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on June 6, 2002
I concur with the previous reviewers on the overall quality of the book. The examples are nicely chosen, and while the English equivalents could occasionally stand some improvement, that's just a minor quibble. It's always useful to have a wordlist ordered by frequency of usage -- surely the most efficient general review strategy. For those of us in the over-50 set the type size is definitely on the small side, but the print quality is clear nevertheless. A magnifier or right-up-to-the-nose viewing both work well; again a quibble.
The formatting facilitates concentrating on the Chinese, too: just highlight the character text on your first pass, then ignore all the other stuff on subsequent passes. Accuracy is good, with silly errors seemingly scarce (incorrect tone mark here and there in the examples, or an occasional word lapse [e.g., the pinyin for 'xiabian de shu' is given as 'shangbian de shu' on p. 24]).
Having spent about 800 one-on-one hours with a tutor over the past year, I've lately realized that in the heat of stimulating day-to-day discussions, new and reviewed vocabulary have taken somewhat of a back seat. Yong Ho's book has provided a very easy and profitable way to pass commuting time (but only if you're a rider, not a driver!).
I'm familiar with many of the student dictionaries available nowadays: favorites, for various reasons, are the Cheng & Tsui Pinyin Learner's Dictionary (ISBN 0887273165) and the newest Century Edition of the New English-Chinese Dictionary (ISBN 7532725421), along with Wenlin for the Macintosh (incorporating the DeFrancis ABC Dictionary). But for quick and painless spare-time review, this one has the right size, shape, content, and price.
Several years ago I swore off any product produced by Hippocrene Books, having wasted good money on some perfectly useless introductory material (in a language other than Chinese). This book has certainly raised them a notch in my eyes.
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on May 12, 2002
I bought this book kind of on a whim. I've been studying Chinese very part-time for a few years, and I'm beyond the beginner stage, but not quite to intermediate.
I'm not normally one to read dictionaries, but once I started on this one, it became more and more fascinating. Why? Because it tied together bits and pieces of knowledge that I'd been accumulating ever since my first (and only) formal Chinese classes.
This book is not simply a dictionary of the 500 most common characters (simplified, like in the PRC). For each character, its main senses (or meanings) and usages are listed and explained in a clear and plain manner, with very appropriate (and simple) examples. That's the part that I found most helpful and most intriguing. It's like, "I thought I had recognized that character in that context when I was reading something a while ago, and now I can see how it works." or "Now I see how the two senses of that character are tied up with two different pronunciations."
It was almost like a grammar review of all basic Chinese, but organized by characters rather than some arbitrary "simple to complicated" sequence like you'd find in a typical textbook.
Also, for each character, many words are listed that use it -- most of them with the character in question as the first syllable, but also a few where it is not. These words are defined, of course.
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on February 19, 2002
This is actually a dictionary of the 500 most common Chinese characters ("hanzi"), not words(it has several words listed under each character). However, it is not a true character dictionary either since it does not show how to write characters and you can only look up the character by frequency or by the pronounciation, which a student often won't know. In a true character dictionary you can look up the character by stroke count, radical or pronounciation.
However, while the lookup methods could be improved, the definitions are outstanding. Unlike a character dictionary (like the excellent "Reading and Writing Chinese" published by Tuttle), which provides a basic meaning or two along with a few examples of words that use the character, this book provides all meanings of the character along with many examples. Most helpful of all is the explanation of characters which are related to the grammar structure. For example, the aspect particle "le", the "to be" verb "shi", and the "at" and current tense aspect marker "zai" each have about a page and a half explanation along with example words and sentences.
It should be noted that only simplified characters are used in this book (simplified characters are used in mainland China while complex or traditional characters are used in Taiwan and Hong Kong). Also, all example words and sentences are shown both in characters and in pinyin (the romanization system used for pronounciation).
I found this book to be a good complement to both a standard character dictionary and a regular dictionary. I would rate it a 5 if it contained 1) a more complete lookup system (stroke count, radical, etc) 2) writing information for each character and 3) complex characters as well, at least in the entry listing if not in all of the examples.
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