While the digital seems to have the wind in its sail, it’s taking a little longer for it to find its way into education. In fact, there are still echoes of “turn to page 44” in modern foreign language Mandarin lessons where students complete exercises out of printed textbooks rather than on iPads or digital whiteboards.

While the “early adopters” have completely embraced digital technologies, older methods are still proving themselves to be just as effective as they’ve always been when it comes to teaching the Chinese language.

If you're looking to take Chinese lessons, there’s still a plethora of books that can be used by beginners and intermediate or advanced students.

In this article, Superprof is going to look at a few books that you should consider buying when you learn Chinese. Since some of these books books can help you to speak Chinese, some focus on traditional Chinese characters and writing, and some are full of useful for anyone looking to move to Mainland China or Taiwan, there should be at least one title in this list that you find useful.

The Range of Books for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Without the help of their classmates, bloggers, or YouTubers, a Chinese student could end up lost in a book shop, where looking for a quality book on Chinese is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack.

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Certain books can make you want to learn Chinese even more! (Source: pixabay.com)

The sheer quantity of books for learning Chinese is so great that great caution should be taken in order to ensure that you don’t end with a piles of useless books on Chinese cluttering up your house.

It’s also  important that every student chooses the right book for learning Standard Mandarin Chinese since they’ll probably keep referring back to it throughout their language learning adventure.

If you spend more time studying Chinese online than you do in front of a Chinese text, you should also check out our favourite sites.

中文听说读写| Integrated Chinese

Integrated Chinese (3rd Edition) is a textbook written by Yuehua Liu and published by Cheng & Tsui. This book is highly recommended by Chinese professors and students alike and while it's probably a bit dry for some learners, it does have almost everything you’ll want to know about Chinese.

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Learning to read and write in Chinese is far from as easy as ABC. (Source: pixabay.com)

The book is highly rated on Amazon (between 3.5 and 5 stars, depending on the version) and is available in paperback for less than £20. Unfortunately, if you’re wanting to do the audio exercises, you’re going to have to pay extra for the CD or audio which can set you back around £40, too. Ouch!

With all that said, this is a resource that you’ll be able to keep referring back to every time you need to refresh the basics. It’s perfect for students just starting out in Chinese, getting used to Chinese characters, how they’re written, and how to use them, and anyone preparing to stay in China (or any other Chinese-speaking country) for an extended period of time who needs to familiarise themselves with the basics of the language.

Chinese for Dummies

Never underestimate the “Dummies” series of books. The version on learning Mandarin Chinese by Wendy Abraham is worth picking up and is available on Amazon for less than £20 (and for only a couple of quid if you’re happy to buy a used copy!). Aimed at absolute beginners, the book can teach you how to have everyday conversations, get to grips with the tones used in Chinese, and get around in China.

Where can I learn to speak Chinese?
Putting together words in Chinese will take you longer than it did in English. (Source: pixabay.com)

Furthermore, the accompanying CD can help you listen to actual Chinese being spoken by native speakers and help you to train your ear to the tones. It's great for anyone getting ready to go to China as it covers all the basics that you’ll need from the second you get off the plane.

Additionally, it also covers customs and taboos, meaning that you’ll not make any embarrassing errors and nor will you offend anyone when you go to China.

You should also consider buying the book of Chinese expressions for dummies.

新实用汉语课本 | New Practical Chinese Reader

This book is a useful Chinese course. However, don’t forget to buy the workbook as well so that you can actually practice your Chinese. While there isn’t much difference between the first and second editions in terms of content, the second edition has changed the layout slightly.

You’ll be able to get both the textbook and workbook for under £30 and for even cheaper if you look around for used versions of the textbook Obviously, don’t buy a used version of the workbook as you’ll not be able to use it!

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar (Modern Grammars)

This book written by Claudia Ross and published by Routledge might end up being your Chinese grammar bible. It’s an invaluable resource that covers every single aspect and element of Chinese grammar as well as the inevitable exceptions to the rules that can sometimes have you tearing your hair out. This book is better than your average grammar textbook and at around £20 new, you can’t afford not to pick up a copy to add to your Chinese library.

500 Common Chinese Idioms

Once you move towards an intermediate or advanced level of Chinese, your interest in the nuances of the language will inevitably be piqued. If that’s the case, this book details Chinese idioms alongside their English translations and explanations.

This resource is a great way to refine your spoken Chinese by correctly using Chinese idioms which are an important part of the Chinese linguistic landscape.

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If you want to improve your comprehension of written Chinese, you're going to have to read. (Source: pixabay.com)

While it’s a little pricier than some of the other books in this list (a new paperback copy will set you back £35), it’s certainly worth the investment if you feel your Chinese is starting to plateau and you'd like to make your conversations with Chinese people more diverse.

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

This book includes all the dirty words, slang, and colloquial Chinese you could ever want. While it won’t help you write essays at university, if could do wonders for your spoken Chinese in casual social situations.

The great thing about this book is that it can be used by beginners, intermediates, and advanced students to make their own Chinese more interesting.

It includes language that can be used for a trip to Beijing, flirting online, or even just starting a fight in Chinatown! Since some of the words and phrases in this book are very colloquial, we recommend you use them cautiously and if in doubt, ask your Chinese teacher when it's appropriate to use them.

At under £10, this entertaining book is a steal for anyone wanting to learn more about contemporary Chinese culture.

实用速成汉语 | Chinese Made Easier

This book is one of the better resources for students who’ve just started learning Chinese. It focuses on using Chinese rather than studying it academically and will get you conversing in Chinese more quickly than some of the other textbooks in this list.

At under £20, it’s also cheaper than some of the textbooks in this list. If your goal is to get some Chinese under your belt before travelling to a Chinese-speaking country, this is probably the book you want on your shelf.

There are also several other books in the series so once you’ve finished with this one, you can move onto the next and keep improving your Chinese. However, the later books are very advanced and may be indecipherable without the assistance of a private tutor to help explain them.

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Easy Peasy Chinese: Mandarin Chinese for Beginners

This is one of the best sellers on Amazon and a highly-recommended resource for beginners. The book comes with a CD so that you can also listen to Chinese being spoken. Costing around £5, this is also one of the cheapest books on the list (which might explain why it sells so well) and to get the most out of the series, you’re probably going to have to invest in the workbook, too. That said, the workbook is also very cheap and you can easily get both books for under £20.

If you’re travelling to China for a business trip or just on holiday, you should think about getting both of these books and working towards speaking conversational Chinese before you get there. Make sure you use the CD as well so that you can hear the Chinese pronunciation which is a hugely important aspect to speaking Chinese well.

Pocket Oxford Chinese Dictionary (Oxford Dictionaries)

It goes without saying that if you’re learning Chinese, you should probably invest in a dictionary. However, if you’ve just started, don’t waste your money on one of those huge dictionaries as it’s very unlikely you’ll come across half of the words in them as a beginner.

Instead, opt for a smaller dictionary like the Pocket Oxford Chinese Dictionary which is both easier to carry and easier to look up words in since there’s less pages to scour through. Furthermore, you can always bring smaller dictionaries with you when you travel as you can never guarantee that you’ll be able to access Wifi or data when you’re travelling, after all. However, remember that the term “pocket” is used very liberally by those who make dictionaries!

Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook & Dictionary

While a dictionary is always useful, if you’re going to China sooner than you can master the basics, having a phrasebook is always a useful investment. The Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook & Dictionary comes with all the expressions you’ll want to look up during your travels as well as a dictionary to look up specific words.

Furthermore, it includes a pronunciation guide so that you don’t end up saying the wrong thing. Don’t forget that Mandarin Chinese uses tones that can drastically change the meaning of words! The book only costs £4.99 new (and even cheaper second hand) and is one of the most popular options amongst travellers heading to China.

You should also check out the best Chinese apps to complement your private Chinese tutorials!

If you're living in London, why not look at Superprof's Mandarin lessons London and our tutors offering Chinese in London.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.