A Guide to Proper Usage of Spoken Chinese

Before opening the book be sure to admire the funky 1990s cover that looks like it’s from the intro to Saved by The Bell.

A Guide to Proper Usage of Spoken Chinese
by Shou-be Tian
Chinese University Press
Language: English and Chinese
ISBN Traditional Chinese Version: 978-9622015395
ISBN Simplified Chinese Version: 978-9629962289

I bought this book a few years ago during a trip up to Taipei. We were with my Chinese teacher at the time, and she said she knew of a decent bookshop around the corner from Taipei main station.

The selection of Chinese text books there was impressive and so I bought a couple. The first was 今日台灣 Taiwan Today, which I ended up studying during my time in language school. The second was A Guide to Proper Usage of Spoken Chinese, which after a house move ended up being stashed away in a box until I recently found it.

The thing that attracted me to the book was its approach of introducing vocabulary through common mistakes, rather than just telling you this is how it is. A typical error made by English speakers of Chinese is presented and then the correct way explained.

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Typical errors that English speakers of Chinese make are presented first

Two or more similar words are also usually compared, giving the book a refreshing approach. Depending on your ability you might find some of the examples obvious, but there is something in here for students of all levels.

Here’s a few excerpts:

Common errors with and 幫忙:

Typical Error:
我幫忙他拿行李
I help him carry the luggage

Correct Usage:
我幫他拿行李。

is used for situations such as “He helped me to do such and such a thing”. The usual pattern is “Noun(1) Noun(2) + Verb”

Part of the entry for 不想 and 不覺得:

Typical Error:
你不想這個很簡單嗎?
Don’t you think this is very simple?

Correct Usage:
你不覺得這個很簡單嗎?

Here’s the entry for

Typical error:
我們吃飯跟談話吧。

Correct Usage:
我們一邊吃飯一邊談話吧。

means “and” or “with”. However normally cannot be used to join to verbs….we use it mainly to connect pronouns, nouns and nominal expressions.

Other entries in the book don’t use typical errors, but compare two similar words to help clarify them. Such as 關於 and 對於, 記得 and 記住, and which have similar meanings that might be confusing.

關於 and 對於
Words with similar meanings are also compared

The entries are short and to the point, and you can turn to any page and jump in. The book is aimed at beginner and intermediate level, but as mentioned in the preface – one of the difficulties in learning a language is “unlearning any points which may have been learned incorrectly”. With that in mind this book serves as a great reference for all levels.

The end of the book features 114 mini exercises – one for each entry. The exercises range from using the correct word in a sentence, rearranging words in a sentences, and translating sentences to and from Chinese. They’re good exercises, but the section is supplementary and shouldn’t be your reason for buying this book.

The book is available on Amazon in both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese versions.

More images from the book:

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