Are Textbooks Ruining Your Chinese Study?

Aren't you just so excited to learn Chinese looking at these bad boys? 

Aren't you just so excited to learn Chinese looking at these bad boys? 

We’ve made reference to textbooks several times before when discussing study methods. They are an understandable go to when it comes to “studying”, because its pretty much all we’ve had to learn from when in school as a kid. And hey, if I need to learn the Pythagorean theorem, a textbook is not a bad way to learn it. But what about Chinese or any language for that matter?

The basic function of a textbook is to analyze the language and explain it in a (hopefully) logical way. Already I’ve got a problem. Since when do we analyze language to learn it? Do you analyze swimming strokes from a book before you set foot in a pool? Do you imagine that doing that would help or hinder your ability to swim?

Acquisition of language is based on immersion, desire for human communication, and the inability to avoid it (kind of like water in a pool). It is intuitive. You can rely on your environment and naturally desire for human connection to do the heavy lifting of figuring it out way more than you could with say, studying physics principles.

This is not to say analysis never has its uses, but if you look at a textbook that’s all you are doing. They also are often boring and irrelevant. When I was getting my bachelor’s degree in Chinese at Sichuan university, each chapter of the textbook was comprised of an article, a list of the new words introduced in the article, and then an analysis of the grammar points. 


This has a few problems, but the most basic one is this: What if I am uninterested in the topic the article is discussing? I remember reading one about Soccer fans that was one of the most boring two weeks of school I’ve ever had because I don’t follow the sport. It doesn’t connect with me, give me an emotional connection, or facilitate curiosity. So not only am I trying to “analyze how to swim”, but I’m also bored doing it. This doesn’t just delay my Chinese study, it actually teaches me to dislike it. I’m more likely to quit. It is, in almost all cases, a net negative. There’s also so little point anymore in using a textbook you guys, there is a massive amount of content available just by opening your computer of phone. If it ain’t fun, change it up. Sure, use a textbook if you want, but don’t feel bad about tossing it in the trash with prejudice when you get bored. It might just save your Chinese.

PS A type of book that's actually great for acquiring language in the early days are children's books.