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Beginner's Chinese with 2 Audio CDs, Second Edition Paperback – Oct 1 2010
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About the Author
Yong Ho received his Ph.D. in anthropology and linguistics, with a specialty in Chinese anthropology and language, from Columbia University. He served as Director of Language at the China Institute in New York City and has taught Chinese at various institutions in the U.S.
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These books are a work of art and science and are incomprably better than anything I have previously found. Ho has put his Ph.D. in linguistics to good use. He has listened to his English-speaking students and understood their problems. He has also thought about his native language and culture and come to a deep understanding of it which he is able to convey in clear concepts and good English. His exercises show how well he understands the problems of his students. There are a number of exercises which ask "What is wrong with this?" followed by Chinese sentences that make exactly the mistakes I tend to make.
Each book has ten lessons centered on very practical situations, such as getting something to eat. The new speech patterns and vocabulary of each lesson are carefully introduced, then applied applied in practical conversations that provide just the right amount of drill and repetition. They, like nearly all Chinese in the book, are given in simplified characters, pinyin (the phonetic script), and idiomatic English translation. Besides the conversations, there is expository text for practice in reading using the characters and words that have been introduced in the conversations. The "Cultural Insight" passages are original and sometimes stunningly perceptive. There are answer keys to the exercises given in both pinyin and characters.
By all means get the editions with the CD. The recordings are clear though not dramatic in the sense that they do not give the illusion that you are listening to a live conversation.
These books use simplified characters only. They do not show how to write the characters. That is not a big problem, for there are several good books that teach only that. Like all Chinese textbooks of my acquaintance, these say nothing about how to find characters in a dictionary. The best advice on that subject is to find the "Field Guide to Chinese Characters" on the Internet.
But there are definitely areas for improvement. This is a second edition. The third edition could be a great book. First, the CDs. The CDs are indispensable, but each lesson takes up only a bit over three minutes. No time is left between sentences for the student to practice pronunciation. (The words can be pronounced if the student hurries.) And then there is the organization. On the CDs, first comes vocabulary, then sentence patterns, then conversations. In the book, the order is sentence patterns, conversations, then vocabulary. It would be nice if they were consistent and went through the lesson in order. Much more use could have been made of the CDs, but here we get into a critique of the book itself.
In general, there is not enough practice material. For example, in each chapter there is a list of "supplementary" words and expressions. These are not used in the spoken exercises except to pronounce them once on the CD.
In the place of more practice material each chapter has extensive "language points" where the author sometimes belabors subtle linguistic points that, in my opinion, could be done without in an introductory text. Here also is where speech patterns are discussed. In the actual Sentence Patterns section introducing each lesson, each "pattern" is given once, leaving the student to infer what the patterns are. Most have the impression that the pattern sentences are just a collection of unique sentences. Here is where more material should be added by giving additional examples of each pattern where such is possible.
1. Remove the "supplementary" words and expressions section and just include it in the lesson vocabulary if individual words are important enough to include.
2. Make explicit what the pattern is for each pattern sentence.
Provide up to ten or twelve examples with each pattern using all the vocabulary introduced to that point.
3. Remove some of the show-off linguistics discussions and save them for a class on Chinese linguistics.
4. Include all the expanded practice material on the CDs with time for the students to repeat each sentence. Since this may disrupt the continuity of the Conversations, I would suggest recording that section twice: first at normal conversation speed without breaks for comprehension practice; then a second time with a pause after each line so students can practice pronunciation. If something has to go, do away with the Chinese syllable practice on the second CD, and continue the lessons on that CD. It's more important for the students to get their syllable practice on their actual vocabulary rather than be able to recite the universe of abstract ba, bo, bi's.
If you are an instructor, realize that you are going to have to make up additional material to provide pattern and "supplementary" vocabulary practice and listen to student complaints about the CDs. And hope the students don't lose their way or become discouraged trying to plough through the abstruse Language Points.
Pros: It is very inexpensive. The topics covered are relevant, the vocabulary is good and the CDs are very useful. The CDs contain all the vocabulary and dialogues from the book. All of this is packed into one CD ( The other CD is used for tonal practice ). The speech pattern on the CDs is at the normal speaking pace. I find this to be very useful preparation for listening to normal paced speech. There are no sound gaps for one to practice responding to the dialogue but I prefer to have all my lessons conveniently on one CD. Also with repetition, one can anticipate and respond along with the speaker ( kind of like singing along to a song on a CD ).
Cons: The sound quality of the CD is not as loud or clear as Pimsleur. There is a some background noise. However, the main problem is that the recording volume is very low. This is easily solved by turning up the volume. The pronunciations were clear and the accent, although not Beijing, seems metropolitan. You do not have to speak in a Beijing dialect to sound educated.
The plastic CDs sleeves on the inner cover of my copy were placed incorrectly ( sideways ). The CDs themselves were also much thinner than normal CDs. The sleeves and sound quality of the CDs were of much better quality in the intermediate edition. I made back up copies of the CDs just in case. These minor glitches did not detract from the outstanding overall value of the books.
I own both of Yong Ho's books , Liz Scurfield's book ( 2 CDs ) and Pimsleur 1-3 ( 48 CDs ). I would start with Yong Ho and then move on to Liz Scurfield's book. I would not even consider Pimsleur. Comparatively, Pimsleur is very expensive, repetitive and SLOW; one only knows very few BASIC phrases after spending $225 on Pimsleur I ( 16 CDs). Unlike Yong Ho's or Liz Scurfield's books, Pimsleur does not explain the rationale behind the sentence patterns..the listener is left to figure it out subliminally through repetition...like a baby learning a new language.
Yong Ho and Liz Scurfield's books are bargains and well paced for an adult.
However, in every other way it fills in the gaps left by Kan Qian's book. Materials are introduced in a similar order but Yong Ho offers extensive additional vocabulary and exercises, and thoroughly detailed grammar notes that explain - to a level of scholarly precision that some may find daunting and others will find indispensable - exactly when and how one expression or another is used. Best of all, Yong Ho is an anthropologist and linguist with a particular interest in the relationship between language and culture, so the "Cultural Insights" sections at the end of each chapter are absolutely fascinating.
The font is much larger and bolder (good for me). The number of pages went from 173 to 326 but the wording of the texts looks the same (so the lessons haven't changed- also good for me).
It now includes writing practice sheets, in the book. You would probably want to scan these out.
At least two of the cultural essays have been rewritten, in one case to make it more practical, and in another case to bring it up to date.
I had two other very well known and excellent works covering similar subject matter (basic conversation), but Yong Ho was the one I liked best and chose to use.
(One of the other reviews, the one currently given as "most helpful critical review", is dated 2005 but refers to a second edition. That must be a mistake. This second edition is just out, Oct 2010.)
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