Chinese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide Paperback – Oct 13 2010
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The writing style is very matter of fact with little attempt to amuse the reader or provide incites into Chinese culture or explorations of the history and motivations behind the language. You may or may not care about that but often one's learning experience is enhanced by such inclusions.
Pinyin, Simplified and Traditional forms are used throughout and the book even provides a brief overview of strokes (writing/hanzi). I found that as a westerner learning all three; reading, spoken and written forms at once is an ambitious exercise and a student certainly shouldn't expect this text to serve as a hanzi reference. The vocabulary is admittedly low and embraces those stock terms and phrases language learners throughout the world are familiar with. Importantly grammar is given sufficient coverage as that's a large part of your language foundation. Extensive exercises are provided at the end of each chapter.
With no audio companion the true beginner will definately have to supplement the book with an appropriate resource to polish their pronounciation(a teacher?).
As a non-beginner I'm finding it works well as a refresher.
My basis is Pimsleur I-III plus a lot of Chinesepod Elementary which is terrific but less structured than Pimsleur. So I can handle light small talk and tourist business in China. I've gained rudimentary reading skill from dozens of sources, notably 300 and 500 character Chinese Breeze books (sold by several Asian book importers but not on Amazon). Ross's book Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (Modern Grammars) has done me a lot of good.
This book has very little that is not in the resources I have named and they have a great deal that is not here. But this is a fantastically attractive overview. The format is brisk and enjoyable. You can read it cover to cover as a refresher.
As a particular virtue for beginners, this has the best concise introduction to Mandarin phonetics I have found. Some Mandarin sounds do not exist in English. It is nearly impossible for an English speaker to learn these just by hearing them and trying to repeat them. You need some help. The Sounds of Chinese has it all, but may be more than you want to know. Ross in this book gives a good beginning explanation.
Even this account relies far more than it should on comparison to English sounds (which are not very like the Mandarin ones) and it could be more explicit. For example it says that j, q, x are pronounced "with your tongue close to the roof of your mouth" -- but that means the middle of your tongue, and certainly not the tip of your tongue which should probably be behind your lower teeth for these sounds. But it is huge progress over other introductory accounts.
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