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on November 3, 2003
I agree with most of the previously written criticisms for this book and tape set. I came to it as a previous student of the language and found that in many ways this was a useful way to refresh a lot of what I'd previously learned. The cost of the set is outstanding, considering a local Berlitz office wanted $25,000!!! for a 6 month course of one on one training. (I suppose we can thank Gov't contracting for that kind of pricing.) While I haven't scoured this book and tape set, I have put the travel tapes to a lot of use and found this approach to covering the lessons to be a good refresher. However, this product could have made the 4 star rating pretty easily if, as a previous reviewer had mentioned, Ms. Humphries had paid a bit more attention to detail. I don't have any examples written out, but in numerous situations on each side of each of the 4 travel tapes the translations are pretty loose. Using the Pimsleur recordings as a comparison, there is NO room for interp on those - giving a pretty secure feeling that you're getting a solid item-for-item exhange of wording ... whereas the "Ulitmate Mandarin Chinese" taped sentances are often frustratingly broad and sometimes inconsistant with other similar sentances/phrases on the tapes. The ?unintentional? benefit for someone in the reviewing process is it gets you thinking more about the options of how say something ... however, for those coming to this stuff new, this aspect would seem to be a bit problematic.
As for the previously mentioned speaker on the tapes with the rushed, slurred speech ... he's a bit of a departure from your usual "Language Tape" dude, but probably useful in terms of dealing with the language as very possibly encountered around the various parts of the "real" Mandarin speaking world. To that end, a very good intermediate level course to check out is another of the "Living Language" series ... "Conversational English for Chinese Speakers". 4 tapes of Mandarin phrases (w/english tranlations) by a fluent speaker, speaking to other fluent speakers that are sprucing up on their english. Definitely a workout! But it'll give a real sense of how a lot of basic to intermediate vocab/phrasing would really sound up to speed. Think of it as a somewhat more managable (rewindable) version of the same shock you'll get the first time you step off the plane in Beijing and find out that all the Mandarin Language tapes you've been coddled by for so long ("Wo hen hao. Ni ne?")may as well have been Urdu.
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on August 5, 2003
I used this set on and off for about a year and was surprised at how much I learned. I only got through the first 16 lessons, but I feel that with a more rigorous practice schedule I could have learned much more. My Chinese colleagues were very impressed with my speaking abilites after a few months- I could talk about clothes, food, times and dates, places, and ask simple questions about families and activities. I think I would be ok going to China and checking into a hotel, ordering food, or taking public transportation.
This set has much more material than many book & tape sets. I spent a lot of time on each lesson and studied the book carefully. Many times a new concept will be slipped in to the dialogue a lesson or two before it is formally introduced. I wish the glossaries were more complete, and there are a few odd bits to the recordings (like making the pause too short on occasion), but overall I feel the book and cassette set is well worth the price.
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on May 25, 2003
After a hiatus of a few years, I've recently begun reviewing the Mandarin I previously learned. I purchased this book-and-recordings set for this purpose. Compared to what I have used in the past and what is presently available in the mass market, this set is a good solid beginning to what could be later excellent editions. A higher rating would've been easily possible if some simple quality control measures were exercised.
I agree with the previous comments that this set is better suited to the intermediate student, in large part because the grammar section gives sparse treatment to the topics it covers. The book stands out in its use of contemporary--yet grammatically correct--dialogue. Also, many of the recordings are quite good in further developing the intermediate student's ear for the distinct tones used in Mandarin.

However, some weaknesses impede the learning process. The book's glossary is missing many of the words used in the lessons. This can be a problem when you're stymied by a word used in a current lesson but was introduced in an earlier one. Unless you remember the lesson in which it was introduced, you'll need a dictionary nearby. Second, if you're looking up the Mandarin word for "grateful" you won't find it under "g"; you'll find it under "b" for "be grateful." This holds for other predicate adjectives listed in the glossary. Although this is common in many Chinese texts, native English speakers don't use a glossary this way. The better texts avoid this oversight. Third, some translations miss the mark; e.g., "bu gandang" is more properly translated to "you're too polite" rather than "thank you." Knowing the difference is important in Chinese culture, especially in corporate settings. Again, texts that have undergone better quality control make this distinction.
Some comments about the cassette tapes: The female voices and one of the male voices are excellent. Their well-articulated speech goes far in training the ear to recognize words and their meanings. However, gabble dominates one of the male voices (perhaps two--I can't discern whether there is another, third male voice). This particular male voice sounds like a student reading text. The frequent result is rushed, inarticulate speech. Slowing the speech down (my cassette player is able to do this) is of little help--the "run-on" words and slurring simply become more apparent.
My last criticism of the tapes regards the repeated dialogue. After the dialogue is initially spoken at a normal pace, it is repeated again with pauses deliberately inserted, apparently to encourage the student to repeat the dialogue. The repeated dialogue is not created by having the speakers "re-speak" it. It is done simply by inserting pauses in the initial recorded dialogue. Two problems result: First, except for the effect of the pauses, the repeated dialogue is just as fast and, in some cases, just as inarticulate, as is the initial dialogue. Second, the pauses are often inserted in unnatural places--sometimes between a word. This is because the speakers don't "re-speak" the dialogue with extended pauses. In other words, the natural pauses that exist in natural speech could have been easily lengthened. Instead the authors chose to simply repeat the first dialogue and insert breaks here and there. These unnatural pauses conflict with the way we learn because when we hear speech, we absorb (or attempt to absorb) chunks of full meanings and concepts, not partial ones. So when the student repeats a truncated phrase, he doesn't really know what he is uttering because the phrase's meaning is incomplete.
Despite these weaknesses, this is a good text-and-recordings set, one of the better ones available in the mass market. The three stars I've rated it is not meant to compare it to what is currently available in the market, but rather reflect its shortcomings against what is possible.
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on December 30, 2002
When I first started on this book/tape course, I was very disappointed. I was thinking about giving this book a one star rating. Now, after having one year of Mandarin conversation under my belt, I am still struggled to get through this book. This is NOT a beginner book. I wish the author speaks slowly and repeats twice for each phrases. I have been searching for more than a year, but this is the best intermediate mandarin out there. Quite frankly, I could not find any other intermediate mandarin book&tapes alternative out there. Oh, I don't have any complains regarding there isn't any chinese characters in this book. To get to intermediate level, it took me one year just to learn conversation. Believe me, my colleages learned both characters and conversation for two years, and they can not even order a simple hamburger in China. I know, without knowing chinese characters you are consider illiterate, but I want to learn mandarin fast so I have to give up something. Oh, one good thing about this book is they have tapes version to study in your car. This book has 4 tapes to study at home, and 4 tapes to study in your car. The on-the-go conversations tapes are great. It's very interesting.
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on August 27, 2002
I agree with most of the comments by the other reviewers. I think the pace and coverage is quite appropriate for intermediate students of the Chinese language. My one complain is that the dialogue is only written in Pinyin and English translation. It would be much better if the Chinese characters are shown in both traditional and simplified characters. This book is not appropriate for Chinese who speak other dialects but want to learn Puotunghua.
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on May 1, 2002
The layout of this is excellent. The only reason I gave 4 instead of 5 stars is that the Chinese on the tapes is too quickly pronounced. More time on the tapes should be given to pronounciation of the dialogues.
If you don't mind rewinding constantly, it is an A++ course.
(FYI, I transferred the audio to MD disks, and set tracks to the beginnings of the "Duihua" (dialogues) to make it easier)
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on April 17, 2002
This instruction set is supurb!
It consists of two sets of tapes. The first set follows the included text book and is to be used in conjunction. The second set is for driving, or anywhere the book isn't or can't be used. Unlike other instruction sets, the tapes are mirrors of each other and use different constructions, phrases, and/or speakers. This gives you some variability, so you don't just pick up a pattern of the tape.
The book walks you through serveral practical chapters, "at the office" or "eating dumplings", etc. The focus of each chapter is used in some context to introduce not only vocabulary, but also struture notes and grammar. So much better than simply providing catch phrases. In little time (by the third lesson), a user can construct simple sentances and understand speakers. At the end of each chapter, it introduces some hanzi (characters) but focuses more so on pin-ing romanization. Learning to speak and learing to read are really two seperate tasks, but its good of this set not to completely ignore reading.
The book is available without the tapes, but would not be recommended as Chinese tonal pronunciation is near impossible without them.
Living Language claims the college equivilant of two years of study...which seems about right given the depth of excellent coverage this set provides.
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on November 8, 2001
This course is one of the few modern Chinese instructional guides available on the market today. The material seems to be up to date and easy to follow. Furthermore, the conversational sketches are interesting and lively. If there is a way to improve on the dialog offerings I would say that there should be more drill work. Some practice drills are offered in the " Learn On The Go " tapes. However, they require several playings to commit the phrases to memory. But this is only a small matter. In the final analysis though, I applaud Living Language for producing tapes and a study guide on Chinese, a language that few language companies are apparently willing to tackle. It is my hope that they will publish a more advanced course in the future.
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on October 11, 2001
I purchased this product with the intention of using during drive-time. The audio tapes blew through beginner into intermediate very quickly. As such, this is not a book for a beginner. However, after I use other products to build up some skill, this product (book & tapes) was fine. FYI, the eight tapes is misleading...four are english with chinese and the other four are the same but only chinese (no english).
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on July 20, 2001
Humphries effectively introduces mandarin chinese to new and experienced students of the language. Humphries appropriately relates the material to excellent examples through repetition of learned vocabulary and verbal reinforcement. The Ultimate Mandarin Chinese uses over 40 lessons, english translations, writing of chinese characters, proper sentence construction, and a great glossary to convey the chinese language to the reader. It is definitely a necessary book for anyone wanting to learn and/or improve their knowledge of mandarin.
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