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Beginning Chinese : Second Revised Edition (Yale Language Series) (Paperback)

Beginning Chinese : Second Revised Edition (Yale Language Series) (Paperback)
Author/Publisher: John DeFrancis
Format: paperback
Emphasis: NA
Level: Beginning
List Price: $40

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Detailed information

Product Details

  • Paperback: 601 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 2nd Rev edition (September 10, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0300020589
  • Product Dimensions: 10.0 x 7.0 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds.
  • Average Customer Review: based on 10 reviews.

Spotlight Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful:

Not Your Usual Sink-or-Swim Chinese Textbook, January 20, 2004

Reviewer: C. Sahu "Cathy Sahu" (Southern California)

A few reviewers below have said that the conversations in this text are too old-fashioned and that no one talks this way in China anymore. I haven't shown this book to any Chinese friends but I can't see how the relative colloquialism of these texts would be a big problem. They don't seem very different from others I've read, and the Second Revised Edition (1976) does discuss Revolutionary changes ('airen' versus 'xiansheng' for husband, etc). It seems to be the equivalent of any English text from a few decades ago - people might not talk quite the same way now, but the vast bulk of vocabulary is the same, and anyway, no one ever faults a foreigner for having too bookish or old-fashioned a manner: on the contrary, we often find it charming. Not to mention that Chinese is spoken differently Beijing, Taiwan, Los Angeles, etc. Strikingly, the illustrations, though much superior to the cartoons in other Chinese learning texts, are very old-fashioned: Americans in Western suits and Chinese in silk longcoats. (Though I did see a man dressed like that in an LA supermarket last week!) If the drawings were updated, I bet the texts would not make half so bad an impression.
And the advantages of this work far outweigh the disadvantages. With almost all Chinese language learning texts I've used, I've felt that I had been thrown into a sink-or-swim, suffering-is-good-for-you situation. Brute memorization seems to be the traditional Chinese learning method. In most modern textbooks there is little attempt to explain grammar, and when it is attempted, it is done extremely poorly. Also, there are very few exercises; what exercises there are often stress the wrong things; and the student ends up memorizing lots of vocabulary words and grammar points that he really hasn't seen used in more than one context and so doesn't really understand. The whole presentation seems quite thoughtless and haphazard.
Defrancis, by contrast, seems to have taken the writing of this series as a labor of love. He obviously put a huge amount of thought into them. The presentation is well linked together. Each vocabulary word is thoroughly defined and the grammar notes are extensive. And there is lots of practice: each chapter uses the new vocabulary over and over in the "sentence build-ups," "substitution tables," "pattern drills," and many other added exercises suited to the learning task at hand. For example, in Chapters 3 and 4, when numbers are introduced for the first time, along with the usual "sentence build-ups," etc., Defrancis adds several extra exercises: "Number Practice," "Multiplication table," "Numbers and Measures," "A Charge Account," and even instructions for a number-learning game called "Boom!"
A short, concrete example of how much better Defrancis explains grammar: "Integrated Chinese," which my school uses for first-year text, defines the particle "a" as a "[particle] used at the end of a sentence to emphasize agreement, exclamation, interrogation, etc." It seems like a definition, but when you think about it, it makes no sense: who's agreeing, the speaker or listener? And if "a" is an interrogation particle, how is it different from "ma"?
Now, Defrancis' definition: "The particle 'a' added to a statement changes it to a polite command, suggestion, or presumption. It often suggests that the speaker presumes his listener agrees with him; thus the Chinese sentence 'Ni hao a?' is like English, 'You are well, I suppose?' or 'How are you?' spoken as a greeting rather than as a real question." A clear and thorough explanation of the function of 'a' -- you don't have to spend the next year trying to figure it out for yourself.
The "Beginning Chinese" text is all in pinyin and you should also buy the (traditional) "Character Text for Beginning Chinese" if you are learning to read Chinese characters. Thirdly, there are the "Beginning Chinese Reader, Part 1 and Part 2" books by Defrancis also that are loosely tied into "Beginning Chinese" but present characters in a much more sensible fashion (easier ones and radicals first) than the way they are introduced (or, rather, not introduced) in other series. Another big advantage to this set is that all Chinese characters are written large enough to be easily legible. (Not a given in other texts!) It may seem unreasonable to people who have not tried learning Chinese to have to buy 4 thick texts instead of one. But anyone who has studied Chinese for a while knows how much you need to take a slow, rational approach. This is not French or Spanish or even Hindi. Texts that look easy are actually much more difficult, because they have simply left huge amounts of salient information out.
All-in-all, the "Beginning Chinese" series makes an extremely difficult job (learning Chinese for the English speaker) much, much easier and less frustrating. I am currently going through it to pick up everything I missed in "Integrated Chinese." I really think it's a big mistake that the Defrancis series has largely been put aside for newer, much less well constructed texts. (And may I say that, just because a textbook writer or teacher is a native speaker doesn't mean he knows anything about teaching Chinese to Westerners. On the contrary: often he has little idea of what his students are going through and his answer to protests about poor materials is "Work harder" - not smarter.) The United States is crying out for more Americans to learn Chinese and the texts used in most college courses are as much roadblocks as they are paths to learning. It would be a great service if someone would bring out another edition of these books.


12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:

Best Known for its Availability, July 3, 2001

Reviewer: Thomas F. Ogara (Monticello, Florida United States)

When I studied Chinese back in the 1970's this was the beginning text we used. I was not extremely satisfied with it then, and I am even less satisfied today. Arguably, it covers the subject of Chinese grammar in considerable detail, but my overall impression of the material presented is that it simply isn't the "way that Chinese really speak" - that is, it really doesn't reflect colloquial Chinese as it is actually spoken, even taking into account that it is supposed to be Taiwan Chinese. It is as if there is too much interference from English grammar in the way it is presented.

I am even less satisfied with it nowadays, with the large amount of language study material now available from China. While some of the material printed in China can be a bore, some of it is really extremely good - Beverly Hong's "Situational Chinese" springs to mind as perhaps the best book on colloquial Chinese I have yet found. I'd suggest to the would-be learner to review the material available from Beijing before investing any of the books in the old Yale Asian series.


Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

The Bible under the chinese textbooks, March 2, 2006

Reviewer: P. J. Heijnen "D.F. Lie-Hap-Po" (BoZ, the Netherlands)

Forget Pimsleur and other chinese courses.
If you really want to learn chinese, then Beginning Chinese was and still is the ultimate chinese textbook.
Beginning Chinese doesn't offer you lively conversations written in natural Chinese but rather stupid conversations in unnatural Chinese.
And in the stupid conversations written in unnatural Chinese lies the true strength of Beginning Chinese.
It is not designed to entertain Chinese but to teach foreigners Chinese.
In natural conversation you leave many things out if it is clear from the context.
In the unnatural conversations of Beginning Chinese you will leave them in, because you first have to learn before you can them leave them out.
That is why the conversations seems unnatural to the Chinese but they are really most helpful to you .


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

My 76 year old Chinese-born Instructor says..., March 11, 2005

Reviewer: N. Williams

After reading the other reviews regarding "How the Chinese really speak", I asked my instructor what he thought.

He explained that the communists forced unwelcomed changes to the Chinese language and it is because of communist rule that people don't speak exactly this way anymore. One example he mentioned is that communists demanded that the word for "girlfriend" also be word for "wife". He believes times are changing and the culture is slowly re-embracing the original ways of speaking Chinese. I am not an expert in Chinese affairs so I am not able to comment either way on that issue.

For me, the book is well structured and easy to follow but I've only covered the first 2 chapters. My instructor has been teaching Chinese for 35 years and he's had his copy for at least 15 years. He highly recommends this book. He knows more than I do so I'll stick to what he suggests.


19 of 25 people found the following review helpful:

Not Natural Chinese, July 6, 2002
Reviewer: A reader
I really want a book like this, but this isn't good enough. I want a book that gives me a ton of conversational Chinese in Pinyin so I can get a lot of language "practice" with the vocabulary, grammar, etc. used again and again in all kinds of scenarios.

This provides all of that but, frustratingly, it's of no use.

My wife and her family are from China. I let my wife see this book once (the Chinese character edition), and she quickly scrunched up her nose and said, "Nobody talks like this!"

Later, when my wife was out, I tried the same test on my wife's aunt (who doesn't speak any English). She seemed reluctant to comment. I think she was afraid of causing me to lose face, so I showed her another Chinese text that contained hanzi (Chinese for Today, Beijing Languages Institute) and asked which one she thought was better. After about 20 seconds of page scanning she got very excited and said (in Chinese), "Oh, yes, this is the normal way people talk" (yiban de shuofa), and "you should study this one".

Unfortunately, Chinese for Today probably contains less than 10% of the total quantity of example text in Beginning Chinese, with not very useful vocabulary and skimpy grammar explanations, so I'm not a big fan of that one, either.

But despite the wonderful quantity of example material in Beginning Chinese and its sequels, it's of no use to me if what I'm getting so much great practice in is bad Chinese. I can come up with plenty of bad Chinese on my own. ;-)

To be honest, I don't know how much of the "bad" is just the Mainlander's reaction to Taiwanese Mandarin, but my wife and aunt (who like to watch Taiwanese dramas) claim "they don't even talk like this in Taiwan". (I never mentioned Taiwan until after they had rendered their verdicts.)

If only the publishers would update this series to make the language sound natural to the ears of educated Mainlanders, it would be one of the most useful Chinese texts on the market. If that happens, I'll recommend it to everyone.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

good book(or so says my Taiwanese wife), November 6, 2001
Reviewer: A reader
I have been studying or trying to study Chinese for many years now. Most books seem more geared toward travel conversation(how much does it cost? etc). This book seems to really teach the language. I think that all languages change fast enough to make any book out of date quickly, this book seems to go deeper and really teach the structure and grammar that can be applied with newer slang. The fact he is aware of the differences between Taiwan Mandarin and the Chinese spoken in the PRC says alot to his credibility. However, the book is dry as are all books of this nature. It does provide a great beginning to learning the language. I think the other levels are now out of print.


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