Student review: Encounters: Chinese Language and Culture, Student Book 1

November 3, 2011

Encounters: Chinese Language and Culture, Student Book 1

Authors: Cynthia Y. Ning and John S. Montanaro

Edition: First

Publisher: Yale University Press

Pages: 336

Price: £65.00

ISBN 9780300161625

Encounters: Chinese Language and Culture Character Writing Workbook

Authors John S. Montanaro and Cynthia Y. Ning

Edition: First

Publisher: Yale University Press

Pages: 256

Price: £20.00

ISBN: 9780300161700

For beginners in Mandarin Chinese, Encounters provides a well-rounded introduction to the language - it covers the basics by supplementing textbook exercises with audio and visual media on its website. In addition, it offers the student a primer on Chinese culture - each unit has a "Cultural bits video" in which a range of Chinese and non-Chinese people explain the fundamentals of social interaction in China and the differences between Western and Chinese social conventions. Personally, I would have liked to have had a CD-ROM for the listening exercises and videos as well so that I could follow them no matter the vagaries of internet access because, particularly with the use of tones in Chinese, such resources are essential.

The textbook is well organised and comprehensive. Units cover the basics with clarity and variety, while "Grammar bits" and "FYI" sections throughout the book offer more detail in the way of explanation and examples of use and application. At the end of each unit is a recap section, which goes over the grammar and vocabulary, and the website allows students to hear the pronunciation of each word in the vocabulary audio segment.

Unlike some textbooks, the reading exercises are written solely in characters, with no Pinyin to help readers with pronunciation. This may be difficult for some: users must put in the time to learn and be able to recognise a lot of characters from an early stage; this does, however, prevent the student from becoming reliant on Pinyin. Those who wish to check their answers will be disappointed to learn that they cannot do so online - to do that one must purchase the Annotated Instructor's Edition.

The writing workbook teaches users how to form characters by stroke order and provides boxes for practising each character. It offers example sentences featuring each word to aid students' understanding of the use and meaning of each character. An interesting feature of the writing workbook is that it shows the development of characters from their ancient form to contemporary incarnations (both modern traditional and simplified). The inclusion of modern traditional may aid learners of non-mainland Chinese origin, or those with some prior knowledge of simplified characters who wish to be able to recognise basic characters outside mainland China. However, for beginners with no previous knowledge of any form of written Chinese, there exists the danger of confusing the two when writing.

Who is it for? Beginners with little or no knowledge of Mandarin Chinese.

Presentation: Clear and well structured; easy to follow.

Would you recommend it? Yes.

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