Learning Mandarin? Love reading? Then books might be one of the best language learning resources for you! From a good sturdy dictionary to an exciting new novel, there is no reason you can’t combine something you enjoy doing with a little language learning along the way. So without further ado, here are some of the best books to help you with Mandarin. Enjoy!
Tuttle’s Concise Chinese Dictionary is a favorite among Mandarin students. There are 25,000 entries covering English-Mandarin and Mandarin-English translations, lists of idiomatic expressions, guidance on pronunciation, and even radical and stroke indexes for ease of reference. One of the most useful tools for learners who are perhaps thinking of taking exams in Mandarin is the list of all required words in the HSK Chinese Proficiency Examination. This is a versatile, easy-to-use dictionary that is a must for Mandarin learners.
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Schaum’s Outline of Chinese Grammar is a great guide for anyone who is new to Mandarin grammar. The book provides practical examples of each grammar point and goes on to give exercises to check your understanding. Aimed at beginner and intermediate students, Schaum’s uses simple language to get its points across, which is exactly what you need when you are already tackling a complicated language and its grammar! Choose to work through by subject or work from cover to cover—either way, this is an incredibly helpful resource for Mandarin learning.
A Story Of Lala’s Promotion, Li Ke
Time for our first Mandarin novel! A Story of Lala’s Promotion is both a story and a guide for women in the workplace depending on how you approach it. We follow the life of Du Lala, a principled woman who worked her way up the corporate ladder navigating the difficult worlds of office politics, jealousy, and harassment. It is both an inspiring read and a frustrating one, for so many elements of the story being so relatable. You will need to be at a high level of Mandarin to appreciate the tone of the book and the language it uses, though A Story of Lala’s Promotion is absolutely worth the struggle!
The Story of Mulan, Sela Gu
If you are newer to learning Mandarin then perhaps The Story of Mulan might be a better way to start. You can find versions that are written in both English and Mandarin side by side, and also some that make use of Pinyin. The story of Mulan will likely be familiar to you through various adaptations, including the 1998 animation by Disney. Though if it isn’t, here is a quick summary. During China’s Northern Dynasty, Mulan disguises herself as a boy, to prevent her father from having to go into battle. We follow her adventures as she fights in the army, getting to see the world and those around her through Mulan’s particular perspective. We won’t spoil the ending just in case you haven’t seen it, but just know that Mulan might be the perfect way to start your Mandarin reading experience! You’ll be cheering her on every step of the way!
To Live, Yu Hua
If the thought of an entire novel in Mandarin is daunting, the novella To Live might be a great alternative for you. Set between the Qing dynasty and the Cultural Revolution, our protagonist Fugui goes from being the spoiled son of a landlord to a simple, kindhearted peasant farmer. Along the way he bears witness to the suffering and tragedy of his country and people, doing all he can to be a good citizen and lead a simple life. This is a poignant, humbling tale that is a real page-turner. To Live was also adapted into a film in 1994, so if you find the language difficult you can watch the film first to know what to look out for.
Cat Country, Lao She
Want a book that is both dystopian and sci-fi, and acts as a metaphor for communism? Well, you’re in luck, because our final choice for Mandarin novel, Cat Country, has all three! A traveler from China crash-lands on Mars and is taken in by the local people as he recovers. The Cat People speak Felinese and practice Everybody Shareskyism. The story unfolds as to our hero’s horror, he begins to realize their way of life reflects a bleak decline in civilization. This is a fascinating, if not tragic read, and since Cat Country has been translated into so many languages, you can always check a translated version if you get stuck along the way.
So there you have it! Some great first books to help you practice Mandarin! Which are you going to start with?