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Tag: Chinese_Textbooks


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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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


  • 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


  • 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

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.


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


  • 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, preferably with photos of the book.