Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Taiwan Today: An Intermediate Course by Shou-hsin Teng and Lo Sun Perry

More advanced than intermediate
Taiwan Today is a Chinese-language textbook designed for use in intermediate level college courses. I, however, did not use it in conjunction with a course, but rather for self study. It is hard to find good textbooks that concentrate on traditional rather than modern Chinese characters, and almost impossible to find one that focuses on Taiwan rather than the mainland. Taiwan Today does more than just fill this void; it is a well-thought-out and very useful instructional tool for learning written Chinese.

Each chapter in the book focuses on a different aspect of Taiwanese culture. Some of the topics covered include exercise and leisure activities, eating at a food stand, marriage customs, religion and folk beliefs, the changing role of women in the family and the workplace, and environmental issues. Each chapter begins with a one-page reading passage, shown both in traditional and modern characters. These passages are really quite easy, and all the necessary vocabulary is defined for you. Following these reading passages are exercises, all in traditional characters, which are far more challenging. Each chapter has a section on grammar in which several expressions are demonstrated in sample sentences, followed by opportunities for readers to fill in the blanks or translate entire sentences from English to Chinese. Then comes a series of exercises which vary from chapter to chapter. They can be anything from multiple choice, fill in the blanks, crossword puzzles, and so on. There are also exercises designed for classroom use like role playing scenarios or topics for group discussion. Each chapter ends with some photographs illustrating concepts discussed in the lesson, and some excerpts copied from Taiwanese newspapers.

The only problem I have with this book is that I think it may be more advanced than its “Intermediate” label implies. While the reading passages are easy, the exercises can be quite difficult. You are expected to be able to construct mutiple-clause sentences or compose entire paragraphs from unfamiliar vocabulary. The exercises use many characters and phrases that are not defined in the vocabulary lists. In the chapter on food, for example, you’re expected to know the character for everything in the refrigerator. I had previously completed the five volumes of the John DeFrancis Chinese Reader series, from Beginning to Advanced, and approached this book with a vocabulary of about 1,500 characters. Still I found myself frequently reaching for the dictionary. So I used this book primarily as a vocabulary builder, and ended up adding another 300 characters to my repertoire, almost none of which were defined within this text and had to be looked up on my own. Consider carefully your own skill level before tackling this book. It will be most useful to students on the far side of intermediate, heading toward advanced.

I have been to Taiwan once and plan on returning in the next few years. This book has provided me with some valuable linguistic and cultural lessons which will serve me well on my next visit.

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