7 Best Chinese Textbooks To Teach Yourself Mandarin

7 Best Chinese Textbooks To Teach Yourself Mandarin

Approximately 16% of the world’s population speaks Chinese as a first or second language. With around 1.1 billion speakers worldwide, the Chinese language is no doubt one of the most spoken languages. 

Learning Chinese opens up your future path with a wide range of scholarships, job opportunities, and countless possibilities to explore. If you’re looking for ways to teach yourself Chinese, here are 8 best Chinese textbooks for a solid foundation.

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Why learning Chinese with books is still important

While there are many Chinese resources to use, from physical books to online sites, learning Chinese through physical texts hits different. 

1. Gives a comprehensive and specialized topics

Chinese textbooks are much more comprehensive than online learning platforms. While most websites teach Chinese as a broad topic, books (aside from common Chinese language textbooks) are often more specialized. 

You can find more in-depth topics, such as Chinese grammar, cultural influences on the language, or some specific writing styles. 

2. Can be more convenient on the go

In some ways, books can be more portable as they don’t require wifi or an internet connection to access. You can always carry a book in your bag and study with them on a train or bus, turning your wasted minutes into productive learning time. 

If you think books are too heavy to carry, there's a solution. Electronic versions of these books are available allowing you to easily access them while on the go. You can purchase ebooks and read them on Kindle, iPad, or any other Android device. 

3. Present a tangible way of learning

Many books, especially workbooks, provide a more tangible way for learners to interact with (and practice) the language. 

Chinese writing requires a vast amount of writing practice. Unlike online programs, which usually use keyboard pinyin input, Chinese workbooks force learners to write out their answers and write down the radicals and characters on paper. 

This method is a great help to develop your writing skills as you will have more sense of the order of strokes and remember the writing rules. 

8 best Chinese textbooks to use to study

Now it’s time to choose the best textbooks and accompanying workbooks for you. Let’s walk through the top 8 Chinese learning books for specific purposes. 

1. Fundamentals of Chinese Characters (Yale University Press)

Fundamentals of Chinese Characters

Fundamentals of Chinese Characters | Amazon

When you start studying Chinese, the first thing you should do is memorize radicals and Chinese characters’ meanings. 

It might seem overwhelming at first since there are thousands of Chinese characters, but “Fundamentals of Chinese Characters” is the most suitable Chinese textbook for beginners.

Some experienced and intermediate-level learners can take advantage of this book, too. You can get to see how traditional Chinese became their simplified form and all the basics to build a solid foundation. You will also learn to break down each character into more basic radical elements and develop a better understanding of the morphology of the Chinese language. 

Additionally, this book is one of the most comprehensive books to teach yourself Chinese, making it a perfect choice for any Chinese learner.

2. Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (Modern Grammars)

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar book cover

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar | Amazon

A fundamental part of any language is grammar. Normally, the grammar of a natural language is its set of structural constraints on speakers’ or writers’ composition of clauses, phrases, and words. 

However, Chinese grammar differs from other languages in that it mainly emphasizes sentence structure. Even if you remember hundreds of Chinese characters, you can only speak and write Chinese if you know how to put them all together in a logical order. This is why this book is the perfect guide for anyone who wants to master Chinese sentence structures.

As the name of this book implies, this Chinese textbook focuses on practical methods of learning. So you will learn information first, then apply it to better memorize it. It covers all the important rules and patterns you need to know, and each chapter is broken down into multiple sections to help learners absorb information more effectively. 

3. Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary

Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary cover

Oxford Beginner's Chinese Dictionary | Amazon

A Chinese dictionary or thesaurus is an absolute must-have when you are learning a new language. Having a reliable dictionary allows you to check a word if you are unsure of the spelling or simply want to learn words to enlarge your vocabulary. 

One of the most popular Chinese dictionaries is “Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary.” This book is also considered to be one of the most comprehensive Chinese dictionaries currently available. Like all the Oxford dictionaries, the Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary has accurate translations, spellings, simplified Chinese characters, and traditional characters.

Rest assured, you will learn plenty of vocabulary with this book.

4. HSK Standard Course (Series) 

HSK standard course book series by Blcup-min

HSK standard course book series | Blcup

The HSK, or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, is the standardized Mandarin Chinese language proficiency test for non-native speakers. This series is specifically designed for students preparing for these exams. 

The HSK Standard Course textbook series divides its lessons into levels of fluency, with HSK 1 indicating a beginner and HSK 6 indicating high fluency. Each chapter comes with a CD, including all of the dialogues and vocabulary lists.

As the difficulty gradually increases, you will steadily get better at speaking the language. This is also the same system used in formal learning institutions for you to become a practical Chinese reader and speaker.

5. 500 Common Chinese Idioms: An Annotated Frequency Dictionary

500 Common Chinese Idioms

500 Common Chinese Idioms | Amazon

Chinese idioms, also known as chengyu, are an internalized element used in everyday conversation.

However, this is also one of the trickiest parts of learning Chinese. The book “500 Common Chinese Idioms” is one of the most detailed lists of these idioms, making it a must-have for every learner. This book includes the literal definitions of the 500 most used Chinese idioms and their backstories, synonyms, and antonyms.

6. Niubi!: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School

Niubi!- The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School

Niubi!: The Real Chinese | Amazon

Many people don’t realize that slang is an important element of a language. Chinese, like other languages, contains a huge verb and internet slang vocabulary that is often neglected in teaching due to it not being “proper Chinese.”

Niubi! isn’t just a book for beginners. It’s suitable for intermediate and even advanced learners since there’s a large variety of slang that is used in a light-hearted tone with funny illustrations. It has straightforward explanations in English of each slang word and detailed information on how to use the phrases and words.

7. Colloquial Chinese: The Complete Course for Beginners

Colloquial Chinese book cover

Colloquial Chinese (Colloquial Series) | Amazon 

Last but not least, if you want to teach yourself Chinese vocabulary along with integrated Chinese culture, you should pick up a copy of “Colloquial Chinese.” 

This book focuses on helping learners build vocabulary and phrases of the most common and basic words. Most of the words focus on daily conversation rather than planning for a week-long trip. It also includes interesting details about modern Mandarin slang phrases.

To close out

There are many Chinese textbooks for you to use to help you learn Chinese. Whether it's to help you self-study Chinese or as a supplementary work, combining everything will get you to have a better understanding of the Chinese language.

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