First of all, it’s worth celebrating that you’ve reached the intermediate level of Mandarin! Intermediate Chinese has different challenges compared to Beginner Chinese. One way to make sure the transition from beginner to intermediate goes smoothly is to follow previous learners’ wisdom and get some practical tips.
Since every intermediate learner has a different understanding of the Chinese language and the ability of learners varies, I can’t make an accurate book suggestion for each individual learner; generally speaking, from my teaching experience, it is better to use more than one book. The best combination for you might be using a textbook for intermediate learners and another book for learning Chinese characters, since learning new characters is inevitable at the intermediate level.
For the text book, I recommend the People’s Education Press’ My Chinese Classroom. This book series is designed for foreign readers who have already completed the beginner Chinese course to improve their communication skills in a short time. All the topics are closely related to everyday life, and are carefully selected to cater to the interest of most expatriates in China. The language in the book is easy and smooth, idiomatic, lively, and humorous. As for the character learning, I recommend the Beijing Language and Culture University Press’ Learning Chinese Characters from Ms. Zhang.
It is not a surprise to say that all language learning relies on the accumulation of vocabulary. I’m not talking about memorizing all the words you can see and hear, but try to always keep a notebook with you and write down the words/phrases that you don’t know, while doing your best to remember the ones that are commonly and frequently used in your daily life. Compared to beginners, I believe you’ve already had the ability to recognize and differentiate the most necessary ones from the sea of words. When talking to people, you’ll need to listen for a word you don’t know, ask them to repeat it, try to write the word down (in characters, if possible), and finally get them to check and make sure you wrote it down properly.
If you are at the intermediate level, you’ve already learned the basic Chinese grammar patterns, but you will still find yourself perplexed by what people are talking about around you. In this case, a handy grammar book is very important. I recommend Beijing Language and Culture University Press’ Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners (revised edition). This book is a Chinese-English bilingual primer of modern Chinese grammar. Numerous example sentences and tables are provided to highlight the classifications and functions of words, phrases, and sentences, while exercises of diverse forms (with an answer key at the end of the book) facilitate self-study.
If you want to really improve your spoken Chinese, try to go out and put yourself in real-life situations, and you’ll find that your speaking and listening comprehension skills will develop as a result. This is not intended to force you to speak Chinese, but to naturally embrace a new language environment. When talking with people, don’t forget to prepare some interesting topics that attract your audience. Here are some examples:
- 中秋节/春节/周末/假期你怎么过？(Zhōngqiū jiē /Chūnjiē /zhōumò /jiàqī nǐ zěnme guò? How did you spend Mid-Autumn Festival/ Spring Festival/ weekend/ vacation?)
- 中国孩子们每天在学校是怎么过的？(Zhōngguó háizi men měitiān zài xuéxiào shì zěn me guò de? How do Chinese kids spend the day at school? )
- 你觉得范冰冰长得怎么样？(Nǐ juéde Fàn bīngbīng zhǎng de zěnme yàng? What do you think Fan Bingbing looks like?)
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