{Chinese Book Review} Mandarin Chinese – English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

by Julia

I’m very happy to be writing my first language book review today (as promised here) 🙂 I definitely feel like a proper LL blogger now!

Since moving to Edinburgh I’ve been willing to check out the various resources I have available through the local library system, and this one book caught my attention. The concept is definitely not new – a thematic visual dictionary with words clustered according to their semantics.This one is the 2018 edition, but the dictionary itself has been out for quite some time now.

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Upon opening it, you find a visual table of content listing all topics you will find in the book:

After that, there’s a brief introduction (both in Chinese and English) on what to expect from the book and how to use it. It also reminds you that there’s a free app you can download and use to follow along with the book.

Then you jump right into the core of the book. As shown in the table of content, there are different themes (family, work, leisure etc) and for each theme you get a certain number of pages analysing the vocabulary for that selected theme. For example, if you’re interested in sports you have a volleyball subsection, a football subjection, a swimming subsection and so on and so forth. There are also some boxes offering additional vocabulary insight.

Towards the end of the book there’s a ‘Reference’ section with useful information like how the calendar is structured, how to read the time, name of foreign countries etc.

After the Reference part, there’s a very very small section showing some grammar points and the so called ‘useful phrases’.

Finally, the index (in Chinese first, and then in English).

 

Comments

This is a very thorough and well researched visual dictionary, with great graphics and a very in-depth approach to the themes selected. This said, I have mixed feelings about this kind of resource in language learning.

Reason number one is the fact that lists of words are known to be quite a dry way of managing vocabulary assimilation, as words are better learnt and remembered in context rather than in lists (though having pictures and images surely help).

Reason number two is that you need to know how to connect the words you’re studying, otherwise your learning is going to be crippled by the fact that you don’t how how to actually use them. For example, if I learn how to say eyeshadow and nail polish, but I don’t know how to say to apply eyeshadow or nail polish, my learning is incomplete and it doesn’t really allow me to express myself in more complex ways.

At the same time it is true that I often find myself at loss when looking for a specific word in a regular dictionary, as I’m usually provided with more than one result and I’m never sure which one is the right one to use in that specific context, or the most common. So in this regard a resource like this could prove useful.

Final remarks

I think this can be an useful tool to broaden one’s vocabulary knowledge, but with a word of caution. Simply learning by heart all the words listed in the various section wouldn’t do much for one’s progresses in the language, but using it alongside other resources could result in a significant vocabulary booster.

I think the best way to use this book would be to select a few topics of interests, focus on a handful of words and integrate them with useful verbs and sentence patterns through the use of monolingual dictionaries like Bing. I reckon it’s better to master a few words than knowing a bunch you can do very little with.

Personally, I don’t think I’m going to buy this book. I find it very handy to have it accessible through the library system, so I plan to pick it up from time to time for a few, focused sessions of vocabulary study. I may consider buying it if it weren’t available at the library though.

 

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