, especially at beginner and intermediate levels, to help you master pronunciation.
Once you've decided to learn Chinese, you'll need the appropriate materials to help you succeed on your language journey. Here are some of our top tips to help you choose the perfect book!
When you start learning something new, it's crucial to find materials to suit your level. You don't want anything too easy or you'll get bored - but books that are too complicated will make you feel less motivated or might even scare you off!
Those who are totally new to Chinese will definitely want to opt for books that are designed for beginners. This will ensure that you not only learn the Mandarin basics, but you can build a solid foundation of knowledge that will expand as you progress.
Have some basic language knowledge already from classes or watching Chinese dramas on Netflix? Try a textbook for advanced beginners - it'll still be fairly simple but will provide you with new information rather than going over the basics again.
If you've reached intermediate level, there are plenty of great books around that will help you to build on what you already know. Don't get too excited and rush towards advanced level materials though - after all, a steady attitude is the key to learning a language!
There are two types of writing when it comes to Chinese characters: traditional (繁體字) and simplified (简体字).
Traditional characters have been used by Chinese people throughout history, whereas simplified characters were only created in 1964 in an attempt to increase the literacy rate in China. Today, only Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan use traditional characters while China, Malaysia, and Singapore use simplified characters.
Simplified characters are easier to learn because they have fewer strokes, but this often means that important or definition-indicating radicals have been removed from them. For example, the traditional character for love (愛) contains the radical for heart (心). However, in the simplified version, the heart radical has been removed so it looks like this instead: 爱.
Although traditional characters are more difficult to learn, they can help with understanding kanji (Chinese characters in Japanese) and hanja (Chinese characters in Korean). They will also be of more use if you plan to visit Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan rather than the mainland.
In the end, whether you should learn traditional or simplified Chinese all depends on your personal preference and the amount of time you're willing to spend on learning all of the different characters!
Language-learning involves reading, writing, listening, and speaking - but this doesn't mean you have to focus on all four aspects at once! Instead, focusing solely on one aspect that you enjoy may prove to be a more effective way of mastering Mandarin.
If you want to start learning how to write Chinese characters, look for a hanzi book that'll teach you how to copy the strokes so you can produce meticulously handwritten Mandarin. Many of these books even cover methods to help you memorise the characters, which helps with recognising them when reading too.
To further enhance your reading comprehension, there are books with short stories or classical Chinese poems available. Some storybooks also come with exercises, which allow you to test yourself - so you'll know exactly which words or phrases you struggle with and need to spend more time revising.
Conversation books are ideal for those who want to speak with more confidence and communicate with native speakers. They typically include grammar and vocabulary to help you form your own sentences and get your points across clearly.
Since beginners often find it difficult to pronounce Chinese words, many textbooks feature pronunciation and tonal guidance, as well as using pinyin. Often, English words which sound similar to the Chinese word are used to indicate the pronunciation, which can be really useful!
Motivation is essential when learning a language, so it's important to choose a book that helps you to feel fully engaged with the words on the page. Visual aids such as coloured text, illustrations, or photographs will make your learning feel more interactive and less formal.
Supplementary audio materials like CDs or MP3 files are particularly useful for learning a tonal language like Mandarin because they'll help you master pronunciation much more quickly than if you were to just read the text.
Ready to begin learning Chinese? We've chosen our 10 favourite books and we hope you'll love them as much as we do! Whatever level you're currently at, there'll be something that suits you on our list.
Yi Ren, Xi-yuan Liang
Alison Matthews, Laurence Matthews
Daily Language Learning
Laurence Matthews, Alison Matthews
James W. Heisig, Timothy W. Richardson
Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
Easy Peasy Chinese: Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
Learning Chinese Characters
Chinese Short Stories
Selected 300 Poems of Chinese Tang Dynasty
Crash Course Chinese
The First 100 Chinese Characters
Easy Mandarin Chinese
Conversational Chinese Dialogues
Remembering Traditional Hanzi 1
Familiarise Yourself With Both Chinese Language and Etiquette
Colourful, With an Easy Layout for Beginners
Illustrations to Help You Write Simplified Chinese
Engaging and Entertaining Stories to Boost Your Confidence
Experience the Beauty of Tang Dynasty Poetry
Improve Your Vocabulary and Chat Like a Native Speaker
Write Traditional Chinese Characters From Scratch
No Hanzi Required Here!
Practical Convos That'll Test Your Reading Skills Too
Learn Traditional Characters By Building on Your Existing Knowledge
Fancy learning even more languages? The sky's the limit, as far as we're concerned! Here's a few suggestions for books that'll get you started on your linguistic journey and help to broaden your horizons.
We hope you've found this article informative about the Chinese language and that it helps you to find a book that suits your ability and needs. We reckon you'll love Mandarin once you start learning it, so what are you waiting for? Get stuck in and test out your new skills on your friends!
Author: Angina Chow
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