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HSK 1: The Best Books to Begin Your Journey

What is HSK 1?

HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) is a Chinese Language Proficiency Test which is held regularly around the world by Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters). So far, there are six levels, and HSK level 1 is the beginning level, which is also the very first goal for many Chinese learners. HSK 1 requires students to learn 150 new words as well as the whole Pinyin pronunciation system, which will enable you to meet basic communication needs and give you the ability to further your Chinese language studies.  

Why do I need an HSK 1 Book?

Different books target different goals. HSK is not an achievement test based on any one textbook: it’s a proficiency test assessing learners’ language abilities. Using an HSK 1 book can help you meet the test requirements in a very efficient way. The target words and phrases are scientifically organized and are frequently used in daily life. In this article, we will recommend some popular and established HSK 1 books for you to use.

HSK Standard Course 1 is designed for total beginners who need to acquire basic Chinese language abilities as well as students who aim to take the level 1 test. It has summed up the test’s focuses, difficulties, language points, topics, functions, and situations. Even though the HSK level 1 test only involves listening and reading sections, the HSK Standard Course 1 book still provides listening, reading, speaking, and writing training. Apart from the textbook, there is also a supporting workbook of exercises which focuses on improving students’ listening, reading, and writing skills, so as to refine their language abilities. The book suggests it can be finished in 34 class hours and allow students pass HSK level 1 test.

There are 15 lessons in this book. The first and second lessons mainly focus on pronunciation, which includes all basic Pinyin concepts. These two lessons also create a very firm foundation for further study. Afterwards, each lesson also provides corresponding drills to expand and strengthen pronunciation skills.  

From lesson 3 to 15, the texts are theme-based with one or two example conversations. The structure of each lesson is generally formed by warm-up, text, notes, practice, pronunciation, characters and use sections. Some of the lessons also include a culture section which helps learners know more about Chinese people and China. HSK Standard Course 1 ensures the words and grammar points used are within the HSK 1 requirements. It emphasizes diversity and richness of content.

The characters used in this book take the student all the way through the learning process from 17 basic strokes to writing order, character structure, and basic radicals. There are 52 single-component characters required at level 1.

All the target grammar points and words are well organized in each lesson. You know exactly what you are learning with strong purpose and motivation.

The layout of each lesson:

Warm-up New words and phrases with illustrative pictures
Text 3 situations with 1 or 2 conversations
Notes Grammar points with example sentences
Practice Q & APicture descriptionComplete sentences
Pinyin Initials, finals, tones and difficult pronunciations (lesson 3-5)Syllable drills (lesson 6-15)
Chinese characters Basic strokes (lesson 1-6)Basic radicals and single-component characters (lesson 7-15)
Application Pair activitiesGroup activities
Culture Cultural interactions in daily life

Topics and functions in the Course 1 book:

Leeson Key Function
Lesson 1 Greetings 1 Daily greetingsBasic initials, finals, tones, syllables
Lesson 2 Greetings 2 Daily greetingsCompound initials, finals, syllables, rules
Lesson 3 Introduction 1 Introductions (nationality, name, profession)Pronunciation differentiationTone sandhi of 不Spelling rules for ü
Lesson 4 Introduction 2 Introducing others (nationality, name, profession)Pronunciation differentiationTone sandhi of 一Spelling rules for y and w
Lesson 5 Age Age expressionsNumbersThe retroflex final 儿Finals with i,u,üPronunciation differentiation in pairs
Lesson 6 Speaking Chinese Expressions about being able to do something
Lesson 7 Date Expressions about dateTalking about plans
Lesson 8 I want to…… Talking about being willing to do somethingShopping (ask price)Money
Lesson 9 Location Talking about locations
Lesson 10 Existence Talking about placement and locationsTalking about existenceImperative sentences
Lesson 11 Time Expressions about time
Lesson 12 Weather Talking about the weatherTalking about healthAsking about the status of something or someone
Lesson 13 Action in progress Asking if someone is doing somethingTalking about someone’s likesPhone calls
Lesson 14 Action completion Talking about an occurrence or completion of something
Lesson 15 Emphasizing something Expressions emphasizing the time, place or mannerDate expressions

As one of the most popular Chinese language textbooks, the New Practical Chinese Reader series has been tested by countless learners. The whole set consists of six volumes. Volumes 1 is at the basic level, which introduces Chinese customs and culture as well as relevant Chinese expressions and ideas within the setting of campus and daily life. It has 12 lessons including 2 preparatory lessons on phonetics. Each lesson needs about 4 or 5 class hours to complete. In addition to systematical phonetic lessons, there are also many drills on Pinyin and tones, as well as some daily expressions.

The main texts are dialogues about necessary topics and typical scenes for learners to use basic structures and functions of Chinese, such as daily greetings, introductions, shopping, and transportation, which strengthen all four language skills. It goes from heavy use of pinyin to gradually more use of Chinese characters. Choosing this Reader 1 as your HSK level 1 book is definitely enough.

The layout of each lesson:

Warm-up Probing questions, stimulating activity
Text New words Notes
Language points Key sentencesGrammar points
Practice and Application Supplementary wordsPronunciation drillsConversation practiceListening and repeatingReading comprehensionTasks and activitiesWriting exercise
Chinese characters Character compositionWriting rules
Culture Cultural knowledge
Self-evaluation  

Topics and functions in the Volume 1:

Leeson

Topic

Function

Pre-lesson 1

Phonetics

  • Knowledge about the phonetics system (Initials, Finals, Tone, Syllables, Spelling rules)
  • Basic Character strokes and radicals

Pre-lesson 2

Phonetics

Lesson 1

Greetings

  • Daily greetings
  • Ask about someone’s name

Lesson 2

Introduction

  • Greetings
  • Introducing self and others
  • Identifying items
  • Asking about one’s likes

Lesson 3

Family

  • Family
  • Profession
  • Age
  • Entertaining guests

Lesson 4

Study

  • Talking about studies
  • Date
  • Time

Lesson 5

Birthday

  • Making an apology
  • Expressing regret
  • Congratulating someone on something

Lesson 6

Directions

  • Directions and locations
  • Consoling someone
  • Asking about words you don’t understand
  • Expressing if you hear or understand something

Lesson 7

Shopping

  • Praise and response
  • Price
  • Asking for help
  • Shopping (bargaining, paying, choosing, settling a bill, etc)
  • Making a request and giving permission

Lesson 8

Seeing a doctor

  • Urging someone to do something
  • Apologizing
  • Talking about health
  • Expressing a need or possibility

Lesson 9

Seasons and transportation

  • Seasons and weather
  • Plans
  • Suggesting an activity
  • Transportation

Lesson 10

Festivals

  • Holidays
  • Phone calls
  • Passing on someone’s regards
  • Talking about something or someone that has changed

There are three levels of Developing Chinese: elementary, intermediate and advanced. Each level contains 5 aspects, including comprehension, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The Comprehensive course is the main book.

There are two volumes for the elementary level. Volume one has 30 lessons in total, which is perfect for total beginners. After finishing this book, learners can master the whole Chinese phonetics system and pronunciation skills, as well as the fundamental words and sentence patterns. It also requires the mastery of basic strokes and structures of Chinese characters. With the knowledge from the elementary level, you can meet basic communication needs in daily life and have some cultural knowledge about China, which also satisfies the requirements of HSK level 1.

Lessons

Phonetics

Characters

Layout of each lesson

Lesson 1

  • Syllables
  • Initials, finals and tones
  • Basic strokes
  • Basic orders

Texts

  • Words
  • Texts or Dialogues
  • Notes (grammar points)
  • Supplementary words
  • Activities and exercises

 

Writing Chinese characters

  • Knowledge
  • Writing
  • Daily expressions

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

  • Spelling rules
  • Tone sandhi
  • Retroflex ending
  • Tone mark rule

Lesson 5

  • Basic strokes
  • Character structures

Lesson 6

Lesson 7

Lesson 8

Lesson 9

  • Radicals
  • Basic characters

Lesson 10 – 30

 

 

There are 3 levels of the My Chinese Classroom series, and each level has three volumes. After studying the elementary level books, learners can master over 800 words and 80 grammar points, which means they are able to pass HSK level 3. Each volume has 10 lessons with texts, new words, practice, listening, and characters sections. It suggests 42 class hours per volume. Besides English, there is also a Japanese translation provided in it.

The grammar part is quite different from other textbooks. There is no independent explanation of each grammar point, but rather a bulleted list about the grammar points at the very beginning of each lesson. With a teacher’s help, this book can become much easier for learners. Also, there are corresponding grammar drills in the exercises part.

The layout of Elementary 1:

Lesson

Key

Function

Layout of each lesson

Lesson 1

Basic Greetings

  • Basic greetings
  • Phonetic system and spelling rules
  • Text
  • Vocabulary
  • Translation in English
  • Translation in Japanese
  • Exercises
  • Listening
  • Characters

Lesson 2

Nationality and introduction

  • Talking about nationality
  • Introductions

Lesson 3

Shopping

  • Price
  • Numbers
  • Shopping expressions

Lesson 4

Plans 1

  • Time expressions
  • Suggestions
  • Phone calls

Lesson 5

Plans 2

  • Dates expressions
  • Plans

Lesson 6

Locations

  • Location & direction expressions

Lesson 7

Dining

  • Talking about someone’s likes

Lesson 8

Reservation and ordering

  • Reservation expressions
  • Ordering expressions
  • Talking about addresses

Lesson 9

Personal conditions

  • Talking about health conditions
  • Talking about habits

Lesson 10

Status

  • Asking for help
  • Stating the status

Other materials

Besides the standard textbooks, there are also some supplementary materials to help you master the knowledge and pass the HSK 1 test smoothly, and more importantly, further your Chinese language learning with a firm foundation.

Words and phrases are the bricks for the construction of a language. Each HSK level requires a certain number of key words that need to be mastered. There are 150 words in the HSK level 1 vocabulary list. To become more familiar with these words, you can use this vocabulary list. You can download it here.

To pass the test, you might also need to know the test structure well so that you can beat it easily. There are mainly two parts in the HSK level 1 test: listening and reading. Therefore, it doesn’t need to test your speaking and writing. The whole test will last for 40 minutes total. Each part counts for 100 points. You just need to get over 120 points to pass the test. There is also pinyin provided in the test to assist your understanding.

Before taking the HSK 1 test, it’s better to do some mock tests to get more familiar with it and to get to know your current level so that it’s easier to make up for your shortcomings. There are both paper-based and online mock tests. You can choose any one you want.

JING CAO

Jing Cao is the chief-editor and co-founder of DigMandarin. She has a master's degree in Chinese Linguistics and Language Aquisition and has taught thousands of students for the past years. She devotes herself to the education career of making Chinese learning easier throughout the world.

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