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Using Ting with Beginning Chinese by John DeFrancis
Chapters One through Twenty-three


Ting Chinese English Dictionary Study Center

Beginning Chinese, John DeFrancis, Yale University Press; 2nd Revised edition

Short and Sweet:

On the Ting Dictionary Search page, there is a drop down box with a list of several books. Choose DE FRANCIS CHAPTER for the vocabulary in each chapter list. If you want additional related words and phrases, add DE FRANCIS EXPANDED and type in the same chapter number. Twenty-three chapters are included in the dictionary. The 24th chapter in the book is review.

Lengthy and more complete:

The theory behind the DeFrancis series of books is to build spoken language before introducing the characters. This is how children learn any language. They understand before they speak, they speak before they read, they read before they write. The first book of the DeFrancis series uses only pinyin and focuses on building model sentences through expansion exercises. In China, children use pinyin as an aid to learning to read characters up to about the third grade. Dictionaries are alphabetized based on the pinyin pronunciation. For people who are using this book, I have given you the option when you open an account of indicating that you are learning pinyin only. It is pure curiosity on my part, you needn't answer the question.

You can use the Ting Chinese English Dictionary to look up your words by chapter. Simply go to the drop down list at the bottom of the main search page, choose either DeFrancis Chapter or DeFrancis Expanded and then type the chapter number in the adjacent box. Hit enter and you will be taken to the results page. The results will be in numbered pinyin and simplified characters. You can ignore the characters.

On the results page you will see the list of words in that chapter. Either choose them individually or click "select all" at the top of the page. Then press the long button on the right to "Add marked items to my account." If you haven't signed in yet, the program will take you to the sign-in page. If you have signed in, it will take you to Review Planner. At the top of the Review Planner you will see how many items you have added today, as well as the total number of items in your account.

Review Planner

The first step to using the Review Planner is to choose your Focus Set. If you just added cards, you should choose Today's Entries and a number greater than the number of your entries. At midnight, Eastern Standard or Eastern Daylight time, today becomes tomorrow and your new entries get dumped into your account. Note that it will be around noon in Australia and New Zealand! That means that if you want to have lists of just your new words, now is the time to save or print them!

Next go to Foldable Lists to print lists of vocabulary which can be easily tucked into your backpack for study throughout the day. You can choose English + Pinyin if you aren't learning the characters. Print one set in pinyin order and one set in English order to vary the order of the lists. You simply fold them in half to use them as flash cards. Most of the entries are similar to those in your book. Sometimes more definitions are given, or another word is used as a synonym. You should actually add additional words to the concepts to help you remember. You are not trying to memorize exact words, but concepts. The simple word 也 can be translated as: also, in addition, additionally, too, as well as... - they all mean the same thing. If you can understand the concept, moving between English and Chinese will be much easier. Don't try to recite exact words in order.

Pull out a list when you are standing in line, waiting for a class, or having a coffee. Distributed practice is better than a big long study session when you are memorizing vocabulary. Doodle on your sheets to create icons to key your memory. It actually helps most people. Use the words in short phrases and sentences. Even saying "This is a ____." will help form a concept of the word. Focus on a few words at a time, not the whole list. Jump around on the list, don't study it in order.

Flash Cards

You can then go to the Flash Card program in the Review Planner. When first studying, choose a sample of 15 cards from Today's Entries. You can change your Focus Set at any time to include previous entries for review. You can then use Focus Set to again limit the entries to Today's Entries to work with the new words. It is a good idea to integrate review with new material to build associations between old words and new. (The Flash Card program works well on Android devices under Firefox. No other devices have been tested.)

When studying it is best to work with the Full Card shown above. Then move onto quizzing yourself by only showing one cue at a time. Choose English, Pinyin or Sound as you cue. You can go the Full Card at any time to check things and use the big gold up arrow to return to your Flash Card. You can also display the other cues listed on the right of the Flash Card by moving your mouse over them. When you advance to the next card you will automatically be returned to your chosen cue. To be consistent with the theory behind your text, you should spend quite a bit of time listening to the sounds and translating to English, but don't neglect the English to Chinese direction. If you find that it is easier for you to identify the English meaning of a Chinese word (pinyin) than it is for you to remember what the Chinese word is for "table", that indicates you need more practice with English as the cue word. Many new learners spend most of their time studying from the Chinese cues to the English. After all, that is what they don't know. That strategy builds a one-way bridge. For the first few years, your spoken language will be from English thoughts to Chinese. When you read Chinese or listen to it, you will need the Chinese to English side of the bridge.

After you have studied individually, it is a great idea to get together with a few people and practice recall together. Call out a word in either English or Chinese - throw a ball to the person who has to answer. Make up stupid games to keep things going fast. Share ideas on how to remember how to write characters. Use words in sentences and see who can translate it. Keep a laptop open so you can play the sounds from time to time to check your pronunciation. When you only listen to other students say the words, well, you sound more like them than like a native speaker. Take turns being teacher and student. It is amazing, but in the teacher role you sometimes learn more than in the student role. Perhaps it is because you are focusing on the correct answer and willing your partner to get it right!


The pinyin used in this database differs somewhat from that in the text. Where DeFrancis uses zhei4 and nei4 for zhe4 and na4 before measure words, as is consistent with the Beijing accent, you will find that I have used the standard na4 and zhe4. Some sentences include zhei4 and nei4 for illustration, but, on the whole, I followed the standard dictionary form to make it easier to look things up. The readers use both zhe4 and zhei4 and na4 and nei4.

You will also notice that the pinyin is numbered pinyin. There are reasons for that. Numbered pinyin is much clearer than many of the pinyin tone fonts used on the Internet. Numbered pinyin decreases errors. When you enter pinyin in search boxes on the Internet, you use numbered pinyin. Most good Chinese systems that you use to type on your computer or phone allow you to enter the number of the tone following the syllable to narrow your choice of characters. You aren't meant to read pinyin, just to use it as a tool.

Bu4 (the negative) and yi1 (one) change tones when they precede other tones. Bu4 becomes bu2 before another fourth tone. Yi1 uses the first tone when it is a number, it uses the second tone (yi2) before a fourth tone, and the fourth tone (yi4) before the first, second, and third tones. When using pinyin to look up items you can look up both bu4 and yi1 using their standard tones and find all of the others.

There are many other tone variations that occur depending on placement in the word. For the most part, I have stayed with the standard dictionary entry to make it easy to find all instances of a word.

Listen to the readers to hear the pronunciation -- try not to memorize tones. You never memorized the pronunciation symbols in English dictionaries and Chinese children don't memorize the tones. If you ask a Chinese what the tones are for a word, they say it, listen to themselves, often repeating the word, and then they tell you what the tone is from their own pronunciation.

In Beijing, many words are pronounced with an ending "r". Dian4ying3 (movie) become dian4ying3r and is said dian4yir3. I have not included the "r" unless it changes the meaning or is standard Mandarin -- but you will find that some readers will pronounce the word with the "r".

The standard pronunciation is changing rapidly on many words, particularly the measure words. In Beijing, "r" is often added to a measure word to mean something small, while the same measure word without the "r" is used for a normal item. Where possible I have given examples. When a word can be pronounced with or without the "r", it is enclosed in parentheses, but the "r" is only included when it will effect the meaning.

The neutral tone provides further variation in the pinyin. Syllables at the ends of sentences often have a neutral tone, where they would be pronounced with a tone at another position. Certain verbs when used as auxiliaries adopt the neutral tone but keep their tone when used as the main verb (lai2 = come). The readers are your best key to pronunciation. In many cases, I have maintained the tone mark on words said with the neutral tone for purposes of consistency.


The exercises in the de Francis book are extraordinary. Practice them. Then make up your own sentences. You can also look up individual words in the Ting dictionary to find additional example sentences. Not all of the words are illustrated, but common words usually occur in many sentences. Seeing many different contexts will help you use the word in the future. Listen to the readers saying the word in different sentences. Does it change emphasis, length, or pitch? Imitate the readers. Then go back to the book and try the exercises again. Practice loudly. Shout!

During the second semester or the second year (depending on your program) you will be introduced to the characters. To make that transition easier, come back to your account and begin using the Flash Card program with Character as the cue. At first, write the character each time you go to a new flash card, saying the word in Chinese and English while you do so. Use small Focus Sets. You may want to start a new account so you can limit the number of words you have in your account and increase the exposure to the target group. Your brain will take care of the rest; learning to store them so you can recall them easily.

There are hundreds of different approaches to studying. If one thing doesn't work well for you, try another. The idea is to keep it light, keep it fun, and to be efficient.

University of Maine at Farmington
Last update: June, 2012
© Marilyn Shea 2002, 2004, 2012