Ultimate Chinese (Mandarin) Beginner-Intermediate (Book) Paperback – Large Print, Aug 24 2004
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Hope this helps!
If you complete the book and learn every lesson well, you can expect to be at the mid-intermediate level of speaking/understanding. You will know about 1500-2000 words, and you will be able to discuss pretty much any subject, although nothing in much depth. You'll also have a slight Beijing accent, and you'll have some brief exposure to Chinese daily life customs, and mainland Chinese culture. The book does not cover the southern accent or Taiwanese/Singaporean/etc. culture.
Although the book is marketed as beginner-intermediate, it moves very quickly. By lesson 15, the dialogs are spoken at a very fast, conversational pace, and the vocabulary starts to become specialized far beyond the standard tourist fare. The dialogs are excellent for listening comprehension because of the speed, while the vocabulary is pretty extensive. The book is also very grammar heavy, which serves as an excellent complement to Pimsleur Comprehensive Mandarin, which is heavy on speaking skills, but not grammar.
Where the course suffers, however, is in the voice actors, the editing, and the lack of writing. One of the male voice actors has a terrible, nearly incomprehensible accent that sounds awkward and foreign (he is the male speaker in Lesson 15), and each of the lessons that he's featured on is rather painful to the ear. I suspect that is not a native speaker of Mandarin and that, moreover, he is not a trained voice actor. Secondly, the editing of the text is rather poor--there are a number of typos, mostly with tone marks. Thirdly, the course is written almost entirely in pinyin, with only about 200-300 characters in the whole book. I have gotten around this problem by transcribing the pinyin into MSWord IME with the appropriate Simplified Characters, but this is a bit of a hassle, especially given the number of Chinese homonyms.
Overall, I think this is a great course, especially when used in conjunction with other materials (i.e., Pimsleur, Chinese in a Flash cards). With the inclusion of Hanzi and some edits, I think it could be even better. I don't think that it's the ultimate one-stop-shop for Mandarin language learning, but it is certainly worth the price and more.
The 2 sets of CDs are great in that one is for use with the text, although I wish more of the text was available on the CDs but you also receive a second set of CDs that are for studying on the run.
The set is great because you get amazing practice with tones and vocabulary and of course you learn about 5 characters per lesson, with 40 lessons in all. I really like the set and will use it even during the school year for reviewing grammar rules and conversations.
All in all, worth even the full $79.95 despite one reviewer stating it's confusing, it is set up like a non-intensive 1 semester college elementary Mandarin class. Well organized and easy to follow and learn from. I'd suggest it as a supplement to your college class too!
I have decided to go with the Pimsleur CDs (Pimsleur worked well for me in German, and Italian). As an example of the difference: Living Language starts out teaching you how to ask someone about their family, while Pimsleur starts out teaching you how to ask if someone speaks English. I have one year to prepare for one week in Beijing. It is absolutely certain that I will sometimes need to find someone who speaks English, and it is unlikely I will ask many people about their family life. Again this is not to fault the different goals of the Living Language program.
Pimsleur is an audio-only course, entirely suitable for use while driving, and by design they teach you nothing about written Chinese. And they have very little explicitly on grammar or pronunciation. You are supposed to get those from immersion. I am supplementing them with Chinesepod downloads which are even faster paced immerison than Pimsleur but also come with written material so they are not *only* immersion. This is the balance I want right now.