Comprehensive recommendations


Published by the 新世界出版社, one is called HSK 听力关键词 (ISBN 7-80005-696-1) and the other HSK 听力惯用词 (7-80005-695-3)

I found these books really good – there’s a lot of colloquial / idiomatic stuff you just don’t get in a lot of the textbooks around. Opening the book at a random page I find 帮倒忙 (to be more trouble than your worth, more hinderance than help) and 弄 as an informal word for do / make / get – which is something you hear constantly, but I’ve never come across it in a textbook.

If you are in China you should be able to get them easily enough – they’re in most bookshops in Beijing that have Chinese for foreigner sections. I first got them in Harbin, so larger provincial cities should have them. There are tapes, though I don’t think they add a great deal – if you have a handy native speaker, I wouldn’t bother.

If you are not in China, I know one forum member has ordered them from this site and been pleased with them.

Apart from that, there aren't any I'd particularly recommend. There are a few I've seen around Beijing, but nothing as good as these. What really impressed me about these books is that they really do give you the phrases and words used in everyday speech - they improved my conversation skills no end.

(Chinese Listening Course)
BCLU Press

There are nine books in this course, 3 each at elementary, intermediate and advanced. I've used about 5 of them, from Elementary 3 onwards.

I've always been really impressed by them because

1) They're really well designed - difficult vocab is pre-taught, there's a mix of longer and shorter listening pieces, questions are pitched very well and there's a mix of multiple choice / true-false / fill-in-the-blanks and open-ended questions.
2) The listening pieces are infinitely more interesting than some of the 'Visiting the Factory' and 'China is the World's Most Populous Country' stuff you get sometimes. Flicking through the books I have handy you've got people complaining about pushing on a bus, jokes, daft stories like 'My Husband's Ugly as Sin but I Love Him Anyway' and stuff. There's a bit of the '34% of China's 463,432 lakes . . .' kind of things as well, but not too much.
3) The pieces are very conversational, especially early on - stuff like 真没想到, 没劲 and so on.

Apart from the new vocabulary these books are entirely in characters - you'll need a certain reading level just to follow the questions - and even the new vocab is given only in characters and pinyin, so you'll be reaching for your dictionary a lot. There are tapescripts at the back of the books.

I don't know how available they are abroad. If you type in 汉语听力 in the search box on the BCLU Press page linked above, you'll find them though. I won't give ISBN numbers here as there'd have to be nine of them (more with tapes) but you can get them from the BCLU page. Just make sure you're looking at the right level / book.

Listening is probably one of the stronger aspects of my Chinese, and I think this course had a lot to do with it. I also recommended them to someone who studied Chinese at university for four years and she said they were the best books she'd ever used.

The books are very useful prep for the HSK exam - listening pieces and answers are very similar to what you'll get in the listening exam (Elem/Int anyway . . .).

Pic to aid recognition


I found these two Chinese grammar practice books published by BCLU Press to be very helpful:

You can order them on dangdang and have them shipped if you are not in China

For the elementary and intermediate level

And for the advanced level

They both start out with an overview of the grammar patterns covered by that particular level of the HSK. Then they proceed to give you many exercises in applying those patterns, and very importantly, the books have fairly detailed explanations for all the exercises.

I would highly recommend them for the more advanced learner, whether or not you are practicing for the HSK. (Note that at least the advanced book is entirely in Chinese. The elementary/intermediate-level book may be, as well.) They are the most practical Chinese grammar books I've found. Most other Chinese grammar books I've seen have been full of technical jargon, as if they are written for linguists.


核心阅读 - Core Chinese Reading - is not specifically an HSK preparation book - but it does give you the skills needed while developing your Chinese at the same time, and I credit this book with taking me from reading individual characters and words to sentences and paragraphs. I've been meaning to do a fuller write-up on this as I did for some of the books above, but haven't had a chance. ISBN 7-80052-552-X, Sinolingua. Unfortunately there's only this one Intermediate edition, and the only reference to it I can find on the internet is here


HSK 速成强化教程 (An Intensive Course of HSK) is a good coursebook that will give you plenty of exam practice while improving your Chinese. ISBN 7-5619-0958-6, 北京语言大学出版社 (Beijing Language and Culture University Press)

The HSK 8级精解 - HSK Essentials- series has four books, one for each section. These are also very good - Whether you want to go for this one or the above probably depends on how much time you have. The ISBN for the one I have in front of me (综合) is 7-5619-1038-X, same publisher as above.

Some notes on the above. All the HSK books above are designed to take you to an 8. This means that if you are just coming in from Foundation, they're going to be a bit of a shock to the system. They can also be a bit on the dull side, which is why I was VERY glad of the listening course and Core Readings - I found both of these to be fantastic.

Also, there's little in the way of pinyin and English help - only on new vocabulary, and even then it can be a little scarce. You will find yourself tacking complex grammatical explanations, exam strategies and the difference between 成果, 果实, 后果, 结果 and 效果, all in characters - which is more of a challenge to your reading that the reading exercises will be.

Be wary of books with titles like 'New Millenium Concept HSK Trick Answers Handbook' - they're invariably just piles of practice exams, and not necessarily very good ones at that. Get one book of practice tests, do one now so you know where you are, one halfway to the exam so you can see how you're progressing and the remaining ones in the week before the exam so you can see what you need to desperately try and cram into your head.