CLI’s Top Five Recommended Chinese Textbooks

Picking the right Chinese textbook is an important part of any language learner’s journey. With so many Chinese textbooks to choose from, finding one that fits your needs can be a challenge, however. Read this article to discover the best Chinese textbook for you.

A student looks at a Chinese textbook

What are some of the best Chinese textbooks?

There is a myriad of Chinese textbooks to choose from. Which one you pick will largely depend on what aspect of your Chinese you’re hoping to improve. Here are our top five recommendations:

1. Recommended textbook series for tracking your progress: The HSK Series

Published by Beijing Language & Culture University Press and authorized by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), the HSK stands for 汉语水平考试 (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì, Chinese Proficiency Test).

The HSK series is a great place to start as they are based on the (only) official standardized proficiency tests for Mandarin Chinese in China.

Standard Course HSK Chinese textbooks

The HSK series is perfect for students hoping to track their progress while also preparing for the exams.

If you are looking for a linear course that you can follow to gradually build up your vocabulary and track your progress, then this series is for you.

Starting with HSK level 1, these textbooks gradually increase in difficulty, eventually leading to every Mandarin learner’s ultimate prize and the holy grail -  HSK level 6 (which is the highest level and the closest you can get to becoming “fluent”).

The HSK series textbooks come with an accompanying CD which includes recordings of all the vocabulary lists, dialogues, and texts. Be aware that they are only printed in simplified Chinese.

2. Recommended textbook series for complete beginners: Integrated Chinese

Published by Cheng & Tsui, this series consists of four different volumes, covering you up to the equivalent of HSK 4. All texts come with pinyin, and all texts come with both simplified and traditional characters.

a student practices speaking with a teacher holding a Chinese textbook

Integrated Chinese is a great choice for beginning students of the Chinese language.

They also come with accompanying workbooks which provide a great way to reinforce all the content covered in the textbook. Their latest edition is also available as a web app version of the textbooks for those wishing to study the materials online.

3. Recommended textbook series for traditional characters: New Practical Chinese Reader

Published by Beijing Language & Culture University Press, this series comes with the choice of traditional or simplified Chinese characters. There are six volumes in total that cover you up to HSK level 6. This is a more robust series than Integrated Chinese, but some students do not find the content as interesting.

the New Practical Chinese Reader textbook

The New Practical Chinese Reader is a good choice for students hoping to learn traditional Chinese characters.

4. Recommended textbook series for business Chinese: 在商言商 Close the Deal: Advanced Chinese for Creative and Productive Business

Created by Harvard professor Dr. Yu Feng and his team, this book teaches you the fundamentals of business Chinese with extensive vocabulary lists, idiomatic phrases and accompanying audio.

Although this book is a little outdated, the content is still very much relevant and contains a plethora of essential words and phrases as well as useful insights into Chinese business culture.

a Chinese and western boy stand outside sipping a drink with their arms around each other

Close the Deal is a good Chinese textbook for students who plan to do business in China.

5. Recommended textbook series for those looking to read for pleasure: Graded Chinese Reader series

This series provides a compilation of selected abridged Chinese contemporary short stories. The series begins with 500-word selections for absolute beginners and ends with 3,000-word selections for more intermediate learners.

All stories come with accompanying pinyin and audio, so you can read along or simply listen to them as audio books.

a student holding a pen studying with the help of Chinese textbooks

The Graded Chinese Reader series is ideal for students hoping to explore the world of Chinese literature.

This is a great series for anyone looking to start reading Chinese stories and, eventually, Chinese novels. Since the stories presented gradually increase in difficulty, this series provides a convenient and easy way to track your progress.

Can you just learn from textbooks?

The short answer is no! Textbooks can be a great tool to improve your Chinese, but they are no substitute for having real conversations with native speakers or listening to authentic Chinese language content such as Chinese songs or TV shows

Textbooks can certainly help by providing a structured curriculum that allows you to progress in a linear manner, but it is also important to diversify your learning plan by looking for other ways to study Chinese, either online or in person.

Most learners also find that it's helpful to supplement the material found in textbooks with flashcards and electronic learning tools like Skitter.

a Chinese teacher waves to her student while teaching online using a laptop

Textbooks are no substitute for real-time interaction with native speakers.

A world of Chinese learning awaits

We hope you enjoyed reading about our top five Chinese book recommendations! Remember that at the end of the day, it’s important to pick something that you enjoy reading. If you don’t find the content interesting, you won’t have much motivation to keep studying.

We recommend starting with these books, but don’t be afraid to further explore all the different options and find something that really fits your interests. 加油!

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