Learning Chinese from Preschool/Elementary Chinese books
I have decided that there is no shame in using brightly colored children's books to learn Chinese. Yes indeed, I have resorted to learning from books that are specifically designed for preschool to lower elementary ages because, quite frankly, they work.
For instance, the books in the "My First Chinese Words" series are perfect for those at a Chinese beginner's level. I was able to quickly learn how to say and recognize the characters in the first sentence, "I love my mother" (Wo ai wo de ma ma). With each consecutive sentence, the basic sentence pattern (I love my ____) stays the same, while new vocabulary gets shuffled in. For example, the next sentence I learned was "I love my father" (Wo ai wo de ba ba). What I find interesting and utterly refreshing about this approach is that unlike my past experiences with learning Chinese, I'm not memorizing characters one by one. Rather, I am immediately seeing in what context the vocabulary can be used. I truly believe this approach is more effective for learning Chinese because it is repetitive and motivating since students can already start speaking in full sentences at the outset of their learning.
"My First Chinese Words" is a set of 36 books that come in a nifty carrying case shaped like a lunchbox. Each book has its own theme and basic sentence pattern. The books are small in size to fit little hands and give students a sense of accomplishment when they can finish a whole book all by themselves. Of course, the books are incredibly colorful and the illustrations age appropriate (for the kids, not me).
Another attribute of the set is that it comes with audio CDs so I can learn the correct pronunciation of the sentences and vocabulary as well. Pinyin does accompany the introduction of each new character, but they disappear in future lessons so that you're eventually forced to learn how to recognize the characters without the help of pinyin. They do have the English translation on the front cover in case you get stuck.
At any rate, these textbooks may be designed for children but I find them helpful for beginner level Chinese learners of all ages... and I'm not ashamed to admit that!