Monday, March 4, 2013

Advanced Chinese Reader by John DeFrancis

Not quite as user-friendly as the preceding volumes
Advanced Chinese Reader is the fifth and final volume in the Chinese Reader series of textbooks by John DeFrancis. It was originally published in 1966. Though the book utilizes the same effective method of instruction DeFrancis developed in the previous volumes of the series, the Advanced volume is structured a bit differently. While the Beginning and Intermediate levels are divided into two volumes each, the Advanced level is contained in one single volume. Nevertheless, it still presents 400 new Chinese characters, so the same amount of content is packed into a smaller package. This book has 25 lessons, each featuring 16 new characters and hundreds of character compounds (words or phrases). Unlike the previous volumes, there are no review lessons. Each character combination is presented in a sample sentence. Only a few of the more complicated sentences are translated into English. Each lesson also contains from nine to fifteen pages of reading passages, all in paragraph prose, sometimes in the form of personal letters. There are no dialogues in this book. The Chinese characters in this volume are one-half the height of those in the Intermediate volumes, so DeFrancis can cram a lot of material into fewer pages. Some of the individual reading passages can run as long as three pages. These longer pieces are often summaries of or paraphrased excerpts from classic works of Chinese literature and philosophy, such as the novel Dream of the Red Chamber or Sun Yat-sen's Three People's Principles. As in the previous volumes, the supplemental lessons on modern characters appear at the back of the book, along with all of the usual charts and glossaries.

Because of the increase in the amount of content to be learned, and the lack of review lessons, this volume requires a lot more hard work on the part of the reader to learn and retain the information. It’s not quite as simple as the learning by osmosis that one experiences with the Beginning and Intermediate levels. You must do your own reviewing, including memorization drills, in order to keep all the characters straight, or you will drown beneath the flood of new characters and compounds that inundates you with each chapter. Still, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably willing to put in the extra effort, and the harder you work the more you’ll learn.

The copy of this book that I received from Amazon appears to be a print-on-demand book, meaning that instead of the publisher printing up thousands of copies on a printing press and then storing them in a warehouse, the book is laser printed after you purchase it. Though it’s not glaringly noticeable, the printing is not of the same level of quality that you get from an offset printing press. The result is that some of the more intricate Chinese characters are difficult to read because the spaces between strokes fill in and the details get muddy. Of course, if you ever try to read a Chinese newspaper, the characters aren’t going to be crystal clear either, so in that sense this book offers you some practice in distinguishing hard-to-read characters. Although I’m not crazy about the quality of the print-on-demand process, it serves the purpose of making it cost effective for the publisher to keep this book in print, thereby insuring that those with a desire and determination to learn the written Chinese language will always have access to this important and effective textbook.

If you liked this review, please follow the link below to and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. After reading your review I have one question: How far do you think that the books take you after finishing each of the levels? Do you think that after finishing with the Intermediate level you can read written material with relative fluidity? And after the Advanced level?
    Finally, which level of the HSK test do you think that the reading of the books prepare you for?