Learning Mandarin Chinese? Here Are 14 Books I Highly Recommend

  • Jasmine Chiam
    Written byJasmine Chiam
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Learning Mandarin Chinese? Here Are 14 Books I Highly Recommend

Are you searching for a few fantastic books to kickstart your Mandarin Chinese learning journey?

Understandably, with the arsenal of online Chinese content resources widely available, books may have become a distant memory of the past.

However, these are invaluable resources that serve as practical and effective tools for language learning. Plus, the good news is that many books are now priced affordably.

While apps, online courses, and videosare excellent learning tools, these are 14 books for learning Mandarin Chinese you may want to consider adding to your assortment of resources as well.

Best books for learning Mandarin Chinese (beginner to advanced)

Books are a multidimensional resource that taps into several facets of language learning, including grammar, vocabulary expansion, character writing and recognition, and sentence structure.

Some of these books cater to those who want to pick up simplified Chinese, while others are written with traditional-character learning in mind.

Note: You can purchase any of these books online (as a softcopy or hardcopy). How convenient is that!??

Chinese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide

Chinese Demystified is a handy and practical self-teaching guide for beginners through to advanced learners.

In the book’s introductory chapters, you’ll get to brush up on the fundamentals of the Chinese language.

As you advance further into the book, you’ll appreciate how it taps into all aspects of Chinese language learning, including grammar, sentence structure, tone, vocabulary, and character writing.

The book progresses at a realistic and natural pace to ensure lower-level learners are not be overwhelmed by the depth of this rich and beautiful language. Nevertheless, it’s still best to have some basic knowledge of the Chinese language before diving headfirst into this comprehensive guide.

Each topic is logically broken down, and every point is explained in a concise and easy-to-digest manner. In addition to that, your understanding will be reinforced via short and effective quizzes positioned strategically throughout the book.

Overall, Chinese Demystified is highly recommended for those looking for a comprehensive, all-rounded, and in-depth resource that covers both simplified and traditional character learning.

2000 Most Common Chinese Words in Context

This book is jam-packed with some of the most important words that form the core of written and oral communication using the Chinese language.

The authors have noted that learning and practicing 2000 of these commonly-used words will help you understand 92.7% of oral speech—pretty impressive, I would say!

Of course, beginners may find this book a challenge to digest, but intermediate and advanced learners should be able to grasp and comprehend its rich content reasonably well.

Every word is matched with its Chinese pinyin, an English translation of the word, and an example sentence that teaches you how to use it in context.

The emphasis leans more towards vocabulary edification and expansion rather than stroke-by-stroke character writing.

The softcopy version of this book is unfortunately plagued with formatting issues. Other than that, there is no glossary, content list, or word categorization provided, which may make it a little harder to review and revise specific words you’ve learned on the hardcopy version.

Nonetheless, those who have a foundational knowledge of Mandarin Chinese may blitz through the content to pick up new words here and there.

Learning Mandarin Chinese Characters Volume 1

This top-selling book is a godsend for beginners or lower intermediate learners who wish to fortify their writing and reading skills.

It will walk you through learning and writing 178 of the most essential and fundamental Chinese characters. Each character is paired with a stroke-by-stroke diagram that distinctly displays the correct stroke sequence for each character.

As you go through the exercises, you will be able to reinforce your writing skills through freehand writing practice and expound your vocabulary by learning how to use each character in different word pairings and phrases.

One of the most important chapters of this book is the introductory section.

This initial chapter effectively explains the composition of various Chinese characters and gives insight into some of the most common Chinese radicals.

Readers will also learn about the eight basic strokes that form Chinese characters and get acquainted with essential stroke order rules and practices.

Overall, this is a fantastic guidebook for beginners or those who intend to prepare for the HSK Level 1 Exam or the Advanced Placement (AP) Chinese Language and Culture Exam.

Chinese Short Stories For Beginners

Reading tales, fables, and stories may have been your favorite childhood pastime.

There’s nothing wrong with rekindling that interest now.

As per its title, this book contains a compilation of 20 different thought-provoking and intriguing stories and tales meant for beginners up to intermediate learners.

And if you’re still struggling with recognizing Chinese characters as of now, fret not! An English translation follows each paragraph of the story, which would help you keep up with the plot and character development of each tale.

Pinyin romanization is also provided, enabling you to slowly pick up the pronunciation and tone of various Mandarin characters and work on your reading comprehension.

What’s impressive about this book? Well, it isn’t solely a storybook for reading entertainment, though it does check the box in that sense.

More than that, summaries and vocabulary lists are provided at the end of each chapter to help you assess your understanding, review the lesson, and refresh your memory of the relevant slang, phrases, and words used in that story.

A quiz will follow closely, along with an answer sheet that allows you to check how well you scored.

Of course, absolute beginners may wish to complete some fundamental lessons using other resources first.

It may be more practical to grasp the core basics of the Chinese language somewhere else before turning to this book for a skill upgrade.

Reading and Writing Chinese: Third Edition

If you’re searching for an all-inclusive and extensive guide, this book may just check all the right boxes.

This one-book wonder contains comprehensive activities and lessons for HSK Level 1 to Level 6 learning and can supplement both traditional and simplified Chinese character learning.

From cover to cover, the newest version comprises over 2000 different characters, along with their standard pinyin romanization, English translations, and correct stroke order.

This detailed guide will help you in broadening your vocabulary, familiarizing yourself with Chinese radicals, and improving your character memorization and recognition ability.

On top of that, the book will give a few examples of character pairings that form different words or short phrases. Unfortunately, no sentence examples are provided to clarify how to use each word in varying contexts.

In terms of difficulty level, this book may cater better to higher-level beginners and intermediate learners.

Newbies are welcome to give this book a try, though they may struggle a little to understand and digest the content, especially if they’re starting from scratch.

Chinese Grammar Wiki BOOK: Elementary Edition Paperback

Together with its counterparts, Just The Basics, Intermediate, and Upper-Intermediate, this book forms part of the Wiki Book series. This series aims to bring you the most comprehensive learning experience in terms of Chinese grammar.

The difficulty level is indicated in the title of each book. This book, in particular, is designed for elementary-level learners.

Each book in this popular series would cover fundamental grammar points and structure and provide an abundance of colloquial and formal sentence examples to help you contextualize the usage of different words.

For enhanced learning, the pinyin and English definition is provided, along with concise explanations that teach you grammar in a lighthearted, casual, and informal way.

However, it’s best to know a bit of Chinese pinyin, tone, and pronunciation before working on your sentence structure and grammar through this book.

As a whole, this book would help you with forming simple sentences using proper structure and grammar with more ease and natural fluency, and hopefully, tide you through your day-to-day conversations.

Easy-Peasy Chinese

Learning Chinese definitely isn’t easy peasy, but this book may help make your journey smoother sailing. It is an excellent match for beginners who wish to learn to converse in basic Mandarin.

And if you’re starting from scratch, this book provides a pretty impressive and comprehensive introduction to the Chinese language.

While learning Mandarin Chinese using books may limit your learning in terms of tone, pronunciation, speaking, and listening, this book overcomes these barriers in a unique way.

A CD is provided with the book, so you can listen and practice pronouncing each character, phrase, or sentence and sharpen your speaking skills.

Plus, the book’s attractive, neat, and well-organized layout is a far cry from overly-cluttered, wordy, and intimidating textbooks. Hopefully, this will make your learning experience more enjoyable and engaging.

Warning: You may not enjoy the accompanying music played between each track. If you can overlook that, this book and CD pairing is a valuable and practical resource for developing your speaking and listening skills.

The First 100 Chinese Characters: Simplified Character Edition

Learning to recognize and write Chinese characters can be an uphill struggle, but this book may give beginner learners the boost they need.

The focus lies on learning and mastering 100 simplified Chinese characters that are fundamental to the Chinese language.

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. This book will set the foundation for plentiful writing practice.

Stroke-by-stroke diagrams are provided, along with empty boxes with grid lines to get you into the groove of writing simplified Chinese characters.

While the book fastens its emphasis on writing, the Hanyu pinyin of each character is provided to help you grasp the correct pronunciation and tone.

Of course, you’ll need to have some foundational knowledge of reading pinyin romanization to utilize this book effectively.

The First 100 Chinese Characters: Traditional Character Edition

Now that we’ve introduced you to a book that focuses on simplified characters, it’s time to get acquainted with one that teaches traditional characters.

This book and the one above are from the same series and by the same author, so the formatting, structure, and content coverage are pretty similar. The significant difference between the two is that this book focuses solely on traditional characters.

It will enlighten you on the breakdown of more complicated characters, the sequence of each stroke, the underlying logic behind the composition of Chinese characters, and how to use characters in various word pairings.

Plus, this book is very generous with the space and content devoted to having you practice your writing, which is great news. 😁

Truth be told, learning traditional characters can be a challenge.

Hopefully, learning the first 100 most important characters will be a more pleasant process for beginners who read this book.

Because of the limited number of characters covered, higher intermediate and advanced learners will be better off with another resource on this list.

Chinese For Dummies

If you want to learn the in-and-outs of conversational Mandarin, you may wish to give this book a shot.

This book has got you covered, from ordering food at a restaurant, purchasing items, introducing yourself, asking for directions, and making small talk.

Chinese For Dummies emphasizes the basic grammar and vocabulary necessary for conversational fluency.

Because speaking Chinese depends heavily on your tone and pronunciation accuracy, it’s best to use this book in conjunction with other audio resources to ensure you’re on the right track.

Therefore, if complete beginners use this book as their sole learning material, they may find it a struggle to keep up.

Nonetheless, once you’ve learned the core basics of speaking Chinese, this handy tool may then be an excellent resource for a grammar and vocabulary boost.

Mandarin Chinese Picture Dictionary

This picture dictionary is a fantastic learning resource for kids and adults alike, containing over 1500 commonly used Chinese words and phrases.

If you’re a visual learner, you may well be delighted with the colorful and attractive illustrations found in this book, which hopefully would engage you better in learning.

The romanized pinyin is provided with each word and phrase together with its English definition to enhance learning. On top of that, example sentences are provided to help you understand and practice using different words and phrases in real-life scenarios.

This dictionary’s content is conveniently organized into different themes and topics to improve your vocabulary around various topics of interest.

For example, you can pick up new vocabulary related to festivals, music, animals, food, countries, or learn useful words to talk about the weather, ask for directions, or communicate with a doctor.

Furthermore, your purchase will include companion audio recordings performed by native Mandarin speakers that cover all the words and phrases in the book.

With this, you’ll be able to listen and learn the accurate tone and pronunciation for each word, which would be a massive advantage if you intend to work on your speaking and listening skills.

This picture dictionary is an excellent match for beginner and intermediate-level learners.

Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

This book is yet another picture dictionary donned with eye-catching illustrations, not to mention that it contains over 10,000 different terms to keep you busy learning.

Because of this resource’s rich and massive coverage, beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners alike can reap the benefits of utilizing this dictionary as a supplementary learning tool.

You’ll find a mix of commonly used vocabulary and much rarer, complex, and highly specific terms (some of which you may never use).

Unfortunately, this picture dictionary only caters to simplified Chinese learning. Plus, the print of the words is tiny and quite challenging to read.

So if you have a magnifying glass lying around at home, it’s finally time for it to shine.

Intermediate Chinese Short Stories

Intermediate Chinese Short Stories is a fantastic book for improving your reading and character recognition skills. In addition to that, you’ll be catching a glimpse into Chinese culture and folklore.

As you may have conferred from the title, this book is best suited for intermediate to lower-advanced learners who wish to enrich their vocabulary.

The book will take you through 10 different stories with captivating plots, each dissected into bite-sized chapters to help you keep up. The topics range from traditional to modern life in China.

You’ll be greeted with a fair share of natural dialogue and diverse sentence structures used throughout each chapter, and the pinyin romanization is provided below each paragraph in case you need it.

On top of that, each chapter is paired with an informative guide that summarizes the chapter in English. You’ll also receive a vocabulary list for reviewing unfamiliar words and new expressions to augment your learning.

If you wish, you may also skim through the English vocabulary list and summary first to get a rough idea of the chapter before attempting to tackle the chapter itself.

Mandarin Chinese for Beginners: Learning Conversational Chinese

Books that reinforce your speaking skills are a rare gem. So here’s one with a focus on conversational Chinese that you may want to give a shot.

For those interested in understanding and conversing in colloquial Chinese, this lighthearted book will walk you through the essential words, phrases, and expressions you’ll need in your everyday conversations.

Recordings produced by native speakers will be included in the purchase, and this accompanying audio can be found online. Listening to these recordings will guide you towards depicting the correct tone and pronunciation of the different words you’re learning.

It covers a range of topics, such as introducing yourself, ordering food, saying thank you, apologizing, and shopping.

Nevertheless, you may wish to use this book as a supplementary learning material in combination with other resources instead of relying on it solely to refine your speaking and listening skills.

If you’re looking to travel to China for business or leisure, this is a valuable tool to help you brush up on your Mandarin speaking skills before you set off.

Books are a great resource to explore when learning Mandarin Chinese

While the books in this list are centered heavily around learning Mandarin Chinese, novels, storybooks, and comics are another set of invaluable resources you may wish to dive into.

These books are great tools for more advanced learners to enrich their vocabulary and knowledge.

Nonetheless, because books mainly focus on reading and writing, you may wish to utilize a combination of resources to enhance your learning.

Doing so will allow for a more all-rounded experience, especially if you’re looking to develop your listening and speaking skills, too!


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If you’ve tried any book that’s given your Mandarin knowledge a massive boost, I’ll love to hear from you (especially if it hasn’t been included in the list).

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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