George's study tips

October 20, 2010, 02:34 PM posted in General Discussion

Textbook:  Integrated Chinese

I have been studying Chinese off-and-on for ten years.  I have studied Chinese at two US colleges, at Beijing University, and at National Chengchi University in Taipei.  I've used probably 10 different textbooks during all that time, from the venerable (if outdated) John Defrancis books from the 70's to the proprietary contraptions of Beijing University.

This is the best, hands down, from Beginner to Upper-Intermediate.  It is just what the title implies:  an "integrated" approach to grammar, vocab, writing, and usage.  I've never seen a Chinese textbook this well-written.  Get a good teacher who is familiar with it, and I promise you (p-r-o-m-i-s-e you), there is no better approach to learning Chinese for beginners to intermediate students.  There is no advanced course.


Dictionary:  Besta

Get the flagship model (currently the CD-737, I believe... I have the flagship from a few years ago, the CD-636).  This Taiwanese-made dictionary does everything, my God it does everything.  I never (repeat... never) leave the house without it.  Besta has basically been piling features on top of each predecessor's already considerable mass of features for decades now.  I have used it every day for over two years now, and I still am discovering new ways to use it.  I put articles on it in .txt format (boom... instant access to its powerful dictionaries and search function to study texts).  I search terms by usage (in sentence-example format), not by dictionary definition (yes, you can do that with this dictionary).  I use it to practice reading.  I use it to practice writing (completely touch-screen enabled).  I put MP3's on it.  I make my own DIY dictionary (yes, you can do that) for lists like foods, places, etc.  I could talk about it for 20 pages.  It's not cheap and will run you back over 400 USD.  And it will be worth every red cent if you are a serious student of Chinese.  A word of caution, though: it's a bit like Adobe Photoshop; there are too many features to wrap your head around quickly; the more powerful functions will take you time to master (and find), but once you know how to use your Besta, you will never need any other tool.


Video: The CCTV series of Chinese lessons

"Travel in Chinese," along with "Sports Chinese" and about a half-dozen other programs are excellent practice for beginning and intermediate to advanced learners who want to brush up.  These videos contain practical vocab, grammar, and cultural knowledge, everything from arguing over a bill to changing money to getting a haircut.  The videos are entertaining, useful, and the website has the corresponding scripts to study the characters.  I watch one of these videos every other day just to brush up.  If you watch Travel in Chinese regularly, you will improve and you will learn something useful, I promise.

Audio/Podcasts:  Chinesepod

Duh.  Interesting hosts, extremely practical and useful vocab and grammar, and a wealth of topics and listening practice.  I think that listening to these podcasts helps improve speaking fluency, as well.  Has anyone else noticed that?  After listening to a lesson or two, I find my speaking fluency improved.  Hmmm.

The advanced lessons... oh, my God... are worth their weight in diamond-encrusted platinum.  They contain rich, current, and relevant cultural content that will really help you to understand not only the nuances of Mandarin, but also the nuances of contemporary Mainland society and culture.  Very well thought-out and executed.  Standing ovation, really.

Hope my study tips help.  If I think of something else, I'll post it.

Cheers, George

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