Upper Intermediate Materials Suggestions


I’d like some suggestions for upper-intermediate readers.

What happens once you have finished “Taiwan Today” 20 times?

I feel very frustrated with the general quality of Chinese Learning materials. I am often reduced to reading childrens’ books because they are more accessible with the use of bo, po, mo, fo.

There seems to be a wide range, if not good range, of learning materials for beginners, but after that everything falls in a hole.

I prefer learning materials that use the bo, po, mo, fo phonetics, because I feel more confident about my pronunciation under this system.The others are too confusing.

Any suggestions for reading materials would be appreciated.

I would also like suggestions for a good dictionary. English to Chinese. I currently use a title called, “A Practicle English-Chinese Pronouncing Dictionary” by Faney Chen- very daggy, out of date and not terribly comprehensive.



Have you checked out the “Independent Reader” published by SMC Publishing Inc. (author: Vivian Ling)? I think I bought it at Shita’s “Lucky Bookstore” a few years back. It’s a collection of essays and other reading materials (authentic) with vocabulary notes and stuff. It might be helpful to you.

There aren’t very many intermediate or advanced materials out there because there’s not much of a market. That’s why everyone and their brother brings out new beginner’s books – lots of people ready to buy.

Here’s my question: how many students would support a Chinese-language learning magazine? That has always been my dream – to bring out a magazine for learners of Chinese kind of like the English-language learning magazines you see in Taiwan, that have radio broadcasts and Internet audio and CDs with them. I used to work years ago with a company who did a magazine that was limited to like 150 vocabulary words total in English – if it’s possible to write English that simple, surely we could come up with some easy Chinese that is more interesting than “Gubo and Palanka invite Ms. Wang for tea, little knowing that the Neighborhood Committee…”

Of course, you fall right into the same problems – Romanized or characters? Simplified or traditional? etc. etc.

Just thought of one more thing – for intermediate level, you could check out hte Voice of America adapted sites. Can’t remember the exact reference (it’s somebody else who took the VOA broadcasts and adapted them) but if you searched “Study Mandarin with the VOA” on Internet you should find it. Those lessons are a bit out of date, but still valuable, and they also provide good audio.



If by upper-intermediate you mean,the second half of the 2nd Shita or TLI books, then I think the Independent Reader is probably too advanced. It is real advanced. I’ve got it (thanks to a generous gift), but it’s too hardfor me at the moment. Chatting in Chinese seems pretty good, but it’s probably lower intermediate or intermediate. I’ll get you details if you’re interested.



The Independent Reader is fairly advanced; if that’s your level you’re pretty much stuck with that one (although by then, you can use pretty much anything for ‘learning material’ )

Although this doesn’t help you with your question, I would like to say that it’s quite unfortunate that the IR is about as advanced as you can get, and that’s the only thing available at that level (that I’ve found at least)…!

The best general dictionary I’ve come by by far is the ‘Concise E/C C/E Dictionary’ by Oxford (its red). You have to use pinyin for it (although I’d would strongly suggest learning that anyways – it makes typing Chinese far faster, if nothing else!)


Maybe you could try using, in reverse, some of the English study materials that have Chinese as well. In bookstores and in 7-11s, they always sell things like the Bilingual Weekly, Student Post, and then also various magazines (Let’s Talk in English, for example). There are selected English words which are translated into Chinese, and many of the articles have side-by-side English and Chinese versions. The only thing is, I’m not sure of the level of Chinese, but if your reading level is high-intermediate, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult.


There are a lot of books that are harder than “Taiwan Today.” You might want to try the third Practical Audio-Visual book. There’s also “Thought and Society” which is also by SMC publishing. The company that puts out Practical Audio-Visual also has many textbooks that are harder than that series but I’ve only seen them at their bookstore over near CLD.

I’ve always thought that you should get away from textbooks as soon as possible. I also use kids books but they are almost always better written (if harder to use) and there are TONS of them.

This brings up a question for me: when should you switch over to material designed for the native language speakers?


Good question; the cheapskate answer is ‘as soon as you can!’
This brings up a question I thought about a long time ago – does anyone know a place to get the actual teaching material they use in Taiwan high schools (for various subjects)? I think this would be an excellent source of actual ‘native language’ material (ie not stuff specifically written for foreigners).

Also, I forgot about the ‘Though and Society’ book; that one was a pretty good intermediate-advanced book.


I think kids books would be great, except that they have the cursed bopomofo along the side. I can’t practice reading if I constantly bu guyi de tou kan the zhuyin.

What I have tried is comics, but it’s hard finding something that is easy and interesting. Anyone got any good recommendations for a comic book or series that might keep my attention?

I disagree with reverse using the bilingual post type stuff. It really doesn’t sem very good. For example they’yy use one Chinese word to translate, explain the meaning, but in the usage example use another word.

I’ll try and remember to write downt he names and details of the books I got given and bring them to the interet cafe some time. Some might be appropriate.



Thanks everybody for your suggestions.

Ironlady I quite like your suggestion for a magazine format. I know that a number of publishing companies produce multi-level monthly Japanese leaning magazines. I use these myself occasionally and find them fairly good.

It seems as though we allface similar frustrations with the quality of upper-level instruction materials. I find it hard to crossover to native speaker materials, but perhaps thats the only choice.

I have heard there is a childrens’ weekly newspaper using bo, po, mo, fo. Does anybody know what its called?



What topics and things would you want to see in a beginner/low intermediate level extensive reading magazine for Chinese? Do you find the kind of topics presented in Taiwan’s plethora of English-language teaching magazines suitable for your use (if they were in Chinese, etc. etc.) or would you have different requirements? If I can get some comments from folks who might use it or recommend it to others, it might be possible to get somethign going, even if the process were rather slow.

If I could ever get the gov’t to choke out a PARC for me, I’d love to work on a project like this.



I think I’d like the whole gamet. I like reading anything from local subculture, if and where it exists, to ancient Chinese hero’s from the warring states.

Also I quite like reading things about the west. It helps with names to know what a movie is called and actors are named in mandarin.

And then there are the practicle things and dialogs. Often when we are learning we miss the very basic descriptives. I was talking to a friend the other day- majored in Chinese from a London university, has lived in Taiwan for 15 years, speaks excellent chinese and couldn’t tell me how to say “Water the Flowers.” I’m always frustrated by stuff about the car, or bike although not so much these days as breakdowns put you on a steep learning curve.

I guess the list is endless. But anyway “Oh Steally One” I think the multi-level magazine idea is a great one. We can all benefit from a review of the basics, and dig into the harder stuff at will.



That newspaper is called the Guoyu Ribao (國語日&#22577 )
and you can buy it at 7-11 or Family Mart for 10 NT.


Guoyu Ribao (Mandarin Daily News)


The headquarters for the Guoyu Ribao is on the corner of Fu Chow Street and Roosevelt Road in Taipei. You can get the exact address off the masthead of the newspaper of course.

If you recall Nan Hai Road, that is actually the road you are on when you come out of the Lin Sen South Road tunnel. The next one over is Fu Chow Street. The next one further over is Ho Ping.

Anyway, at the headquarters of the Guoyu Ribao there is also a bookstore as I recall. So you should be able to find some good children’s selections there, which would no doubt be suitable for advanced intermediate reading.

Also, Eastern Publishing Co. (Dong Fang Chu Ban She) on Chung Ching South Road, within a stone’s throw of 228 park, also has a large children’s selection.


Oh Grasshopper, this is definitely a common problem you have posed. IronLady please do something about this. I will definitely support a magazine project. I have read some of your other posts and it seems you have the “right” stuff. It does not have to be too formal at first. Web sites are cheap to rent. You should be like the “Editor” and we can all contribute pieces or until you can find “professionals”. The important thing is to hell with everyone and just start

For years now, I have searched high and low and have found really no suitable material to close the ‘gap’ between being able to read the general “lower-intermediate” books that some universities or Chinese language centres produce for the “foreigner” and the general material that native speakers feed on everyday: newspaper, magazines, novels, etc.

What is the point of a language if you cannot go beyond a "3- month’s” French course? What is the point of life if you have been studying for 5; or even 10 years and you still can’t read more than the subtitles in a movie? Those who can’t even do that I would ask to try a different language, seriously. Spanish is good. I hear it is increasingly popular.

For the rest: You are no more fluent than Hong Kong people trying to speak a foreign language like Putonghua. Don’t let the colour of skin fool you. It is a bit like the ways Chinese people feel about “White” skin people and their ability to speak English. There is not much correlation here according to a recent govt survey especially in terms of fluency between a Hong Kong Chinese and a waiguoren. (only 12% of HK highly educated elite can understand Mandarin even though it is an official language now)

Every year that goes by, I get increasingly jealous of the mounting material that publishers and writers and so called “English Experts” produce for English language learners and the stuff they have on hand to teach the language, while we foreign Chinese language learners have to struggle with “photocopies” of newspapers from 1982, or 1985. (a typical book/instruction material you get at the Chinese University of Hong Kong- btw the world’s most expensive Chinese language course - yes fees are even higher than Yale). Two years ago I was in Taiwan and the university fare there are similar as well: black and white pictures of newspaper cuttings from the CKS era – all about dams and electricity shortages and housing in Taiwan.

Then of course there is the other problem of looking up words in C-E dictionaries. They didn’t have the red Oxford EC-CE dictionary until a few years ago. Even then I had to throw away the first Edition. (Fonts too small)

Every “advanced” learner of Chinese I came across faced this “gap” and still no one came up with an efficient way to close this gap.

This is my “understanding”: It was all about making money as far back as I can remember when I started 1990. The more students they had the more satisfied the Chinese teachers (or the language centres) were. They were even reluctant to speak frankly about their (teaching) problems as I was really a “nosey” student and I was anxious to get ahead as quickly as possible.

I had an idea at one time to produce a software dictionary to ease the “look up” in dictionary because I was working in IT. I thought since the Universities were “professional”, having their name behind the software/invention would be a good selling point for this software. Are they interested? Well I was too naive. Anyway several unsuccessful attempts to get capital, expertise etc… and I gave up. Then I found some company in Taiwan(Dr EYE) had produce one although it was geared for the English language learners’ market as usual, as always. The other day Christine posted another brand, made by some software company in Canada which is probably better but I haven’t had time to investigate that one.

Anyway one thing led to another and my “dictionary” idea became superseded by another idea: a web site magazine. I even had a few mandarin teachers to write out the lessons but they were only interested in the “beginners (gweilo) level”. This was during the so call dot.com boom around early 2000. They weren’t really interested in helping people get to newspaper reading level at all. They felt that it was too hard a goal for most learners especially foreigners (white skin folks). Their general thinking was “foreigners” are only fascinated about Chinese like trying out a Chinese girlfriend of wife.

"The vast majority are not really serious learners (even after WTO).” “Let’s be serious,” they would say, “can you really imagine them talking to businessmen in China in Chinese! Negotiating? Most foreigners can’t stick to it for more than a few years. So just teach them the pinyin or bopomofo and in about a year or two at the most they will quit. We will make enough money just doing the basics. It is too tough trying to get them to any higher level and anyway why would a gweilo need Chinese?”

So that was the attitude I was faced with. No moral support, no imagination other than a need to make a buck. BTW I am not talking down Chinese teachers, is just that I was trying to start a business and this was really the “reality” as some Chinese teachers saw it in their business.
I am sure some teachers had genuine interests in trying to help foreigners learn Chinese but even I could see that there were too many excuses for foreigners to give up. In many ways their approach is not much different then those that produce countless English learning materials especially grammer exercises and explaination. I never understood grammer until I trained as an English teacher at the British Council. Not much of it really helps the student but it just feeds their “insecurity”.

Anyway the dot.com came and went and I am still here, struggling with my Chinese. And one thing really keeps me going even though I feel at times I am nowhere significant with my Putonghua and that is: Hong Kong people, for once in their life have to speak Putonghua!

Imagine this. Prior to the handover, 1997, the then British govt did not have a Chinese language policy. All or most foreigners could not care less. Cantonese was taken in as Chinese by most people that mattered. Most Hong Kongers just spoke Cantonese. Struggling to learn Mandarin or Putonghua was a complete waste of time especially at the “advance” level. (When are u going to use it?) The only other people doing something so ludicrous were some really eccentric gweilos and these oddballs usually had a thing about languages and could usually already speak French or German and took courses in linguistics as a hobby. Their jobs as sinologist also give them a whole new meaning. I am a science man working in everyday life. Anyway long story. I am so grateful I can now look “down” on some people and feel like I have achieve somewhere.

IronLady, do you have any resemblance to Britain’s Iron Lady (Maggie Thatcher)? We desperately need you to lead us to greater heights in Chinese!

Cheers, have a swig of Drambuie, it is really quite nice. It goes well with crepes as well.


WARNING: Theoretical Rambling follows*

The problem with doing upper-intermediate or advanced reading materials, as I see it (besides the “fanti or jianti” and “which Romanization” and “where to print the Romanization” and so on) is that from what we know of how the brain acquires (not “learns ABOUT”) a language, a learner has to encounter a new word 50-70 times in varied, unexpected and yet meaningful and comprehensible contexts to truly acquire it for automatic use, whether productive or receptive (i.e., in all 4 skills: reading/speaking/writing/listening).

So…the challenge, I think would be this:

We have frequency lists that tell us what the most frequently occurring single characters and compound words are in written Chinese (that is, “real” Chinese written by natives for natives, which is what we are going after, I guess).

We need to systematically address the task of including these words (or the most valuable subset of them) time and time and time again, all the while without getting boring.

What I mean to say is that the “traditional” method of teaching reading in Chinese (“read this article and there’s a list of the 20 or 30 unknown compounds at the end, just memorize them now that you’ve seen them in an article once”) is NOT effective. Yes there are highly driven people who CAN learn this way, but studies like Krashen’s on language acquisition suggest that this is about 4% of the population (the 4% who become language teachers??? ) The rest of us mere mortals need repetition. But we need repetition that is not repetitious in itself…that is, it needs to feel fresh, interesting and varied, so that it is not mere rote of listening to the same tired tape for the 1 millionth time.

The other challenge in teaching reading in Chinese is that the written forms are different from the way people speak, and most literacy is based first of all on the knowledge one has of the spoken language (unless you’re learning very traditionally, which again IMHO is not an effective method for most people to achieve fluency)…all this not considering that each characer needs to be memorized at least for recognition and hopefully for production (in a perfect world).

I have enjoyed reading everyone’s posts on this subject because I think it has helped me to clarify my thinking on this. I have to admit that I too am going to go the traditional route first – that is, preparing a course for beginners – but I choose to do that first because I want to prepare intermediate materials for beginners who REALLY KNOW (not just “know about”) the material they’ve covered in their beginning-level courses. But I am also very interested in providing some means of pulling students up to the point where they can deal with native materials, whether written or spoken/recorded.

While it wouldn’t be totally systematic nor would it provide the kind of Chinese-water-torture repetition that is really needed, I think a Chinese language magazine with “cool” topics would fill a certain need. Perhaps we could come up with a list of “key” vocabulary that we feel is essential to get a student to the “middle-intermediate” level, for example, and then concentrate on those words, while letting the student/reader feel that we are simply presenting interesting readings on timely topics. I know people on this list so far are calling for an intermediate-level magazine, but I think that it would be invaluable for beginners, because I’m hearing here on the forum and also in private e-mails that many foreigners are frustrated with how little they can do with Chinese after studying for X time. The more comprehensible material beginners have to practice with, the better they will internalize the things they have seen in a class (any class!), and the more progress they will make.

Well, now I’m blathering, but I’m quite enthusiastic about this idea, and I will definitely try to put together a proposal and take it to somebody with money and see if we can’t get something going!! We won’t be moving to Taiwan until July (everybody hope really hard that we can sell our house, OK?!) so it will be hard to make much headway on such a project before then, but sometimes it’s good to have a “comments period” to get input from everyone and to let the juices marinate in the brain.

Terry (out on the road interpreting this week, be patient as brain will be fried at least part of the time!!)


Get your head out of the books and instead base your leaning on
repeating tapes as soon as possible, or else you’ll end up like me
with several personal pronunciations I invented from reading now
“hardened for life”. Sort of like when you encounter “A priori” in
texts several years before the first time you ever hear it spoken.

Another thing that wouldn’t seem to hurt is to listen to BCC News all
day, Taibei AM 657, Taizhong AM 720… also by shortwave


I have some texts that may be worth mentioning since they try to address the repetition you mention. They are called “Easy Chinese Readings in 500 Characters” and I think they are totally unique. They use traditional and simplified characters, zhu yin and pinyin. Innovative eh?

Here’s a link to the first one:

They try to use the phrases over and over in ways that allow you to more easily remember the new vocab. Also the emphasis is on using just 500 basic characters to say more instead of endlessly adding new characters you’ve never seen before. BTW, there are three in the series.

I tracked down the Guo Yu Ri Bao and tried reading an article on the second page. I was confused and then I realized the title was “5% of Italians bite their fingernails.” I’m not joking!! Is this the kind of crap that sells newspapers here?


Hartzell says: “The next one over is Fu Chow Street.”

Boohohoho [sobbing sound]: Chow? As in “chow time?” How can you do
this to me [sniff]? Don’t you remember there we were, you and me,
http://www.geocities.com/jidanni/images/lhb001012.jpg , on the front
lines in the hanyu pinyin campaign,
http://www.geocities.com/jidanni/20001011zhuhuilaing.txt , well, ok,
it was to non-politisize the issue or something … but what about the
secret deal we made with Jiang Zemin to promote this junk so we could
have it easy after the invasion? ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H

Don’t you think it would be easier to get a simple Fuzhou straight
now, rather than spend 5 years in pinyin reeducation camp [in Fuzhou
too], which is where you are going once they put me in charge of this
mess after glorious reunification with the motherland.


zhongwen.com has stuff like Analects and The Little Red Book and a few others to read online. Unfortunately Mao is in simplified, but the others use trad. I guess these aren’t easy reading (haven’t tried myself) but have the advantage that you can click on any chracter and have a definition appear in the side window.