- Paperback: 601 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 2nd Rev edition (September 10,
- 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.
|28 of 28 people found the following review
Not Your Usual Sink-or-Swim Chinese Textbook, January 20, 2004
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
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
Best Known for its Availability, July 3, 2001
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
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.
|2 of 2 people found the following review
The Bible under the chinese textbooks, March 2, 2006
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
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
My 76 year old Chinese-born Instructor says..., March 11, 2005
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
|19 of 25 people found the following review
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
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
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.