Dàjiā hǎo! (Hello, everyone!) Chinese is a challenging yet intriguing language for native English speakers to learn, due to its complex characters and tonal sounds. You might worry that you'll need a good memory in order to remember how to read and write each new word - but there's no need to feel intimidated! There are lots of great books out there that are designed for learners at all levels, including beginners.
Whether you're after simple conversational phrases, enjoyable reading exercises, or something to improve your writing, we're here with some top-rated recommendations. We've selected 10 brilliant books, including the bestselling titles Easy Mandarin Chinese and Mandarin Chinese for Beginners, for you to browse for inspiration. Ready to learn a new language?
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Once you've decided to learn Chinese, you'll need the appropriate materials to help you succeed on your language journey. Here are some of our top tips to help you choose the perfect book!
Have some basic language knowledge already from classes or watching Chinese dramas on Netflix? Try a textbook for advanced beginners - it'll still be fairly simple but will provide you with new information rather than going over the basics again.
If you've reached intermediate level, there are plenty of great books around that will help you to build on what you already know. Don't get too excited and rush towards advanced level materials though - after all, a steady attitude is the key to learning a language!
Simplified characters are easier to learn because they have fewer strokes, but this often means that important or definition-indicating radicals have been removed from them. For example, the traditional character for love (愛) contains the radical for heart (心). However, in the simplified version, the heart radical has been removed so it looks like this instead: 爱.
Although traditional characters are more difficult to learn, they can help with understanding kanji (Chinese characters in Japanese) and hanja (Chinese characters in Korean). They will also be of more use if you plan to visit Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan rather than the mainland.
In the end, whether you should learn traditional or simplified Chinese all depends on your personal preference and the amount of time you're willing to spend on learning all of the different characters!
Language-learning involves reading, writing, listening, and speaking - but this doesn't mean you have to focus on all four aspects at once! Instead, focusing solely on one aspect that you enjoy may prove to be a more effective way of mastering Mandarin.
If you want to start learning how to write Chinese characters, look for a hanzi book that'll teach you how to copy the strokes so you can produce meticulously handwritten Mandarin. Many of these books even cover methods to help you memorise the characters, which helps with recognising them when reading too.
To further enhance your reading comprehension, there are books with short stories or classical Chinese poems available. Some storybooks also come with exercises, which allow you to test yourself - so you'll know exactly which words or phrases you struggle with and need to spend more time revising.
Conversation books are ideal for those who want to speak with more confidence and communicate with native speakers. They typically include grammar and vocabulary to help you form your own sentences and get your points across clearly.
Since beginners often find it difficult to pronounce Chinese words, many textbooks feature pronunciation and tonal guidance, as well as using pinyin. Often, English words which sound similar to the Chinese word are used to indicate the pronunciation, which can be really useful!
Motivation is essential when learning a language, so it's important to choose a book that helps you to feel fully engaged with the words on the page. Visual aids such as coloured text, illustrations, or photographs will make your learning feel more interactive and less formal.
Supplementary audio materials like CDs or MP3 files are particularly useful for learning a tonal language like Mandarin because they'll help you master pronunciation much more quickly than if you were to just read the text.
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Yi Ren, Xi-yuan Liang
Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
Familiarise Yourself With Both Chinese Language and Etiquette
Easy Peasy Chinese: Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
Colourful, With an Easy Layout for Beginners
Alison Matthews, Laurence Matthews
Learning Chinese Characters
Illustrations to Help You Write Simplified Chinese
Daily Language Learning
Chinese Short Stories
Engaging and Entertaining Stories to Boost Your Confidence
Selected 300 Poems of Chinese Tang Dynasty
Experience the Beauty of Tang Dynasty Poetry
Crash Course Chinese
Improve Your Vocabulary and Chat Like a Native Speaker
Laurence Matthews, Alison Matthews
The First 100 Chinese Characters
Write Traditional Chinese Characters From Scratch
Easy Mandarin Chinese
No Hanzi Required Here!
Conversational Chinese Dialogues
Practical Convos That'll Test Your Reading Skills Too
James W. Heisig, Timothy W. Richardson
Remembering Traditional Hanzi 1
Learn Traditional Characters By Building on Your Existing Knowledge
Best of all, this book includes information about Chinese etiquette, covering topics like how to address people and table manners. When you visit China to test out your skills, you'll be able to talk and behave just like a local!
We just love the content and the colourful design of this book, especially since it's so affordable! Besides having beautiful pictures, it includes practical vocabulary that you can use in real-life conversations. It also has basic information and tips on how to write simple hanzi, which is usually only found in textbooks that are dedicated to character writing!
With this all-in-one book, you'll be able to introduce yourself, order food, and hold a conversation in Chinese in no time. Budget-friendly, accessible, and fun to read - this is a real bargain if you ask us!
This hanzi exercise book stands out from the other products on our list as it has some really useful, logical learning features. In addition to the stroke-by-stroke guides, each chapter starts with the introduction of radicals accompanied by illustrations, which make it easier to remember them.
Each word also has its own "story" in English, which will help you to effectively retain information in the long term. With this book, we believe that you'll find motivation and enjoy learning how to write hanzi!
Advanced beginners will likely want materials to boost their confidence before they proceed to intermediate level reading. This book features 11 engaging and entertaining stories in pinyin and English translation, which will encourage you to learn new but not too complex vocabulary.
The comprehension exercises included in this book progressively get more challenging, so they'll prompt you to use more complex grammar structures in order to answer the questions. Learning new vocabulary within the context of a story also makes it easier to remember words!
This brilliant bilingual book of poetry features verses by famous poets such as Li Bai, Du Fu, and Meng Haoran which many Chinese people learn as children. Through their words, you can picture life in the Tang dynasty and understand why these poems are still considered central to Chinese culture even after 1300 years.
While you don't necessarily have to understand every word on the page, thanks to the English translations, this book is perfect for practising reading hanzi. Plus, you'll feel a greater connection with Chinese culture through reading each beautiful verse.
This book has all the essentials to help you master the art of Chinese conversation, including a variety of simple grammar concepts. The best part is the colloquial vocabulary it contains, which will make it easy for you to chat to locals without sounding too formal!
Audio materials are unfortunately not included with this book, which is a real shame as we find that you can never quite get the pronunciation right without hearing an example. Still, this is a handy little book to have if you're on holiday in Beijing!
Want to learn how to write traditional characters from scratch? This is the book you've been waiting for! With stroke-by-stroke guidance, it teaches you the correct order for writing hanzi and also features radicals to help you learn the meanings more quickly.
Traditional characters naturally take time and effort to learn, plus they can be really frustrating sometimes - so this book isn't recommended for casual learners. If you're dedicated though, it's a fantastic buy!
Don't feel guilty if you want to learn Chinese without dedicating time to memorising hanzi! This book focuses on teaching Mandarin through pinyin and English translations, so you can enjoy learning without too much of a headache. It also includes comics for an entertaining yet educational experience.
The only downside is that some of the grammar in each chapter has limited explanations and examples, which might be overwhelming for solo learners. Having a Chinese-speaking friend clarify these concepts might help you to understand better if you get stuck!
You'll find chatting to locals easy with this book, as it covers all the essential conversations you might encounter on a day-to-day basis in China. From small talk and ordering food to popping to the dry cleaners, the topics covered are simple yet very practical.
However, this book consists of dialogue only - no vocabulary lists or exercises - which will be rather challenging for those who are new to the language. Hence, you might want to try learning some hanzi first before picking up this book.
If you have a solid knowledge of simplified characters and want to challenge yourself, why not use this book to help you? It teaches you how to write traditional Chinese by combining words and radicals that you'll already know in the simplified version, plus it has English explanations.
Sadly, pinyin isn't provided in this book, meaning you'll need to have a strong fundamental understanding of Mandarin and a good memory! There's also no space provided for you to practise writing out the characters, which is a shame.
Written Mandarin consists of hanzi (characters) which are logograms - this means that each character has a different definition and pronunciation. In rare cases, a character can have two different readings, but usually, it just has one.
Pinyin is the romanization of hanzi, with the pronunciation and tone indicated for each character. Pinyin is used in almost all Chinese language books, especially at beginner and intermediate levels, to help you master pronunciation.
Fancy learning even more languages? The sky's the limit, as far as we're concerned! Here's a few suggestions for books that'll get you started on your linguistic journey and help to broaden your horizons.
We hope you've found this article informative about the Chinese language and that it helps you to find a book that suits your ability and needs. We reckon you'll love Mandarin once you start learning it, so what are you waiting for? Get stuck in and test out your new skills on your friends!
Author: Angina Chow
No. 1: Yi Ren, Xi-yuan Liang｜Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
No. 2: Elinor Greenwood｜Easy Peasy Chinese: Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
No. 3: Alison Matthews, Laurence Matthews｜Learning Chinese Characters
No. 4: Daily Language Learning｜Chinese Short Stories
No. 5: Hai-jun Wei｜Selected 300 Poems of Chinese Tang Dynasty
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