Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

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an onyme
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Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby an onyme » Fri Jun 07, 2019 5:19 am

I couldn't find any discussions on this series so here I am. This five-volume series of books (Beginning Part I&II, Intermediate Part I&II, Advanced) by John DeFrancis was published and edited between the 40s and the 60s and thus uses traditional characters. Ten new characters a lesson and a list of words built from the new characters and old, followed by a handful of simple sentences, followed by a list of sentences with English translations, followed by several pages of dialogue and text with no translation available anywhere, engineered to bring up old characters and words at regular intervals until they sink into your brain. Totals up to 400 characters and a loooot of words per volume, placing you at 2000 characters by the end.

I am only most of the way through Beginning Chinese Reader Part I and am a mere infant in learning Mandarin but if my opinions are worth anything, I absolutely love this book. It hits a sweet spot for me with the ascent being steep enough to make progress while not so steep that it is taxing. It honestly doesn't even feel like studying, just kicking back and having a good time reading about my friends Mr. 長 and Mr. 高 talking about how many books are in the bookstore is and what kind books they have in the bookstore and at which intersection the bookstore is located and which countries of the world have the best bookstores. My hope is that I can just keep sleepwalking down the road and somehow come up on the other side reading crop yield reports and Sun Yat Sen speeches or whatever they liked to read in the 50s but I have a suspicion that the difficulty will eventually build up and I'll have to start working.

Possible downsides: Traditional characters (an upside for me) and mostly mainly the fact that this book is more than 50 years old and so I've been double-checking the vocabulary with various dictionaries. There are a few things I've noticed as different from the other sources I've been doing for a few months. This list will probably strike me later like that of an English learner being astounded by how "color" is spelled two different ways depending on where you look.

什麼 is written as 甚麼
哪 and 那 are merged (this one is annoying!)
他 and 她 are merged (wish it were still, the distinction is apparently recent and needless)
裡 is written as 裏 (actually I think it looks even cooler than this in the book)
Book says 地土and 土地 mean the same thing (land/earth) but nobody else knows what 地土 is and Google only gets you Bible verses
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David1917
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby David1917 » Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:08 pm

There was a recent discussion on this series here. I agree that this resource is beyond fantastic and, to the extent that anything might be "outdated" - well, that's the same discussion as with the FSI courses, and generally even the least astute of learners once confronted with the actual language will be easily able to adapt. That is to say, there are no reasonable grounds for discounting this course on account of its age.

At the end of Volume 2 of Beginner's each lesson has a corollary set of readings in Simplified. I like to do these after each lesson, and use them for my review process since they are shorter and because reading simplified is just as important, if not more so depending on your immediate goals with Chinese.

Finally, Advanced Chinese Reader does have a sort of "Volume 2" which is a set of annotated quotations from Chairman Mao. If I understand correctly, this amounts essentially to the "little red book" - surely after completely reading this volume you should be more than well-equipped to look at Sun Yat Sen, etc. My university library has a copy of Advanced Chinese Reader and, let me tell you, it looks intense. The text is much smaller, and it's a good 700 pages of pure Chinese.

I also own the coursebooks for Beginner's Chinese, which include a continuous storyline and dozens of pattern drills. I have not yet sampled the recordings, but I would guess that these are probably either a) using an exaggerated 1950's pronunciation and/or b) recorded with less than ideal technology. They are available for free on iTunes, etc., so you can decide for yourself. If all of the patterns are recorded, then realistically I don't see what more one would need to truly speak and read Chinese than this mammoth series. I think Linguaphone would be a good supplement, as it has some pretty long readings and dense vocabulary (I mean, pomegranate tree is in Lesson 1...) whereas Assimil would be something to easily breeze through and get the gist of slightly more up-to-date speech and practice in reading simplified. The level reached at the end of this course is extremely low, and the exercises are child's play. Finally, I always always always recommend McNaughton's reading & writing Chinese to understand how characters are constructed. If you are only interested in traditional, then one of the earlier editions would be more suitable for you (and probably cheaper), rather than the newest one which is in simplified (with traditionals as parentheticals) and indexed by HSK exam level.
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an onyme
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby an onyme » Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:30 pm

It's good to hear the quality I've noticed continues. What I'm astounded by is how far present-day language courses are from having anything like this. I would love to have had the equivalent for French or Korean starting out, or an Advanced Korean Reader right now. Or a recent edition for Mandarin that incorporates words for modern things like the Internet, firewalls, VPNs, and Winnie the Pooh.
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby Ser » Fri Jun 07, 2019 5:35 pm

an onyme wrote:什麼 is written as 甚麼
[...]
裡 is written as 裏 (actually I think it looks even cooler than this in the book)

Both 甚麼 and 裏 continue to be used in traditional Chinese today. 裏 is common, but I think 甚麼 is getting quite old-fashioned.
an onyme wrote:Book says 地土 and 土地 mean the same thing (land/earth) but nobody else knows what 地土 is and Google only gets you Bible verses

The ABC Chinese-English dictionary (1996), edited by John DeFrancis himself, says it's a literary noun meaning "area", curiously enough.

It does seem to be commonly used in translations of the Bible with either the meaning "the Earth" or just "land" (in particular the land of Israel), but nowhere else. I'd like to speculate that DeFrancis learned this word in Bible translations, but then by the time he edited that dictionary in the 1990s he knew it is not a normal word for "land"/"the Earth".
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby Glossy » Fri Jun 07, 2019 5:58 pm

This brings up memories. I started learning Chinese after I bought the 1st volume of the Beginning DeFrancis reader at a Barnes and Noble in 2003. I read both of the Beginning volumes, then both of the Intermediate ones, then half of the Advanced volume. Then I moved on to Rick Harbaugh’s character “etymologies” book, then I read Chinese Google News for a while, then I listened to the entire Pimsleur course, then I signed up with ChinesePod, which is where I am now, doing the Advanced level.

I remember paying good money, maybe $200 or $300 per volume, for the later DeFrancis readers on Amazon. This would have been in 2004-2005. I still have them on my shelves.

I remember these books positively. However, the subject matter of the texts was a bit monotonous. And if I was starting to learn Chinese today, I would get my reading matter online, so that I could look up words in Pleco.

The difficulty level of the Advanced DeFrancis volume is much lower than in Chinese novels, news or online discussions. It doesn’t get you up to real-life level. Very few study materials do, for any language.
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby Daristani » Fri Jun 07, 2019 8:28 pm

There was a thread on the DeFrancis series in the OLD HTLAL forum, under the "Language Programs, Books, and Tapes" category, in which forum member Crush, back in 2013, had provided ALL the audio to the entire DeFrancis series of books in MP3 format. Miraculously, the links he provided to download the materials are still working.

You can find his message, and the links, in message 19 of 26, here:

http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/fo ... N=16&TPN=3

The iTunes versions of the audio are available from Seton Hall University here:

https://www.shu.edu/language-resource-c ... erials.cfm
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby Arnaud » Sun Jun 09, 2019 4:07 am

What is the main difference between the "Reader" series and the "without Reader" series: do you learn the same things in a different way, or do you have to start by the "Beginner chinese" books and then read the "Beginner chinese Reader" books, and so on ?
Just curious, there are so many books listed on Amazon that I don't know exactly how the whole series is supposed to work.
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Re: Chinese Reader series by DeFrancis

Postby David1917 » Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:46 pm

There are 12 books in total, 13 if you count the Index.

Beginner's Chinese
Character Text for Beginner's Chinese - this contains all of the material (except the translations/notes) in Beginner's Chinese in characters. Ditto for Intermediate and Advanced.
Beginner's Chinese Reader (1&2)

Intermediate Chinese
Character Text for Intermediate Chinese
Intermediate Chinese Reader (1&2)

Advanced Chinese
Character Text for Advanced Chinese
Advanced Chinese Reader
Annotated Quotations from Chairman Mao

While the course was designed to be all-inclusive, including instructions in the front of each reader indicating which lessons could be completed after which coursebook lessons (sometimes it's just 1, sometimes you can do 6 lessons in the reader per lesson in the coursebook), you could certainly divorce these into two separate series. The course focuses on Chinese conversation, and as such is a) only in Pinyin (which is why the character texts are in separate books), b) rife with pattern & substitution drills, and c) follows a storyline of a guy in China, and more talkative than narrative. The readers can be completed on their own merit provided you have some semblance of understanding of Chinese grammar - as this is not covered at all. The readers simply present you 10 characters at a time, with dozens of words using these, and then ample practice reading material.
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