Learning Chinese is difficult as it is. No need to complicate that more with hard to track resources or unknown textbook gems. Below, I’ve created the ultimate guide of Chinese textbooks. These are the best of the best on the market. These can be used both in the classroom but, for Chinese self-learners like me, I completely understand the struggle of identifying which books you should buy. Are they the correct level? Is there English also? Are the explanations good? Will my listening improve? And many more questions. The struggle is real, I know. So, I’ve made this list with only the best books, for beginners up until the advanced level.
I previously written an article listing the Best Resources for Learning Chinese. In this article are the best apps, dictionaries, and more. Now, onto the textbooks.
At this point, you are just starting off, so the main things you want to focus on when purchasing a textbook are:
When you are starting off, I recommend following a textbook series, that can guide you through the beginning stage. This will leave you ultimately with a strong foundation. There’s four options I recommend.
1. Integrated Chinese
This is perhaps the most famous one, used by the majority of professors and a common choice for beginners in Mandarin.
Above is what the older 3rd edition used to look like. Below is the new editions. Aren’t they pretty?
The updated 4th edition series comes with 4 volumes of Textbooks, each with an accompanying Workbook and Character Workbook. The Character Workbooks in particular are super helpful when starting and the set up they have make it easy to learn the stroke order and practice making your characters legible. The Workbooks also complement the Textbooks nicely.
2. New Practical Chinese Reader
As you can see there are six levels in the New Practical Chinese Reader series. These roughly correspond to the HSK 1-6 levels, so it’s convenient if you want to continue with one single series.
They’ve updated the volumes 1-4 editions recently. Volumes 1-4 all include a Textbook and Workbook. There is also an option for a Character Workbook and a Companion Reader to practice reading, but these are definitely harder to track down. Volumes 5 and 6 only come with a Textbook.
There’s also a Test and Quizzes booklet you can purchase for Volume 1 to use as a self-test to verify your knowledge.
You can continue with this both these series until you complete them, but in general, they are ideal for the beginner who is just starting out. The beginning levels, Volumes 1-2, are what I recommend. Personally, I believe there are better options for the Intermediate and Advanced stages.
Intermediate to High-Intermediate Stage
At this stage, you should know an acceptable level of vocabulary and the majority of the primary grammar. Here, you want to focus mainly on:
- Idioms (成语)
- Sentence structures
- More complex dialogues/longer text
This is the awkward middle stage of language-learning where textbooks are a bit harder to find and quality ones are extremely difficult to locate. Below are the cream of the crop, as they say.
1. Beyond the Basics
This is by far, one of my favorite Chinese textbooks books, along with the next recommendation.
After completed the Level 2, Part 2 of the 3rd Edition Integrated Chinese series, I transferred over this Beyond the Basics. It was a big of jump in level, but a challenge that I loved. I found the Integrated Chinese books to be quite repetitive and predictable, so Beyond the Basics was the perfect next textbook.
It has nice, long passages, a huge variety of words, including useful supplementary vocabulary. A balanced range of idioms, and useful exercises integrated at the end each chapter are also super useful in increasing your vocabulary range. Each chapter has a different topic, unlike the Integrated Chinese series which is based on a set of characters and their life in school. At the intermediate level, it is definitely more interesting to speak about social issues and more practical conversations you might actually have in Chinese, if you know what I mean.
Another option you could go for is the A New China textbook, which is the textbook that comes before this next book recommendation. While I have used the next book, I have never used A New China, so I cannot vouch for its quality. Nevertheless, briefly looking at the content, it appears to be a slightly easier textbook compared to the Beyond the Basics.
2. All Things Considered
This is my other textbook love, in addition to Beyond the Basics. This is called an Advanced Reader, but I would actually classify it is being at the High-Intermediate stage. It introduces the learner perfectly to the Advanced stage.
This is like the advanced continuation of Beyond the Basics. The transition from one to the other is so smooth and the vocabulary is extremely useful and practical. There are so many useful sentence structures and grammar examples. There’s also numerous exercises at the end of each chapter that emphasize synonyms and grammar points.
This textbook is split into two parts. The first 12 chapters are in the format of dialogues. Chapters 13 to 32 are real newspaper articles that were published in the past. This is a great way to smoothly switch into the advanced stage of Chinese.
Actually, at this stage you can experiment with simpler novels or reading newspapers. You don’t need to stick to the traditional textbook approach. However, I fully know that having the structure of a textbook is something many people like, so I’ve included a few of my favorites below. If you do want to buy a textbook at this stage, you should focus on:
- Diverse vocabulary
- Idioms (成语 and 俗语)
- Oral/Colloquial Chinese
- Advanced sentence structures
1. Discussing Everything
This is a 2-volume set, the first being advertised at the Upper Intermediate level and the second at the Advanced level. To be completely honest, both should be classified as advanced. I remember taking this book around the time of Beyond the Basics and it was too difficult and overwhelming. A challenge is nice, but it needs to be a suitable one when it comes to languages like Mandarin.
In any case, this series is structured with main chapters with an overall, looser theme, and then subsections with more specific dialogues and paragraph text.
Many colloquial and informal Chinese words are introduced, which is super helpful. A wide range of advanced vocabulary is also listed, as well as a huge range of example sentences.
2. Advanced Spoken Chinese
If you want to improve your colloquial Chinese and, at the same time, learn more about Chinese culture, then look no further. This book is a set of 2 and provides dialogues according to common daily life scenarios. There is almost no English in these books, which is something to note, in comparison with the others mentioned.
There are also supplementary texts that are provided that are useful, as well as a comprehensive lists of idioms and commonly used advanced phrases.
By this point, read novels, articles, and newspapers. Immerse yourself in different media forms. Listen to Chinese podcasts and music, watch Chinese TV shows and TV programs. The more you immerse yourself, the faster and better you will learn. It’s that simple.
If I had had this list when first starting to learn Chinese, I would have saved so much time and energy searching for the best resources. So, I really hope you find this useful. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below and share this with all your friends! Invite more people to learn Chinese!