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Far East Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary
The Far East Book Co, Taipei, 2001
ISBN: 9576124638
Cost:NT$450 at PageOne Bookstore, Taipei
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A View From the Trenches: I am a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Colorado and have used the Integrated Chinese textbook series for the past two years. I have taught both first and second year Chinese using this text. Therefore I was quite interested in the review of this series by Mien-hua Chiang in the May 1998 issue. However, after reading this review it was apparent the reviewer had no actual experience of using this text in the classroom. I think such an evaluation, by someone in the trenches so to speak, would be valuable to the authors in revising the next edition, and it is in that spirit I do so here.

The authors state that their intention in writing this book is to provide instructional materials which reflect a communication-oriented approach. This is indeed an admirable goal — as we all know Chinese pedagogy has a tragic dearth of textbooks using a systematic, proficiency-based style. Considering the emphasis given to this methodology in recent years, the lack of such work is all the more surprising. Does the Integrated Chinese series live up to this ambition? I regret that I must answer in the negative. I explain my reasons for this conclusion below, and invite readers to compare this text with the Yookoso series for Japanese by Yasu-hiko Tohsaku, which with a few faults notwithstanding, remains the best text incorporating the communicative approach I have yet used.

Format of Integrated Chinese

Despite the authors’ claims to the contrary, Integrated Chinese remains very much in the old tradition of grammar based, pattern drill, translation, and to a lesser extent, audio-lingual style of texts. The only things that could be considered ‘communicative’ about the text are the chapter topics. This is indeed its strong point. However, the main textbook has nothing communicative in it, save for the dialogues. What invariably follows the dialogues are pages of vocabulary lists, grammar explanations and pattern drills. Nowhere is the student given the opportunity to creatively and practically use the language. The workbook is not much better. The listening sections are OK, but the reading portions employ true and false exercises, which are a poor way to measure reading comprehension. There are almost no speaking activities for pair work. The authors state they wish to equally emphasize all four areas of language learning, but a careful examination of the workbook reveals it to consist of primarily reading, writing and translation activities. The few speaking activities that are included do not build on each other. Rather, the student is cast into a situation and is expected to be able to produce the correct language.

Specific Concerns

1) Pronunciation

This important first step is covered in the ‘Introduction’. As Mien hua Chiang has pointed out, the text is weak in its emphasis on the significance of tones. However, I believe she overlooks an even more vital and ludicrous shortcoming of this book: its introduction of Chinese sounds. Integrated Chinese is a text intended for freshmen students, who on average are eighteen years of age. Yet the explanation of Chinese sounds seems intended more for Noam Chomsky. For example, the introduction describes the Chinese sound zh as an ‘unaspirated voiceless blade-palatal affricate.’ D is a ‘tongue tip alveolar unaspirated plosive’. I could go on. I can assure the authors that their intended audience has absolutely no idea, or interest, in what these terms mean. It creates an immediate barrier to students in their production of Chinese sounds. This section needs an immediate, radical re-write. Do NOT use technical linguistic terms for an audience who are not linguists.

2) Grammar and Vocabulary

Part One of the First Year text contains eleven chapters. At my institution, we cover this book in the first semester. That translates to about a chapter a week. Only by moving so quickly can we complete parts one and two in an academic year. Each lesson has, on average, five to eight grammar points. Vocabulary, not including the supplementary sections, can contain anywhere from 35-70 items. The students struggle with internalizing such large amounts of vocabulary and grammar in five days of class time. My experience has been that they sufficiently grasp the grammar and vocabulary to succeed on the exam, but their retention rate is not optimal. This is where Integrated Chinese should take cues from Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese. The course would be much more effective if the more than twenty chapters of the first year course were condensed into around ten to twelve. Slow down the introduction of new grammar and vocabulary, and spend more time with what is introduced. Create legitimate communicative activities which allow students to consistently use the target language with each other in a guided, expressive manner, gradually increasing in complexity, such as those found in the Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese series.

3) General Appearance of the Text

Mien-hua Chiang briefly mentioned this point in her review, but I think it deserves more attention. A well-designed, attractive text making the most of contemporary graphics is a vital component to a communicative language text, and is also a major factor in the enjoyment of the course by students and the retention of them to the next level. Unfortunately, Integrated Chinese comes up short in this area as well. The most glaring fault is the appalling font for traditional Chinese characters chosen by the authors. Characters with a large number of strokes are in many cases simply illegible. This frustrates the students at home where no teacher is available, and wastes valuable time in in-class activities using the dialogues when they can’t read the characters. This problem is especially prevalent in the second year text. With the many fine fonts currently available for Chinese word processing this is an inexcusable flaw.\r\n\r\nI disagree with Mien-hua Chiang as to the quality of illustrations used in the book, and have yet to meet a student or colleague who likes them. The drawings are little better than stick figures, are generally unattractive and add limited communicative value to the course. The authors and publisher should invest much more time and money in this area, utilizing photographs, especially for the cultural information (which the text handles quite well), as well as authentic photos to accompany the chapter topics. Engaging charts, tables and graphs should accompany communicative activities which involve interviews and pair work among the students. Finally, the text should be hardcover. The Cheng & Tsui Company seems not to have put much stock in the production of Integrated Chinese, and frankly it shows.

4) Lack of Support for the Course by the Authors

In their introduction to the text, the authors state Integrated Chinese has been in development since 1994. They mention plans to include the utilization of the most current interactive technology, videos, a web site (the URL is printed in the text), and a resource/activity base for teachers. I have often visited the website over the past year and a half, and have found nothing which has assisted me in the presentation of Integrated Chinese. There is still no resource center for teaching activities specifically designed for the course, unless we allow for the addition of a few games which have been culled from the earlier Let’s Play Games In Chinese. These games, while sometimes useful and a fun diversion, do not really match the text and at best can be considered no more than supplementary material. I still am not aware of any videotapes accompanying the course. On a positive note, the audiotapes for the course have now become much more affordable. In previous years, the cost was so prohibitive that few students could buy them.

Conclusion

In sum, I think the authors of this text had the good intentions to produce a communicative text, but somewhere along the line lost track of their vision. This is evident in the course’s main strength — the chapter topics, which are genuinely communicative in nature. However, the presentation of the material and format of the course remains a throw-back to a previous era. In our first year course here at Colorado we simply do not use the text other than for general course direction. We do use the workbook and character book for homework assignments, but we design all lessons and activities ourselves. We hardly ever use the main text in class because it is void of communicative content. I would like to hear from other institutions which use Integrated Chinese. I also hope the authors will take a long, hard look at over-hauling this series, which has good potential, into a truly communicative material along the lines of those being produced now in so many other languages.

Review originally published in 1999 at University of Colorado at Boulder as Integrated Chinese: Another View for Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association.

the cover

The Far East Chinese-English Dictionary (遠東漢英辭典) is widely sold both in the west and in traditional character using Chinese regions, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. While its primary market is Chinese people who are studying English, this dictionary is also very useful for English speakers who are studying Chinese. In fact, many prestigious US colleges use this dictionary along with the Oxford Concise E-C/C-E dictionary for their intermediate level courses.

a page

The dictionary is organized by radical and stroke count, and all characters are indexed by both zhùyīn and pīnyīn at the back of the dictionary. More common terms are highlighted in pink. With over 120,000 entries on 7,331 Chinese characters, the dictionary is very thorough. Obviously, it isn’t impossible to include everything, but in my experience the dictionary has more than fulfilled its stated goal of emphasizing wide application and current usage. From literary terms to scientific terms to idioms and even vulgar slang, I have never encountered a commonly used word that I haven’t been able to find in this dictionary.

a close-up

Pros:

  • Accurate translations and clear explanations
  • Nearly any commonly used speech can be found
  • Radical, stroke number, zhùyīn and pīnyīn can all be used to find words
  • Fairly durable

Cons:

  • Though characters are indexed by pīnyīn in the back only zhùyīn is listed next to the entries under any given character
  • No simplified characters are included at all
  • The characters are too small for students to be able to tell how to write them
  • Except for literary terms, the usage for words in this dictionary is very Taiwan-centric, yet the pronunciation suggest for characters is often unused in Taiwan, except by mainland immigrants

Rating: 4.5/5
Level: Beginner to High Intermediate


Integrated Chinese 1 (中文聽說讀寫一) is by far the most used introductory Chinese textbook at US colleges. In fact, it was with this book that I began my studies of Chinese as a college freshman. According to the preface, Integrated Chinese uses a modern communicative approach. The book covers about 800 characters, not counting supplementary vocabulary, and is meant to be used for one college school year in a five hour per week class. I’ve never seen the book sold in Asia.

Like most Chinese textbooks, each lesson of Integrated Chinese 1 includes a Chinese dialogue, the same dialogue repeated in pinyin and then English, a vocabulary list, and a grammar section. In my opinion, the approach really isn’t that communicative. It’s just as focused on grammar and translation as any of the old school Chinese texts, such as the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese (視聽華語) series. It certainly isn’t as communicative as the modern Japanese textbooks, such as the Yookoso series. Integrated Chinese is extremely well laid out, though. The dialogues really are useful as spring-boards into class discussion. I think this is the one place where the communicative intent of the authors comes through.

Integrated Chinese 1 is accompanied by a workbook, a character workbook, and CDs with workbook exercises. Both simplified and traditional character versions are available. I found the workbooks to be difficult, but extremely helpful. The workbook CDs are absolutely the best I’ve ever used in any language program. For that matter, I can’t think of a single better workbook for any language course. Maybe the most telling thing is the comparison I saw the first time I left Taiwan to visit home. I met up with some friends studying Chinese in college with the Integrated Chinese series. In 9 months of attending class for 1 hour a day, they knew more characters and had better pronunciation than my friends at Shida (師範大學), who had been living in Taiwan and using the Audio-Visual series for 2 hours of class a day over just as many months. Nearly all of them credited the listening homework sections in the workbook.

I can’t emphasize enough how every thing in Integrated Chinese 1 is useful once you get to China. If you go to Taiwan, like I did, you’ll find a few word usages are different but you’ll still be well understood. Unfortunately, at times the book seems more like it was written for linguists than for 18 year old college students. The phonics section at the beginning was particularly intimidating. I remember that it described the pinyin “x” sound as an “alveolo-palatal fricative”. I had to look up each word in the dictionary to figure out what that meant. On the other hand, the book was very precise and I did figure it out, unlike many people I’ve met who have studied for years and still don’t differentiate their “x” and “sh” sounds very well. The grammar explanations are dry, but thorough. One final thing I’d like to say about Integrated Chinese 1 is that it is NOT an easy textbook work through in the time frame allotted by most colleges. If you work through it in one year in a 5-credit class, I guarantee you’ll be spending at least a couple of hours a day on your homework.

Pros:

  • Very accurate grammar explanations
  • Excellent workbook and workbook CDs
  • Good dialogue topics
  • Gives students a good foundation for further study
  • Very widely used

Cons:

  • Makes for a very difficult one year course
  • Explanations are sometimes overly technical
  • The traditional character fonts aren’t very good; complex characters look like ink-blots
  • The teaching method is not as modern as the authors claim it to be

Rating: 4/5
Level: Absolute Beginner

UC Berkley has some multimedia excercises for Integrated Chinese.

Background
Far East Everyday Chinese 1 (遠東生活華語一) is the second most commonly used introductory textbook in Taiwan. While the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese series has been the undisputed leader amongst textbooks in language schools across Taiwan for the past decade, the Far East series has been steadily making inroads ever since being published in 2001. A few schools such as Gaoxiong Shida (高雄師大) favor the newer series. At the time of this writing, even Taiwan Shida (臺灣師大), the school that publishes the Practical Audio-Visual series, offers classes that make use of the Far East series. Most other schools have followed suit and started offering a few Far East classes as well. Interestingly enough, the author of Far East Everyday Chinese 1 is none other than Yeh Teh-ming (葉德明), the former director of Taiwan Shida’s language program in the 90’s. Also, of note is that while few American colleges use this book, it is available in many Chinatowns across the states, as well as other Chinatowns in Vancouver and Sydney.

Overview
This book was written with the goal of making a book for a classroom focused on communicative, rather than audio-lingual or translation teaching. This is readily apparent from the very beginning. In stark contrast with every other beginning Chinese language textbook I’ve seen, the first dialogue in this book is NOT 你好. It’s 多少錢. The first chapter in the book teaches students how to ask how much things cost and how to order basic foods sold at local shops, while the second deals with going to traditional markets. In short it gives students the tools to handle their very first and most common communicative needs upon moving to a Chinese speaking environment, or even visiting a Chinatown. I can’t even begin to tell you how much more useful this is for an absolute beginner than the chapter one dialogues dealing with introductions and professions that appear in most Chinese books are. Unfortunately, the book is decidedly on the thin side for an introductory text. With only twelve chapters, and only about 30-40 new words per chapter, it just isn’t enough material for a full first year at most universities.

Besides a text book, there are also a workbook, a character workbook, CDs for the textbook and a CD for the workbook. The CDs to be excellent. The textbook CDs are clear and slow, but not overly so. The workbook CD is also very useful. Unlike the Practical Audio-Visual Series which includes no listening homework, the Far East series includes listening comprehension drills in every chapter of the workbook. This listening homework is vital because without it, many beginning students get stuck and don’t develop enough listening skills to feel comfortable enough to start engaging in conversations. The textbook, workbook, and character workbook are available in both simplified and traditional character versions. The textbooks of each version also include characters of the other type in the the glossary and dialogue appendix. The covers of all of the books are flimsy and quickly destroyed in backpacks.

Pros:

  • Communicative introduction to Mandarin that teaches the most useful things first
  • Extremely well suited to students living in a Chinese environment
  • Very useful for students who have access to China towns
  • A full CD of listening comprehension drills
  • Relatively widely used
  • Colorful and interesting text

Cons:

  • Not enough material for a full year college course
  • Grammar is introduced only when necessary for a communicative goal; many students feel that its introduction is haphazard
  • Even in the traditional character version, no zhù yīn is used
  • Flimsy covers

Rating: 4/5
Level: Absolute Beginner

How could a review of Chinese textbooks start with anything else? For better or worse, Practical Audio-Visual Chinese (視聽華語) is the de facto standard Chinese textbook in Taiwan. Shida (師範大學) uses it. 文化大學 uses it. Taida (臺灣大學) uses it. Nearly every major Mandarin language school on the island uses this book. Unless you study at TLI, there is a very strong chance that you’ll encounter this book. Perhaps the best feature of this book is that almost every experienced Mandarin as a foreign language instructor on the island is familiar with it. Not only that, but quite a few intermediate materials have been specifically designed for students who have studied through the first two books of this series.

The question everybody emails me is this: is Practical Audio-Visual Chinese okay? The answer is yes. It’s “okay”. There’s nothing exceptionally good about this book, but it doesn’t have any glaring flaws either. It includes both zhuyin (注音) and standard 拼音. It has supporting CDs, VCDs, and a workbook. This book takes a very methodical approach. Each lesson starts with a reading or dialogue, followed by vocabulary words, and grammar explanations, each with example sentences. The explanations are clear, and there are no glaring errors.

However, there are a few drawbacks. Even though the book was written in 1994, sometimes it seems like it was written in 1954. The accents of the speakers on the accompanying CDs and VCDs are decidedly mainland. While the CDs are useful for review, the workbook doesn’t take advantage of them. There are absolutely no listening comprehension exercises. Also, there are a few grammar constructions taught in the book that many Taiwanese people don’t understand, such as the double construction. Even worse, is the use of and as passive markers. For example, “我讓你給弄糊塗了.” Most Taiwanese people under the age of about 50 will say that construction is flat out wrong. In truth, it is standard Mandarin, but it’s Mandarin that simply isn’t used here anymore. While this book isn’t quite ideal, it will get the job done, and many, many people have used it as a stepping stone to the next level.

Pros:

  • Comprehensive introduction to Mandarin Grammar
  • Well supported by CDs, VCDs, and workbook
  • Supports both Pinyin and Zhuyin
  • Widely used

Cons:

  • No simplified characters
  • Outdated usage
  • Not particularly interesting
  • No listening excercises in the workbook
  • Fragile cover

Rating: 3/5
Level: Absolute Beginner

I hope to make this into a useful resource for others learning Chinese, particularly those who wish to learn traditional characters. If you would like to review a Chinese textbook, email it to doubtingtoshuo@gmail.com, preferably with photos of the book.