A Guide to the Usage of HSK Vocabulary


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.


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


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


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”.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

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).

Chinese Grammar – Broken down into 100 items

This book covers the most important grammar points for beginners and intermediate learners. Explanations are in both Chinese and English. All Chinese entries come without Pinyin. The example sentences are not translated, so you need to already have some basic knowledge of Chinese. The answer key comes in a separate booklet that is included in the package when you buy the book. The answer key also provides a short grammar overview in the beginning.

The book is fairly big (210 mm x 285 mm), so it’s not suitable for reading in bed or on the sofa.

Brushing Up Your Vocabulary for HSK


I love this textbook series! I never found them on Chinese language books websites, so in the end I got them in China. This series covers the HSK vocabulary from Beginner till Advanced level (I also own the two volumes of the Beginner level but they’re not relevant to me anymore). It’s alphabetically sorted (which is a bit of a downside, imagine learning six characters pronounced “fan” in a row and trying not to confuse their meanings) and every page on the left lists around 10 to 15 entries and on the right side are the corresponding exercises. The first exercise is about filling in the blanks with the words you just learnt. The second exercise often shows two or three words that can be easily confused as they have similar meanings but are used differently. The third exercise shows a few sentences and you have to choose the corresponding usage explanation. It also comes with an answer key at the end of each volume.