- Series: Yale Language Series
- Paperback: 539 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 2nd Revised ed. edition (September 10, 1977)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300020600
- ISBN-13: 978-0300020601
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.2 x 9.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Beginning Chinese Reader (Beginning Chinese Reader, Part I) 2nd Revised ed. Edition
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Text: English, Chinese --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
One of the great things about this system is that it doesn't require a lot of memorization. You learn the characters from reading them in actual sentences and paragraphs. When you're working on chapter 12, for example, the characters you learned in chapter 11 may be difficult to remember, but by the time you get to chapter 16 you've read them so many times that they are second nature to you.
As for the actual text, the book is intended for college students majoring in Chinese, so a lot of the stuff you're reading relates to academia: attending classes, taking exams, teaching, reading and writing books. As you go on in the series and learn more characters, the topics get broader and you start to learn about Chinese culture, geography, politics, and everyday life. It can seem a little counterintuitive at times; before you know the words for colors or food items, you already know the words for 20 different academic disciplines. Since these books were published in the 1960's, some of the narratives are a little outdated. There's a lot of talk about "I remember before the People's Republic . . ." and "That old man was an official in the Qing Dynasty . . ." (if the book were written today, that old man would be dead), but you do learn a little about Chinese history and, more importantly, you do learn how to read and write Chinese characters.
This series concentrates mostly on the traditional characters. At the end of Beginning Chinese Reader Volume II there is an extended lesson on simplified (or modern) characters. So you spend about 90% of your time on traditional, and 10% on simplified. Because you spend less time reading the simplifed characters, they require more memorization. Between the two versions about two-thirds of the characters are the same, so you just have to learn the simplified equivalents of the other one-third.
One important thing to note is that in the back of Beginning Reader Volume II, besides the aforementioned lesson on modern characters, there is a glossary/index of all 400 characters and their combinations, plus charts listing the characters by lesson, by radical, and by number of strokes. There's some diagrams on stroke order (how to actually draw the characters). If you just buy Volume I you won't have access to all that helpful material, yet it's still possible to complete Volume I without it.
An example: ben3 means "root" or "self." Lai2 means "come." Di4 means "earth." Ren2 means "man." All simple words. But when combined, could you guess that benlai would mean "originally" or bendi would mean "this country" or benren would mean "myself, yourself, himself"? There are thousands and thousands of combinations of this sort that have to be learned separately from the individual characters or you will have no idea what you're reading.
In addition, I would like to get something off my chest. Everyone tells you Chinese grammar is easy. It isn't! It's just different! Chinese uses word order instead of declensions, tenses, etc., to convey different meanings. If you get the word order wrong, you're saying something completely different from what you wanted to say. People will tell you word order in Chinese is a lot like English, which is true in simple terms, but a very dangerous generalization. "Bu hen hao," for instance, means not very good, but "Hen bu hao" means really bad. "Min2guo2" means republic but "guo2min2" (same characters) means citizen. In any kind of complex sentence (or even in simple ones) you need to be very familiar with common, habitual word order rules. There are too many of them to simply learn by rote. And that's not even mentioning the problem with particles like the infamous "le." You need to read a LOT of Chinese words in context to really learn these grammar rules.
And the DeFrancis Chinese Reader Series has just that. These books are thick! Another reviewer below gave the number of characters in each volume, I think, and you can read above the dimensions of the book, so I won't repeat it here.
The Readers also teach you the cultural significance of a lot of terms, a lot of idiomatic expressions, and a lot of historical and place names. And also I'll make the suggestion that you use these books in combination with his grammar texts, "Beginning Chinese," etc. The audiotapes for the whole series, including the Readers, is available from Seton Hall Language Lab. I don't think you can find any series more thorough.
Some people will tell you these books are out of date because they were written in the late 1960's, but I haven't found that to be a problem at all. Grammar doesn't change much. A few words have changed, but really, you need to know the old words as well as the new. I mean, is anyone saying that English readers can't understand books written 50 years ago? The only form of language that changes that quickly is slang, and you're in trouble if you think that's language learning. Foreign language book publishers are the main culprits here - they want to come out with a new, more expensive edition of their audaciously expensive, well-nigh worthless texts every 5 years. But don't get me started.
The introduction in the beginning of the book makes a lot of good points, but I've used up all my space, so I'll put some quotes in a "Volume 2" review in case you're still wondering if this is the right series for you.
Oh - and do buy Volume 2 along with Volume 1 because, as reviewers have noted below, the index is at the back of Volume 2.
One piece of bad news, however, the text is in traditional characters. This means that at some point you are going to have to make the effort to learn the simplified characters that are used by the bulk of Chinese throughout the world now. However, if you've mastered the texts in this series, that shouldn't be too much of a challenge.