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  • Outdated usage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