Learning Chinese The Easy Way is designed as an introduction to Chinese characters for those with little or no knowledge of Mandarin Chinese. Through two short stories, the book offers explanations and historical background about the Chinese characters used in each story, as well as advice on how to learn these characters.
The characters are presented individually so that you will be able to read the two stories. A very limited set of characters is used in each story, with some overlap, so that by the end you will have learned perhaps 60 Chinese characters.
But when you consider that a knowledge of at least 2,000 characters is needed for basic literacy, one wonders what the point of this book is. Sure it is entertaining and amusing, but in the end, your knowledge of Mandarin Chinese will be little better than being able to say ABC in English.
An Introduction To Mandarin Chinese?
So while Learning Chinese The Easy Way is not very useful for learning Mandarin, it can be a useful introduction to Chinese characters for those who find them completely bewildering. And in the same way, the associated sound clips on the publisher's website could be an introduction to spoken Mandarin Chinese.
The characters are described in a way that make it easy to understand them as pictograms, and shows how a character can progress from picture into word. They are introduced in the order they appear in the story, and the explanation shows how the characters developed historically, including both the traditional and simplified forms.
So for those with no prior knownledge of Chinese characters, this book may provide an introduction. But for those who are more committed to learning the language, there are many other books and resources that are better suited to learning practical vocabulary and the spoken language.
Writing Chinese Characters
For those wishing to write Chinese characters, Learning Chinese The Easy Way offers a basic introduction which covers the characters used in the book. Being able to write a character is an essential skill that crosses over to recognizing characters when reading or using a computer-input method.
There are no easy shortcuts for writing. Each character should be written out hundreds of times, preferably while practicing the pronunciation and reinforcing the meaning.
And while Learning Chinese The Easy Way presents an easy to understand method for deciphering Chinese characters based on reducing them to pictograms, true pictograms represent only a small percentage of all Chinese characters. This book may foster the belief that Chinese characters are easy to learn, but in fact, even the Chinese find them difficult.
There is no denying that this book is entertaining and fun, and does indeed provide insight into the nature of Chinese characters for those with no prior knowledge of them. In this sense, it is in the same category as Fun With Chinese Characters, although the latter is more useful for learning vocabulary.
I'm sure this book gives a great sense of accomplishment for anyone who is baffled by Chinese characters. After finishing this book, you will be able to read two stories in Chinese characters, be able to recognize 60 or so Chinese characters, and perhaps to write a bit of Chinese. That can certainly be a valuable experience and may be the incentive for further study.
But if you are already learning Mandarin, Learning Chinese The Easy Way is unlikely to offer anything new. Most textbooks have sections devoted to Chinese characters, and the words and phrases in textbooks are likely to be more useful for everyday conversation.