Intermediate & Advanced Mandarin Resources
You’ve taken the plunge into learning Mandarin and have decided to continue. It was no easy task, but you’ve grasped the concepts of pinyin, radicals, and characters. I salute you. If you haven’t started yet and you came here looking for suggestions, try my post on resources for Mandarin beginners.
For those who are ready to take their Mandarin to the next level, I have a treat for you. Here are the intermediate and advanced Mandarin resources I’ve come across over the years. I’m including links to amazon in the post simply because I find it easiest to find books there. Amazon is not paying me for the reviews, but the advertisements do help keep this blog running.
Graded Chinese Reader Series by Shi Ji
The Graded Chinese Reader is excellent for people who may not be the most comfortable reading Chinese, but are willing to give it a shot. There are six books, ranging from 500 words to 3000 words. Each new book feels like leveling up in a video game, and you can jump in at any point because the books are a collection of short stories. The books are written in simplified characters, and there is pinyin on top of the characters so you can still read characters you are unfamiliar with. For those that don’t want to read pinyin, the book comes with a piece of plastic that allows you to hide the it and just read the characters. The Graded Chinese Reader also comes with CDs (I know, CDs are dying but Chinese CDs are worth the buy, in my opinion) so readers can test their listening comprehension. I haven’t collected them all yet, but someday I’ll add them to my permanent library. As far as I know, these books only exist for simplified characters. If anyone knows of reading resources for traditional characters, I’d love to hear about them!
Pleco by Pleco Software Incorporated
Pleco is the only pocket-sized Chinese dictionary you’ll ever need. Was that a sensationalist sentence? I think it was. Available for free in both Apple and Android app stores, this app allows users to input English, pinyin, audio, images, handwriting and characters (both simplified and traditional) to search the dictionary for a translation. Parts of speech are color coded, and there is a flashcard function for people who would like to create personalized vocabulary lists. There are a few paid functions on Pleco, but in the three years I’ve been using it I haven’t needed them. In fact, I’m not even sure what the paid functions are. I prefer to view the app in “night mode” because the colors are more distinct against a black background, but the default background is white and the user can toggle night mode themselves. This comprehensive app makes a reliable study buddy, but does not translate full sentences. Rather, it translates each phrase separately. Still, the app can be used offline which makes it very helpful.
Chinese Breeze Series by Peking University Press
I admit that I do not have a ton of experience with Chinese Breeze. I came across the series while updating the catalog information for my school’s library, and made a mental note to share them with my readers. There are three levels (each level is a different color), ranging from 300 words to 750 words. The books are lightweight and come equipped with CDs. Stories in the Chinese Breeze series are often based on ancient and contemporary Chinese classics, though the vocabulary has been modified to fit the level of the reader. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it for the individual to buy all the books in a level when the Graded Chinese Reader series is an anthology (I prefer the anthology format), but these books are excellent for classrooms because they are thin and portable. Students can borrow them from their teacher, or the teacher can assign a specific book as part of the curriculum. Like the Graded Chinese Reader series, these books are written in simplified characters.
The Routledge Advanced Chinese Multimedia Course: Crossing Cultural Boundaries by Lee, Liao, Jiao, and Wheatly
This was actually the textbook I used for my advanced Chinese course. The chapters are hefty and the content helps students understand mainland Chinese culture. My version of the book was written in simplified characters, with traditional characters alongside the relevant definitions in the vocabulary list. I believe a traditional character version of the book exists as well. At a minimum, there are links to bonus content in the book, and if my memory serves me well that content included traditional character “translations” of the text. As with many Chinese books at this level, there is a CD that comes along with the textbook. Each chapter contains a reading, a vocabulary list, a few grammar explanations and a little culture note (in Chinese). An advanced self-learner could use this book on their own, but it doesn’t hurt to have a native speaker or a teacher explain the differences between some of the synonyms. Some of the characters in this book are for use solely in literary Chinese, while others are used only in colloquial Chinese. Sometimes the book denotes the difference, but it’s helpful to have some one around to correct you. So far, there are two editions of this book, but the differences between editions is minor (in class, students using the older edition only needed to copy the handful of added vocabulary into their books, otherwise the content was the same).
I would consider Yabla to be the online counterpart to Pleco. It functions much in the same way as the app, but it lives in the browser on the internet. While writing essays, I prefer to use Yabla because it will show synonyms in both languages, which allows users to choose between characters with different shades of meaning. I’m the kind of person who chooses words carefully (when writing essays, perhaps not so much while blogging), so this level of detail really helped bring my essays to life. Yabla also has a pinyin chart, which is good for either beginners trying to learn Chinese or experienced students who need a review. There isn’t much I can say about Yabla that isn’t encompassed in Pleco, and Pleco actually has more functionality, but Yabla’s word bank is much larger than Pleco’s. If I can’t find a word or phrase on Pleco, I usually turn to Yabla (I stay away from Google Translate).
I’ll keep my eye out for more Mandarin resources, but because I’ve graduated from uni, I’m no longer enrolled in Chinese courses. Still, I like to read, and have started to branch out into Chinese-language Literature, so perhaps there will be full-fledged reviews of Chinese books on here (in English, for the sake of simplicity and expediency).