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John Dowdell

I'm grabbing a bunch from the shelves here... let's start with dictionaries.

For pocket dictionaries, the ones I've liked best have been in the Oxford Minidictionary series. The Mandarin one is four inches by three, almost 1.5 inches thick -- it's a little block. Like the larger Oxford Starter dictionaries it features asymmetrical entries tuned to English-speaking students... the target-to-source section (Chi->Eng, eg) contains usage advice, and the source-to-target section contains a larger vocabulary. I generally keep a small flat magnifying lens as a bookmark, but characters require more light than letters anyway.

For character dictionaries, I remember spending much frustrating time simply trying to find entries in Nelson or some of the other dictionaries available when I started studying Japanese. I've been real happy with "The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary" (Jack Halpern)... seven inches by five by 1.5, 1000 pages... the SKIP system works well for me. Kodansha also has a "Pocket Kanji Guide" which seems portable, but I haven't used it under real conditions yet.

For Chinese readings I'm not so sure yet... still evaluating. Tuttle has a "Chinese Character Fast Finder" which is light enough for daily travel in a bag, but which has a clear graphical navigation system... I haven't used it enough yet though.

China West Books out of Cupertino offers "Understanding Chinese" by Rita Mai-Wah Choy... I'm not clear on its navigation system, but its listings are structured well, with Mandarin and Cantonese readings of many compounds per character.

I also picked up a character genealogy recently, showing families of characters... looks promising.

I've examined electronic dictionaries, and find them difficult to evaluate... the impression I have is that many have tons of info, but the user interface has a significant learning cost. I'd probably have to find a path here for everyday realworld use.

John Dowdell

Travelers' Tales books have been great for getting a sense/reminder of the romance of a place... stories written by English-speaking writers over the last century or two, as well as translations that show an aspect of a place.. provides lots of mental hooks, fills out the background.

Lonely Planet has a "World Food" series which I also repeatedly use... helps when you're there, helps when you're here.

Two series of cultural orientations are "Culture Smart" and "Culture Shock". The quality in each series varies by the writer for that region. I've gotten good stuff from each series, but I've been bored by some too. But these fill out the gaps, so they're worth the try.

John Dowdell

"Teach Yourself" series vs Routledge's "Colloquial" series... they're in Borders and such places, and look the same: a 200-page paperback book, often with two cassettes or two CDs, usually in a plastic bubble pack.

I'd go for the Teach Yourself set first... these have consistently been easier to use audio-only, as well as book/audio... the Colloquial sets have often included lots of silly English filler material. (I don't need to hear a 30-second story exposition in English that is word-for-word what's in the book... the Colloquial Hindi and Cantonese can be particularly annoying in this regard.)

Teach Yourself also has some good small books on writing systems... the Devanagari has lots of vocabulary and drills... the Chinese doesn't have much vocabulary but does offer an orientation to the basics.

Some Teach Yourself courses come in two versions: one for beginners, one for faster study (refresher course, eg).

Either is worthwhile, though, particularly if you can schedule time for writing out book work, and time for book/audio work. (My schedules usually allow for audio-only or book-only but rarely both simultaneously.)

John Dowdell

There are two series of Japanese pocket books I really like... both are 7.25 by 4.5 inches (although some have been republished in other form factors)... a hundred or two pages... it's easy to always have one or another available.

Japan Times publishes the "Nihongo Notes" series, as well as a followup under another name which I forget at the moment ("Situational Japanese", maybe?). These are newspaper columns, each examining in two-three pages a particular cultural use of the language. Very easy to read at any stage of study... useful even if you plan *never* to study, just to get a sense of how people use the language, what is really going on in an interaction.

Kodansha's "Power Japanese" series has since been republished into larger form, but the earlier pocket-sized versions cover specific subjects (particles, kana, compound sentences, suffixes/prefixes, etc). Real good.

John Dowdell

One series which surprised me was the "Making Out in X" books. They're lightweight and pocket sized, and are basically a phrasebook, although with more colloquial tone and a chapter on, well, making out. I watch where I read these in public, but they're actually quite useful for a different look at the language.

Tuttle's "A Handbook of Japanese Usage" by Francis Drohan is the one I'd carry for everyday study in Japan... it offers grammar, contextual considerations, vocabulary, reading study... a lot of bang-for-the-ounce.

Tuttle's "Essential Japanese" by Samuel Martin holds a special place for me... was the first big book I invested in when starting... I paid $5 at a used bookstore in the mid-80s for the 1974 printing. There are more grammars available today, but this one I'm still holding onto.

Mobo Gao's "Mandarin Chinese: An Introduction" on Oxford University Press gave me a great orientation to the language. I've read a couple on Chinese in general, and although most have context on how Putongua, Yue, Min, Hakka and the rest fit together, I haven't found a good overall picture yet.

Many of the newer book/audio courses focus on realworld speech, rather than classroom speech... the Cheng & Tsui series has some good-looking offerings here.

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