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Reviewed by:
  • Exploring in Chinese
  • Jing Wang (bio)
Cynthia Ning . Exploring in Chinese. 2 volumes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008. Volume 1: 322 pp. Paperback (with DVD) $40.00, ISBN 0-300-11569-7. Volume 2: 283 pp. Paperback (with DVD) $40.00, ISBN 0-300-11583-3.

The two-volumes of Exploring in Chinese are DVD-based textbooks for intermediate students. The series has seven units covering daily topics such as friends, meetings, food, shopping, daily activities, people, and places. With each unit consisting of three to six lessons, the two volumes have a total of thirty-seven lessons: volume one contains twenty lessons; and volume two, seventeen.

Each lesson is composed of the following exercises: previewing activities to get students warmed up, first-viewing exercises to facilitate a general understanding of the content, second-viewing questions to assist in the understanding of detailed information, third-viewing designs to focus on vocabulary and grammatical points, and postviewing tasks to improve skills in speaking, reading, and writing. Video transcription in character (traditional and simplified) and in pinyin with an English translation is supplied at the end of each lesson to encourage further learning. Students are instructed not to resort to the transcript until they finish all the exercises of the lesson.

The exercises provide students with ample chances to practice the language without feeling overwhelmed. On the one hand, students are exposed to a great number of exercises in the two books: matching, multiple choice, filling in the blank, charts, ranking, translation, and so forth. On the other hand, they may not feel daunted by the tasks because, except for one or two exercises in each lesson, they do not need to write many characters. [End Page 143]

The DVD episodes, shot in Beijing in 1999, present Chinese culture to Chinese foreign language (CFL) learners and provide valuable guidance to them on their daily lives in China. The episodes lead the viewer to different places and present communications with people from different walks of life. In addition, the DVD focuses on possible interactions a foreigner living in a Chinese city might face: making friends, making appointments, shopping, ordering at a restaurant, exchanging money, going to a health clinic, getting a haircut, and visiting different places.

Several aspects of the DVD facilitate comprehension for intermediate students. Each episode lasts for several minutes, which is the ideal length for intermediate students to comprehend the content. Furthermore, the speaking speed is not rapid, so that it is possible for intermediate students to understand. Pictures provide further aid to comprehension.

The uniqueness of the DVD episodes is that interactions are neither predetermined nor modified by the author. Because the recordings are "purposely unrehearsed and unscripted" (p. 8), communication is captured and presented in an authentic way. For example, one can hear people use language fillers. Another unique feature is that not only do native speakers narrate or communicate with each other in the DVD, but also three CFL learners, at different language proficiency levels, interact with native speakers. Overall, the three CFL learners do a wonderful job.

Sound pedagogical practices are reflected in the compilation of the two volumes. In the classroom, instructors often engage students in pre-listening, listening, and post-listening exercises in dealing with audio materials. The arrangement of exercises into previewing, first-viewing, second-viewing, third-viewing, and postviewing tasks in these two books greatly assists the use of the books by instructors. Moreover, words and sentence structures are recycled. Since several lessons on the same theme are categorized under one unit, recycling of words and sentence structures is easy. Hence, CFL learners have greater chances to remember recurrent words and structures.

The linguistic input is carefully designed to suit the needs of audiences who are intermediate-level CFL learners. First, the contents are carefully selected to focus on everyday and tangible issues, and topics are not dealt with in great complexity, which is suitable for intermediate students. Second, with CFL learners in mind, the native speakers speak slowly and use simple grammatical patterns and words. Third, there are repetitions of sentence structures in the dialogues, making them easy for intermediate students to understand and remember. Fourth, the...