The 9 Best Books to Learn Chinese (Mandarin) Fast

Kelsey Wetherbee January 12, 2023

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Every person has their own preference on how they best learn a language. One of the most popular ways to learn Mandarin is with a book. Now, there are tons of quality options available to fit any language need. Books are a traditional way to learn, but to adapt to modern times, most books offer an online audio component that can help you practice listening and understanding. Below you’ll find the best books available to help you learn Mandarin Chinese.

Best Books to Learn Mandarin Chinese

Over 1.6 BILLION people speak Mandarin, making it the most spoken language in Asia. It’s the language with the most native speakers and is the second most spoken language in the world, second only to English, when non-native speakers are included in the count.

Needless to say, there are a lot of people that speak Mandarin, and knowing the language can be very beneficial. China has a booming economy and speaking the language can help you land a job with an international company. Even if you don’t plan on living or working in China, there are millions of Mandarin speakers throughout the world and knowing some of the language can help you communicate with them.

How Long Will It Take You To Learn Chinese (Mandarin)?​

What is your current level?

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Beginner
A2
Elementary
B1
Intermediate
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Upper Intermediate

What level do you want to reach?

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Beginner
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Elementary
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Upper Intermediate
C1
Advanced
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How many hours will you study each day?

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But learning Mandarin can be daunting. There are over 50,000 written characters! But no need to fear. We’ve put together a list of the best books to help you learn Mandarin. Some are comprehensive guides to help you learn by yourself, and others focus on a specific skill. Whatever your goals are, you’re sure to find a book on this list to help you learn Mandarin effectively.

What Are The Best Books To Learn Chinese?

To find the best book to learn Chinese, I first found many options that were popular with language learners, as well as examining some from reputable language learning companies. Then, I narrowed down the list based on different criteria like reader reviews, price, and availability. Finally, I compiled the list below, considering the strong points of each book and who can benefit from using it.

Below you’ll find the 9 best books to help you learn Mandarin Chinese. Scroll down to learn more about each book.

Best Overall Mandarin BookComplete Mandarin Chinese
Best for BeginnersChinese for Dummies
Best for GrammarChinese Demystified
Best to Learn Mandarin CharactersFundamentals of Chinese Characters
Best for Mandarin Vocabulary2000 Most Common Chinese Characters
Best for SpeakingBasic Mandarin Chinese - Speaking & Listening Textbook
Best for Travelers15 Minute Mandarin Chinese
Best for Reading MandarinChinese Stories for Language Learners
Best for ChildrenMandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

Complete Mandarin Chinese

Best Overall Mandarin Book

The Complete Mandarin Chinese book is the best overall book because it helps you practice all the most important language skills. It’s for beginners and will take you to an intermediate level. This book has everything you need to start learning Mandarin. There are grammar explanations, vocabulary, conversations, tips for learning Chinese characters, and more.

On the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) scale, this book will take you from A1 to B1/B2 level. There are also audio tracks available through the Teach Yourself website or app. One reviewer thought that the book, along with the app, was a great resource for someone who wants to self-study the language. You can see other reviews here.

Key Features

  • Excellent introduction to Mandarin
  • Practice all language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking
  • Audio available online or in the app

Chinese for Dummies

Best for Beginners

Chinese for Dummies is the best book for beginners because it starts from the basics and the lessons go through common topics like introductions, asking directions, and ordering food. This book has grammar explanations as well as common vocabulary words in each chapter.

Chinese for Dummies also includes a mini dictionary to help with translations and bonus audio tracks online to help you practice listening and pronunciation. One reviewer liked this book because it’s part of the “For Dummies” series, which always offers simple and clear explanations. See what other reviewers had to say about the book here.

Key Features

  • Simple, clear explanations
  • Practice questions with answer key
  • Bonus audio tracks online

Chinese Demystified is a good book to teach yourself Chinese grammar. It has straightforward and clear explanations that are easy to understand. It uses Pinyin, traditional, and simplified characters so you can use it no matter how far you’ve advanced in learning the Chinese writing system.

Because there is no CD or online audio, most reviewers recommend using this book once you have a basic understanding of Mandarin, or alongside another language app. Check out what other reviewers thought of the book here.

Key Features

  • Detailed grammar explanations
  • Self-tests to check for understanding
  • Characters in simplified and traditional formats

Fundamentals of Chinese Characters

Best to Learn Mandarin Characters

Fundamentals of Chinese Characters is a useful complement to your Mandarin learning routine or a great way to start learning characters. It’s not meant to be a stand-alone book to learn the language in its entirety, but it is a comprehensive guide that teaches simplified Chinese characters.

The book includes a rhyme for each character (which helps with memorization) and practice exercises that teach how to correctly write the characters. It’s recommended for beginner learners. One reviewer said the book was “intuitive and practical.” See what other reviewers had to say here.

Key Features

  • Excellent introduction to Chinese characters
  • Rhymes for each character to help you remember
  • Interactive exercises

2000 Most Common Chinese Words in Context

Best for Mandarin Vocabulary

The title of the book, 2000 Most Common Chinese Words in Context, tells you everything you need to know. It includes 2,000 of the most used words in Chinese. Each word has a translation and an example sentence in Chinese and English so you can better understand the context of the word.

Additionally, each word has both the pinyin and Chinese characters so you can use the book no matter how much of the writing system you understand. There are also tips and tricks to help you learn Mandarin more effectively. People who purchased this book agree that it’s a great supplement to help expand your vocabulary. You can read what others thought about the book here.

Key Features

  • Learn 2,000 common words in Chinese
  • Example sentences in Mandarin and English
  • Tips and tricks to learn Mandarin

Basic Mandarin Chinese - Speaking & Listening Textbook focuses on two skills that are often difficult to learn with a book. It’s specifically designed for English speakers that want to learn Chinese and focuses on the common issues they might encounter. The book uses Pinyin rather than Chinese characters because the focus is on speaking and pronunciation, not on reading and writing.

The book has a written pronunciation guide, but also includes audio of native speakers correctly pronouncing the words and phrases so you can imitate them. There are also pronunciation, grammar, and cultural explanations. One reviewer thought it was a great resource for self-study. See what you think about the book here.

Key Features

  • Focus on conversation
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Specifically for English speakers learning Chinese

15-Minute Mandarin Chinese

Best for Travelers

15-Minute Mandarin Chinese is an excellent book for someone who needs to learn the basics quickly. It’s divided into 12 themed chapters that consist of five 15-minute lessons. The idea is that by studying every day, you can complete the course in 12 weeks. That’s why this book is best for travelers or people who need it for business because it can teach you the most important aspects of the language in a short amount of time.

Each daily lesson has a warm-up activity to help you recall what you’ve already learned, useful phrases, and cultural tips about China. The book also has a strategically placed flap that allows you to cover the answers to test how much you remember. Reviewers enjoyed using the app that comes with the book to hear correct Mandarin pronunciation. You can learn more about 15-Minute Mandarin Chinese here.

Key Features

  • Great for beginners who want a base level
  • Cultural tips and useful phrases
  • Quick and easy daily lessons

Chinese Stories for Language Learners

Best for Reading Mandarin

Chinese Stories for Language Learners has 22 stories originally written in Chinese. The stories tell the origin of a classic Chinese proverb such as "Painting the Eyes on the Dragon" and “Waiting for Rabbits by a Tree Stump." Each story has the original Chinese version side-by-side with the English translation.

There are also cultural notes, vocabulary lists, and discussion questions for the stories. You can access audio recordings of the stories read aloud by native speakers to hear the correct pronunciation. One reviewer thought the book was useful for all levels, because it includes English translations, but intermediate and advanced learners will benefit more from the book. See other opinions about Chinese Stories for Language Learners here.

Key Features

  • 22 stories included
  • Chinese and English translation on side-by-side pages
  • Audio recordings from native speakers

The Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary contains over 10,000 illustrated words with translations into English. The book is arranged by themes that cover everyday situations. It’s a great book for children to start learning the language, but it’s a useful resource for anyone that’s learning Mandarin.

The book uses simplified Chinese characters as well as the Pinyin pronunciation. You can also download an app to hear the correct pronunciation of the words. People who purchased the book agree that it covers a broad scope of vocabulary and is fun to use. Read what other reviewers thought about the book here.

Key Features

  • 10,000 illustrated words
  • Chinese characters and Pinyin of each word
  • Includes an app to hear correct pronunciation

Why You Should Use Books To Learn Chinese

Books are one of the best ways to learn Chinese. They can be useful for self-study or used with a tutor. They provide detailed explanations of important language topics, example sentences, practice activities, and more. And when compared to taking private lessons or an in-person course, books are an inexpensive and affordable way to learn. They’re also convenient because you can take a book anywhere.

How To Use Books To Learn Chinese

A Chinese book is most helpful when used in addition to other language resources. Books provide excellent explanations and can be a great way to learn vocabulary, but there are other, more effective, ways to practicing necessary skills like speaking and listening. For this, it’s beneficial to include a language app or online course in your study routine to cover all skills.

It’s also a good idea to create a study plan so you can stay on-track and achieve your language goals. Studying at least a few times every week is important to remembering and building upon what you already learned. You can set daily reminders on your phone or find a study buddy to help keep you accountable.

Best Books To Learn Chinese - Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article has helped guide you to a book that can boost your Chinese to the next level. Learning Mandarin is a fun and rewarding experience, but it takes hard work and dedication. But if you stick with it and continue to study on a regular basis, you’ll be speaking and understanding before you know it!

Is there another book that you enjoy using? Feel free to leave it in the comments section!

Best Books To Learn Chinese: FAQ

What is the best Chinese book for beginners?

The best book for Chinese beginners is Chinese for Dummies because it covers all important language topics without being overwhelming. The book starts from the basics and doesn’t assume you already have a base level of Chinese. This book can help you learn grammar, vocabulary, culture, speaking, and more.

What is the best source to learn Chinese?

There are many good sources to learn Chinese, but most importantly you want to make sure that you’re using a reputable one. Language apps like Rocket Chinese, ChineseClass101, and Mondly are effective at helping you learn Mandarin. You can also use a self-study book like Complete Mandarin Chinese or Chinese for Dummies to gain an overall understanding of the language.

Can I learn Chinese in 2 years?

Realistically, it will take you longer than 2 years to become proficient in Chinese. It’s considered a difficult language by the US Department of State because it is significantly different from English. But there are many factors that determine how long it will take you to learn Chinese. Some key factors are how much you already know, what level you want to reach, and if you already speak a language that’s similar to Chinese.

To see how long it will take you to learn Chinese, check out this fluency calculator.

How can I learn Chinese by myself?

There are many ways to learn Chinese by yourself. One of the most popular ways is to use a language app like Pimsleur or Mondly. There are also many books available that can be used as self-study guides. They include detailed explanations of important grammar points, vocabulary, and notes about how the language is used. Chinese Demystified is a great book to start learning Chinese by yourself.

Kelsey Wetherbee

Kelsey is a language lover that wants to help others on their linguistic journeys. As a former ESL teacher and foreign language learner herself, she hopes her experiences can benefit others and help them learn more effectively. She loves to travel and enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn.

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