Most Mandarin Chinese textbooks follow a predictable pattern: learning vocabulary and grammar through dialogue presentation. These books assume the reader has no urgent need to use Mandarin in everyday life, as he or she is probably not living in a Mandarin-speaking country.
There are great number of people, however, who arrive in China or Taiwan without knowing the language. They quickly discover they need basic language skills in order to negotiate everyday necessities. Survival Chinese is aimed directly at this set of readers.
Learning On The Ground
There is a great deal to be said for learning a language in the country it is spoken. You can be totally immersed in the language, hearing it spoken all around you, and absorbing the cultural context that gives the language more significance.
It is also possible to isolate yourself in a community of fellow expats, so that your experience of living in a foreign country is no different from your home country. By doing so, however, you miss out on a wonderful learning opportunity, not just to acquire a new language, but to gain insight into a new culture.
Teaching The Tutor
The author assumes that Survival Chinese will not be used in a classroom setting. The book is intended for those who need to find their own way in a Mandarin-speaking environment.
A common approach for many foreigners living in China or Taiwan is to find a private tutor. Unfortunately, many of these well-meaning tutors do not know how to teach Mandarin Chinese. Survival Chinese offers very good advice on how to make your tutor an effective language teacher.
The first section of Survival Chinese also contains a pronunciation guide, offering pronunciation tips that are easily understood by English speakers.
Mandarin Chinese Lessons
The main section of the book consists of 24 lessons designed to get you out on the streets talking to the people of your community. Chapters include subjects such as shopping (Buying, Buying II, The Bookstore), Getting Things Fixed, ordering food (Drinks and Snacks, The Noodle Stand, The Restaurant), Getting Around (The Bus, The Taxi), and general conversation (Talking About Family, Personal Questions).
Each of these lessons contains suggestions for actually using the language you are studying, all given in a understanding tone of voice of someone who knows the difficulties of living in a foreign country.
My one criticism of Survival Chinese is its use of simplified Chinese characters to the exclusion of the traditional characters used in Taiwan. However, as this book is not intended to teach Chinese characters, and is aimed at the beginner student who has just arrived in the country, the omission of traditional Chinese characters should not present a problem for most people.
Survival Chinese is an excellent guide to living in China or Taiwan, and should be tops on your list if you are intending to live in one of these two countries.