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