Assimil Mania

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I bet you think “Wow, that’s a whole lot of Assimil books!” but I have to admit that my collection of Assimil books is even larger. I’m going to show you all my Assimil books in a few weeks (You will definitely think I completely lost it or I have too much money or even both haha).

Anyway, I’m also going to give a super detailed review on Assimil and how my personal experiences are. I know the Assimil method doesn’t work for some people (or at least they think that way) but I will show you how to make the best use of these (in my opinion) wonderful textbooks for studying foreign languages! So stay tuned and you never have to see these horrible bed covers as a background ever again 😉

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A Guide to the Usage of HSK Vocabulary

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Oh, I love this one so much! It helps you learn how a word can be used and which grammatical constructions are possible with this word.

Main entries are given with pinyin (not included for example sentences) featuring parts of speech (nouns are followed by their most commonly used measure words!) as well as their English translations.

All usage notes are in Chinese only without pinyin but grammatical terms are translated and also explained in the preface. So instead of going back and forward in the book, I recommend making a copy of this list of grammatical terms to put it right next to you to facilitate reading. It’s a reference book, so again no exercises included.

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I got this one in China but you can also get it through websites offering Chinese language products (e.g. http://www.chinabooks.ch).

Explanations of Difficult Points in Chinese Learning as a Foreign Language

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This book focuses on expressions and grammatical constructions that often cause confusion or sound somewhat illogical to foreign learners.  It is completely written in Chinese with very few exceptions (mainly to clarify a word). But fear not 😉  the language used in this book is kept at a very basic level making it really easy to understand. So even learners who just completed a beginner’s course are able to read this book without any major problems. In fact, I think it is a very good reading practice, too.

 

A Chinese Grammar for English Speakers

There are several books on Chinese grammar but there are only a few that go into detail and really compare the Chinese structures to the ones in English. This book here explains the grammar really well by starting to give an overview and focuses also on showing the differences between expressions that are similar in meaning. It is for mere reference only as they are no exercises. A big plus is the massive amount of example sentences and that every sentence comes with pinyin and English translation, so even beginners can use this book to clarify grammar points they feel unsure about.

现代汉语规范词典 and Pleco

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This is the Xiandai Hanyu Guifan Cidian (Standard Dictionary of Modern Chinese). I bought it in China but you can also get it on websites selling Chinese language products (e.g. http://www.aolifo.de). It’s a Chinese-Chinese dictionary, all main entries are with pinyin and explanations are Chinese only. I recommend it for upper-intermediate and advanced learners.

Let’s say we want to look up the word “lǔmǎng”.

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We find the entry 卤莽 but the dictionary tells us that the word is written 鲁莽 nowadays.

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And here we find the explanation. The character in the square shows the part of speech (here: adjective). The hand symbol reminds us one more time that we shouldn’t write the word with the characters 卤莽.

Pleco, a very useful Chinese dictionary app for mobile phones, offers Chinese-English and English-Chinese. You can get it for free but if you get the professional bundle (it’s 64,99 €; you can also only choose individual add-ons you need), you get access to a lot more dictionaries and even Chinese-Chinese dictionaries like the one above. So let’s check Pleco for the same word.

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The main entry already shows us that they are two possibilities of writing this word. We scroll downwards to the Chinese-Chinese dictionary.

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GF is the abbreviation Pleco uses for the name of the dictionary. And here we see the exact same reference. We click on the characters in blue.

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And again we get the exact same entry with the explanation. The character in the square is now just grey and the hand symbol has been changed to 注意 (warning).

Now imagine we don’t understand the explanation. We can just tap on the characters we don’t know.

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A small window pops up showing us the pinyin and the English translation. So I highly recommend Pleco for every serious Chinese learner.

If there is any similar dictionary app for Japanese out there, please leave me a message.

Memrise

Have you heard of Memrise? If you’re into studying languages online, you probably have. It’s basically a fancier version of Anki (I talked about it in previous posts) with additional incentives to keep you continue studying. Every time you get a word correct, you get points. After collecting a certain amount of points, you get a badge as a reward that can be seen by other users as well when they check your profile. There is also a leaderboard showing who got the most points (in this week, this month or in total) which can only be seen by your Memrise friends.

Memrise offers incredibly many courses, not only on languages but other topics as well. A lot of courses offer audio (though most of the times it’s only some odd computer voice) and what’s best is that Memrise shows you memes (actually written “mems” in imitation of Memrise) of other users to remember a certain word.

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Here is one I made for a Korean word. If you like someone else’s mem, you can give them a thumbs up (I only got one… insolence!!).

I’ve been using Memrise a lot more often than Anki now. It’s visually more appealing and collecting points is actually a great way to keep up the motivation for studying (Can’t wait to get my next badge!). I must add that I use the Memrise app rather than the homepage (there’s no countdown in the app when you’re studying). And I got the pro version on a discount (a year’s subscription for 20 €). The pro version analyzes your study habits and offers a few more features. But it’s really not necessary to go pro, so you can enjoy a great learning tool completely for free.

Short-term Listening Chinese

If you’re struggling with your listening comprehension, this textbook series will do wonders for you! It comes with an mp3-CD and an answer key at the end of each volume (The answer key is printed upside down, so you will have to turn around your book to read the answers. Pretty cool idea to make cheating tiresome ;)). Each lesson starts with an extensive vocabulary list followed by short explanations (only the volume for elementary has English translations of these explanations as well) on grammar points. It has a variety of listening exercises with increasing difficulty.

On a side note, you may have heard of its more famous counterpart Short-term Spoken Chinese that is widely used by language courses in China to teach colloquial Chinese (the Boya textbook series uses more formal language).