By Baozhen Shi

This is a comparison of two textbooks that I have used for teaching. The first book is 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course 2 (Hua Dong Normal University Press, 2003), which includes 20 Chapters. The second book isNew Practical Chinese Reader Textbook 3 (Beijing Language and Culture University Press, 2003), which includes 12 chapters. Every lesson in each of these books contains a main article and an additional article. Both textbooks are used for adult students whose Chinese levels are higher intermediate (B1).


Chapter Topics


 

40 lessons includes very interesting topics about modern life in China. The content is humorous and relates to students' life. For example, some of the topics are about finding girlfriends through the internet; the changes of Shanghai; the Opening Up Policy in China, and so on. The main material in each lesson is a text in the form of an article, rather than a dialogue. There are smaller articles about basic Chinese geography, funny stories, ancient Chinese culture and proverbs. The weakness is the format of these two articles, as both are presented using a prose article. There is no oral practice training mode at all. The connection between topics is not very logical or strong. It is quite random to put these topics in one book. Therefore it is difficult for students to remember all of the language points, grammar and vocabulary in a logical way. It would make students feel what they are learning is like picking up lots of scattered individual "rice", rather than picking up a very well organized "chain". There are also too many new words in each lesson – around 40 words on average.

New Practical Chinese, in contrast, tries to teach Chinese culture through content topics. For example, lesson 27 is about a conversation in a Chinese tea house. Through this topic, students can learn about Chinese tea culture; the difference and similarities between a Chinese tea house and an English pub (they are both places for being sociable with friends, but are quite different from each other); and the difference between Chinese restaurants and English restaurants (talking loudly, eating manners etc.) The additional articles contain a wide range of topics, for instance: some topics are based on Chinese culture and Chinese traditional stories. A strength of the format of the main articles withinNew Practical Chinese is that they are presented as a dialogue, which is different from the format of the 40 Lessons. It enables the students to use the grammar and language points while they are learning the main article. The whole series of books are connected by the experience of several international students who are studying in China. This is different form the other book as well. Although in New Practical Chinese each lesson presents a new theme, a link is made from one lesson to another through the developing experiences of the international students in China. There is also a very interesting and useful additional section about Chinese Characters after each lesson, which the other book does not have. These aspects make New Practical Chinese better for teaching purposes than 40 Lessons .

However, there are some weak points of New Practical Chinese. For instance, some of the topics are a bit old fashioned and clichéd (eve for Chinese people), and so not as interesting as material contained within the other book. The Chinese tea house, how Chinese people give and receive presents, going to a teacher's house to talk about how to raise flowers, "老舍养花”, and so on, is useful for teaching students about aspects of Chinese culture, but if the whole chapter is exclusively about this, it becomes boring and less useful. 40 Lessons is better in this respect.


 

Exercise



40 Lessons has lots of exercises on comprehension questions, practicing vocabulary, sentence structures, and speaking practice based on the vocabulary, sentence structures, and grammar that students have learned in each lesson. In the vocabulary practice section, there is a useful phrases list in each lesson. The exercise that are for distinguishing the difference between the similar words through sentences. For instance: Please choose the correct words for the sentences below:

人家 别人

1. 小赵上班从来不迟到,你应该向( )学习。

2. 你昨天除了她,还看见( )了吗?

人家 and 别人 look quite similar, and both are translated into other peoplein English, but it is used very differently in Chinese. There are lots of very good vocabulary exercises in 40 Lessons. Sentence structure exercises are quite well organized as well. Some of the grammatical points from the lesson are practiced through sentence structures. For instance, the key grammar points in lesson 26 is 把 structure, and it is practiced in the sentence structures exercise like this: please make new sentences with 把 by using the given phrases: 这些衣服 洗. There are also tasks to answer questions or complete a conversation by using the given words, and make sentences by using the given words. The good points are that the exercises are extremely well focused in teaching the language, learning new words and explaining grammar. The weak point is there are too many exercises and it is a very old fashioned style of teaching. If we use this book for teaching international students, they might become very bored, but of course if the students who are studying Chinese as a major in their university, that will be an exception--they will not mind lots of exercise practicing, because it is their job to study Chinese rather than an interest.

In New Practical Chinese, there is also a list of useful phrases, but there is also a list of key sentences which the other book does not have. Similarly, sentence structures practice is also taught through making new sentences using given words and structures, and grammar points are also practiced through sentences. In addition, this textbook includes excerises on describing pictures by using given structures, and a speaking practice based on a topic to do with the students' real life. There is not any vocabulary practice in the textbook. The good point is there are lots of oral training tasks based on logical structures. The weak point is it only gives a list of key phrases but without any exercises to consolidate learning points, but there is a work book students can buy if they want more practice.


Overall, these two textbooks are both quite good for mature adults who want to improve their Chinese in terms of the texts, exercises and the practice of grammar and language points. However, I would recommendNew Practical Chinese over 40 Lessons. It is overall a better organized textbook, and its weakness of including some tedious content material could be overcome by teachers supplementing this with interesting additional information based on what’s most appropriate for the students.

 

Copyright 2010 Baozhen Shi