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on March 31, 2011
I purchased vol. 1 and 2 of Adventures in Mandarin Chinese along with this book, thinking they were follow-on volumes of this book: "the first book of Chinese characters" - only to find that vol. 2 is exactly the same text of the story Two Men and The Bear. And when I checked the contents of vol. 3, I found that it's also the same story as in this book: The Wind and The Sun. So if you're going to buy this book then DON'T also buy vols. 2 and 3.

That out of the way, here is my initial review of the content itself:

Firstly, I was a little disappointed: based on all the five-star reviews, I was expecting something special. Interestingly, if you look at Erika's 100's of reviews, they're nearly all five stars also. So she's most likely a professional reviewer commissioned by the various publishers to improve the ratings of their books. As are probably the other reviewers here.

The print quality is actually quite cheap: rough and slightly yellowed paper, badly laid out with over-large text to pad out the book, yet very little white space to rest the eyes, and with underlying and grayed out boxes in an amateurish design. At first I thought it might have been a reprint of a book published in the 60's, but - no - it was published and printed in 2008.

So what about the content itself? Does it help to learn Chinese in a fun and effective way? Regardless of my disappointing first impression and the dubious marketing of this book, this is what ultimately matters!

Well, I'm not sure yet. I have to work through the book first and will update my review once I've done that.

But I'm not impressed. For the following reasons:

1. The advice on how to memorize the Chinese characters is simply "write each new character at least three times". There's nothing innovative about that.

2. The book covers both traditional AND simplified Chinese characters. Why? What's the point of learning both styles of characters as a total beginner? Choose one or the other, but not both. It's an unnecessary burden - and I'm sure even the Chinese don't learn both the traditional and simplified versions of each character.

3. The stories are actually quite boring and pointless: "Two people saw a bear. One person climbed into a tree immediately. The other person immediately and purposely fell over down upon the ground to play dead. The bear put its nose to his face and sniffed briefly. Then the bear went away. Coming down from the tree, the person asked What did the bear say to you? Said the other: The selfish person fled away fast. He is not a good friend."

What's useful about this story?

Well... the numbers "1" and "2" (which are obvious). And the words "saw", "person", "tree", "immediately", "other", "down on the ground", "dead", "nose", "face", "briefly", "then", "went away", "what did ... say to you", "fast", "not", "good friend".

So 20-odd words that are vaguely useful as a beginner.

Each character is introduced in the order as it appears in the story, which is helpful. And each character is described from an etymological point of view, showing how the original image become the stylized character it is today (both in traditional and simplified form)...

So far so good.

But, frankly, nothing much different from most other ordinary introductions to Chinese. And equally long-winded!

A much better buy is Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters, Vol. 1: A Revolutionary New Way to Learn and Remember the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters by Matthews & Matthews for under $20. Why spend roughly the same to learn only 40 (useful) words? Granted, it's fun to be able to read and understand a story. But then why not make it a story that's a bit more relevant. Something like:

"Two people, a man and a woman, met in a pub. The man ordered a beer. The woman ordered a glass of white wine. The man asked: What did you do today? The woman replied: I've been working since early this morning. I didn't sleep well last night. I am very tired. What about you? The man said: I'm going to work tonight. I've been sleeping all day. I have an idea. Let's share a room together, it's cheaper. We can share the same bed. You can sleep while I'm working, and then, when you go to work, I can sleep!" (c) 2011, G. Orman

I'd pay $10 to be able to read and understand a story like this, because it's much more relevant: many of the elements can also be used in an everday conversation. Wouldn't it be great to have more stories like this, building up a conversational vocabulary base in an entertaining way?

I originally gave this this book (and the others in the series) two stars because they are still kind of fun to work through and moderately useful. The extra (half) star is because of the audio downloads from discoverchinese.cn, a slow and a fast version of each story, and the Chinese text that can be clicked on for individual words and phrases. Nevertheless, this is also badly designed. In firefox, every time you click on a link, it opens another tab with an audio control bar, which you then have to click on again to play (so you can't also be reading while listening unless you flip back very quickly). In IE, media player loads up after about 2-3 seconds, so at least you have time to go back to the page and follow the text while listening. But you have to flip back to media player to repeat.

Overall, these books are quite slapdash... probably a quick `n dirty adaptation from a series of government-produced primary school readers for Chinese children.
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For most Westerners the mystery of the Orient has always been cloaked in the seemingly impenetrable complexity of languages based on characters. The frustration of wanting to learn one of the Eastern languages is usually heightened by the fact that a 'character' can mean a word or a concept and for the Western mind to step away from the building of words from a set of 26 alphabet letters requires releasing the security so ingrained in our 'inside the box, phonetic approach' to learning language.

Sam Y. Song's fine book LEARNING CHINESE THE EASY WAY changes this perception. Instead of devoting the mind to memorizing countless words, arranging them into nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., Song shows us how the Chinese language is essentially a visual experience - a fascinating exploration of simplifying line drawings of visual things (man, water, eyes, and so forth) and thereby creating visual representations of words created from these reduced lines. Even in explaining the process, Song makes so accessible one of the major differences between, say, Chinese and English, is that need to scientifically dissect symbols relegated to vocabulary instead of merely using the eyes to visualize the objects around us to transmit visuals to the written word.

Case in point: 'look at; see; watch' is a character that is composed of a reduction of a sketch for an eye and a hand that when combined result in a symbol of 'a person watching something with his hand above his eye' or 'to look at, see, or watch. ' Sound simple? With Song's gift for line reduction moving into calligraphy it IS simple, and with the added 'word' for each symbol along side the completed visual, very soon sentences can be constructed or thoughts can be expressed.

From Song's user friendly teaching lessons comes this example of how he accomplishes his Mission: 'How to find a character to express "water" in Chinese?' (he then draws wavy lines, progresses them to the simplest form, compresses them logically) and Presto! we "reach the character \shui\ which means 'water' in Chinese'. Eastern wisdom seduces Western thought into understanding a new form of language. And with Sam Y. Song's technique, it seems that each of us can enter a mysterious world of Chinese symbols comfortably. This is a fine book that entertains as it teaches. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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on August 5, 2008
I travel frequently to China, and have often asked Chinese colleagues how on earth the characters that we see today have developed over time. Looking at it from a Chinese perspective, I don't imagine that our Arabic lettering makes any sense either, but Mr Song's clever little book has given me an interesting insight into the development of the written language China has used for centuries.

For those who are considering learning the language but are put off by the written aspects, this is indeed a valuable tool, and far less onerous than the more daunting texts that are out there today. Many people are keen to learn Chinese as this wonderful country continues with its global rise, and this is a wonderful gift for anyone who travels to, or is interested in China and its culture.

It is a little gem!
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Mr. Song suggested that I read and review a couple of his books on learning Chinese and, following my agreement, he sent me free copies of two of his titles. I've been a little busy lately and couldn't afford the time to try to learn something completely new to me but, to my surprise, Mr. Song's new fan is our 14 yr. old son who picked up the book all by himself, practiced on his own and, incredibly, a few weeks later, can actually read a simple story written in Chinese and can even write something that "doesn't make a lot of sense" (his words).

Instead of my review, here it is his in his own, unedited words:

_____________________________________________

I am 14 years old and I have never written or understood anything in Chinese before this book. After going through this book, I think I can safely say I can a least write a basic letter to someone in Chinese. The book uses the concept that each character represents a complete thought and uses pictures to show similarities between the character and its meaning. By the time I finished the book I was able to read a short story written in Chinese, all by myself.

One thing this book does not do too well is teach Chinese as a language. I think if you know some Chinese before reading this book you may grasp it better. Overall, if you are interested in learning how to write in Chinese you should begin with this book.
_____________________________________________

Any 'serious' book that catches a teenager's attention and keeps him motivated deserves five stars.
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on June 23, 2008
Learning Chinese The Easy Way is a well written text that makes learning Chinese, a typically difficult language to acquire for westerners, an enjoyable process. By putting the language acquisition process into story form and by showing evolution of each chinese character, the author helps to anchor the information with a strong mental image of what the character represents. Shunning the high pressure, information density of most textbooks, this well written book is an essential part of any Chinese language student's curriculum.
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VINE VOICEon May 8, 2011
I have been learning how to speak in Mandarin, but I wanted to get better at remembering the characters, so I bought this book. I found it mostly fun and easy to remember the characters with this book and the files that I downloaded with it. My only complaint is with the second story. I wish it would have gone into more detail about certain words that come together to mean one thing or another.

Overall, these two stories are a nice way to learn how to tell a tale in mandarin and remember characters. I remembered more from using this book, then the Tuttle books, which are also good, but get tiring to read after a while.
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on July 31, 2012
. . . Learning Chinese the Children's Way, the tried and true sure-fire approach to language learning that worked for ALL of us at one time.
I have been working my way through "Remembering the Kanji" and Michell Thomas' basic Chinese audio program.
Fascinating, but still a bit of a struggle. And so I was ASTONISHED to find that in the course of JUST ONE rainy day I was able able to learn, recognize, read ALL the nearly 100 characters for "Two Men and a Bear."

Repetition is cleverly presented in the re-telling of the STORY as each new character is introduced. This approach is so much more interesting than the grown-up texts that are stuck the "Hola Juanita", "Hola Juan" style of language learning.

As for criticisms that it doesn't address words needed for restaurants or taxi, that is survival language.
Get a phrase book, say Berlitz Chinese for Travelers.
This is for actual LEARNING, and learning in exactly the way that children have learned via the storybook for generations out of mind.

Personally I don't care about the paper quality or the occasional English errors.
I care about results and the results are excellent!
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This book is a collection of two of Sam Song's previous books, Adventures in Mandarin Chinese Two Men and The Bear: Read & Understand the symbols of CHINESE culture through great stories (Volume 2)] and Adventures in Mandarin Chinese, The Wind and The Sun: Read & Understand the symbols of Chinese culture through great stories (Volume 3). Each of these stories comes with instructions for reading and writing all the Chinese characters that make up each short story. Chinese has always seemed so exotic and difficult, but Sam Song has a method of teaching that makes learning seem easy. He starts out with simple drawings and shows how the drawing evolves into a Chinese character. Although it may look difficult to begin with, after seeing his drawings and reading his explanations and short stories about how the character was created, it's much easier to remember each one.

Some of the simplified characters were easy to remember when I practiced writing them several times. Some are more involved and I think it would take a great deal of time for me to be able to write them without a reference in front of me. But the thing is, that these books make it possible to learn the words and even write them if you're willing to put in the time to practice. This book will not make you fluent in Mandarin Chinese but it will give you an understanding of some of the fundamentals and give you an idea of what the language is like and what is involved to learn it. It will give you a good start. After just a little time and review, I was able to read these short children's stories. Mr. Song also includes a link for his website that contains audio files of the different words included in the book so you can hear how they sound and practice reading them if you like.

Since this book contains the instructions of two of his separate books (There is also a third one: Adventures in Mandarin Chinese: The Fox and The Goat you can save a little money by buying them together. Or, if you prefer, you can buy each of the books separately. I found that because it takes some time and effort to go through each book, that it gave me a sense of accomplishment to complete each book separately, but that's just me. These books made learning fun and I can actually read the stories, all in Chinese characters!
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on May 29, 2013
In trying to learn this language, I've encountered many "systems" that are programmed to help you learn effectively. This book, however, provided so much context to the language and the characters, that it enabled me to remember and recall the characters much more effectively.

The beauty of this book is that it tells the story and history of the character, enabling you to make better mental connections to the meaning. I've been able to use it in my business dealings in China. What made this book even better was that my translators really liked the book as well, as they were not aware of the history and stories behind some of the characters.

This has been more than helpful in developing more understanding, context, history and appreciation of the Chinese culture. A must have book for a anyone learning Chinese.
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VINE VOICEon February 2, 2009
Sam Song has provided a wonderful book which describes in an easy to follow manner a very logical technique for learning Chinese characters and a way of "putting it all together" to read Chinese. The first thing to remember is that it is necessary to write down each character and practice writing it many times, as often as fifteen times to train the mind to recall the symbol and its meaning. The author uses a technique called progression which takes an ordinairy picture and through a few modifications it is altered to become the Chinese character. Using this pictorial version, the reader is able to associate the Chinese symbol with the word which it represents. Chinese writing is a beautiful art form and Sam Song has provided an enjoyable experience to reach the moment of "ah ha" where the reader awakens to the meaning of the word through symbols. At the end of the book are two short stories which the learner can actually read, having learned the symbols for the characters in this book. The author also demonstrates a sense of humor along with providing some interesting historical information while teaching Chinese characters.

In this book, the author tells the reader that traditional Chinese writing is over 5,000 years old but the Chinese government in the 1950s decided to simplify some of the characters and use it as the official written Chinese language. Therefore, in China the "simplified" characters are used but in most places outside of China the "traditional Chinese" is in vogue. The good news is that 70% of the "simplified" Chinese characters are the same as the "traditonal" ones.

First, the author provides the symbol he wishes to teach: for example, the word "watch". Next he provides an easily recognizable picture of an eye. Through progression the eye is slightly altered into a symbol which is again slightly modified and then viewed as an eye. Along with the eye, the author uses the picture of a hand and through some simple modifications, it is changed into the Chinese character for hand. The alterations and modifications provided by the author make sense and the characters come alive with meaning due to his explanations. This book is most highly recommended. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
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