Dominic is from Oregon, USA, and now lives in Taichung, Taiwan with his wife and 3 year old twins. Listen to this episode to find out:
- What made Dominic move to China at the tender age of 16
– What it was like as a teenager living in China
– Why he lost a lot of weight while living in China
– What aspect of being a foreigner in China was the biggest cultural shock to him
– What brought him to Taiwan a couple of years later
– The biggest differences he noticed between Kunming, China and Taiwan
– What it was like to take a university degree in Chinese with local Taiwanese students
– How he transitioned from teaching English to his current position as Director of Operations for a US Tech company
– His advice for people wanting to transition into a different career path in Taiwan / China
– How he uses Chinese in his daily life
– His approach to language with his Taiwanese wife and his kids
– Why he changed his language approach with his kids
– His thoughts on educating his kids at this young age
In part 2 of our interview with Austin Yoder, we find out:
- About the Foundation for Talented Youth and why he started it
– What his goals for the program are
– How receptive locals are to being sold or lectured to by a foreigner
– How Taiwan’s entrepreneur culture differs from western culture
– Why the traditional career path is changing
– The increased influence that parents have in Chinese culture
– The importance of building relationships in local business (and learning Chinese)
– How to test if someone is interested in your product or service (or if you have a good teacher)
– His advice on the most effective way to learn Chinese
– His advice for foreign entrepreneurs in Taiwan
– How the Taiwanese government is trying to increase foreign involvement in local entrepreneurship
Austin is an American who has lived in Hong Kong, Indonesia and now in Taiwan. He now runs two companies including tearroir and Foundation for Talented Youth. Listen to this episode to find out:
- Why he chose to live in Taiwan
– What it was like growing up as an American in Hong Kong.
– What it’s like going to an international school
– His experience taking a degree in Chinese from an American university
– How he started his first business in Taiwan
– His recommendation for how to register a business in Taiwan
– How he went about finding local clients
– About the tea culture in Taiwan and how it’s bought and sold
We will wrap up the interview in our next episode.
Priya is originally from India, but has now lived in Taiwan for 27 years. She works as a simultaneous interpreter. Listen to this episode to find out:
- What brought Priya to Taiwan in the first place
– Her initial impressions of Taiwan
– How she began learning Chinese and what approach they took
– Why she recommends an intensive approach to learning Chinese
– Why she thinks knowing Indian languages like Hindi helps in learning Mandarin
– Which sounds in Chinese she finds many English speakers have trouble pronouncing
– How she transitioned into working as a translator / interpreter
– Why she prefers interpreting over translating work
– How preparation for interpreting works
– The various types of translating options available, and the skills required for each
– Consecutive, whispering / simultaneous without equipment, simultaneous with equipment
– How interpreting is done for more niche languages (relay interpreting)
– The process that goes through translating sentence by sentence
– Why she recommends putting kids through the local education system up to Grade 3 or so before switching to an international system
– When she recommends learning to write characters and when it isn’t
– Why she recommends Hindi speakers (Indians) learn using zhuyin (bo po mo fo) over pinyin
Cheryl has been in Taiwan for 26 years and has worked as a tour guide, translator and author.
Listen to this episode to find out:
- What brought Cheryl to Taiwan in the first place
– Why she recommends Taiwan as a place to learn Mandarin
– The advantage to learning phonetic symbols (zhuyin) along with characters
– How she was able to transition from teaching English to translation and then as a tour guide / translator.
– How she got her first job at a museum
– Why she thinks the demand for translation services will continue to increase
– How to create your own path in your own niche / specialty in Taiwan
– The importance of networking to find opportunities
– What types of projects she would like to do in the future
– The difference in working at a Taiwanese company versus a foreign company
– How to get your ideas through, when working at a local company
– The process of registering your own company here
– How her kids fared with bilingual education
In this episode, I interview Brad Sapp. Brad spent 13 years in China working in trade companies in Beijing and Qingdao. He currently lives in Toronto, where he continues to actively engage with Chinese clients.
Listen to this podcast to learn:
- How Brad landed up in China
– His approach to learning Chinese
– His take on learning characters and writing
– What it was like to work for a Chinese company
– The advantage to being able to speak Chinese
– The business culture differences with Chinese companies
– How he dealt with Chinese staff who didn’t speak English
– How he uses Chinese outside of China
– The perspective of Chinese immigrants in Canada
– How learning Chinese compares to other languages
In this episode, I interview Edward Greve. Edward is an American who has lived in Taiwan for the past 8 years. He initially started as an English teacher and is now doing a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics.
Listen to find out:
What brought Edward to Taiwan in the first place
What process he took to learn Chinese on the side
His standard process to learn a new language
His stance on learning characters from the very beginning
The difference between learning simplified versus traditional characters
Who he practiced speaking with
His take on learning Taiwanese and other local dialects
What he’s doing now with computational linguistics
How learning Chinese compares to learning other languages like Italian, Dutch, French, German, Thai and Indonesian
About the scripts used in different Chinese dialects like Taiwanese and Cantonese
The importance of being able to express yourself through written Chinese
The advantages of being able to speak Mandarin while living in a Chinese community
The “Complete” links have been renamed as “Transcript” and have moved to the front of every lesson. I feel “Transcript” is a more descriptive label than “Complete” and moving it to the front better reflects the progression that most users make with the lessons: Start with the lesson, while following along with the transcript, then move to the Vocabulary page, followed by the Activity and other pages that follow.
Hope that makes sense and doesn’t cause too much disruption in your lesson navigation.
If you haven’t noticed, the entire site has been recently updated with a brand new design.
It was a bit of a rocky start at first, with lots of small features not working.
Most have now been fixed though, and early reviews seem to be good.
The biggest benefit of the new site is that it is completely mobile optimized. Most activities should work on your phone or tablet.
The only thing that doesn’t work on phones / tablets are tools for recording your voice, such as Test your Pronunciation and the ability to record voice responses to exercises. These can be done from the desktop / laptop version however.
I have added a new home page for subscribers to measure their progress.
Once logged in, click on the CLO logo on the top left of the page to be taken to this new page. It is a modified version of the current course outline page. It will look something like this:
On the left, is a new navigation bar, to let you switch between levels.
On the top is your current lesson level. This is based on your score from the level test. I encourage you to take this test often, to measure your progress.
Next, we have the name of each lesson in the current level, along with color coded activity icons. Activities you have started, are colored orange, while completed ones turn to green. Obviously the goal is to complete as many of the activities as possible, so that you have green icons across.
Hopefully you find this page useful in your learning. If not, let me know what I can do to improve it.
The flashcard page on the site has been updated with a new format.
The old format was quite outdated, requiring Java and not being mobile friendly. The new version should work fine on mobile browsers – both desktop and mobile, without requiring any additional software to be downloaded. It uses a similar format to the level test that was added recently.
Additional modes and options will be added to this page in time, so keep sending me your feedback.
When you first go to the page, you will see a settings page:
Lesson Range: You can choose to test yourself on a single lesson, or you may select an entire lesson range. Your previously selected lesson range will be shown here. As you change the lesson range, the number of questions in the test will be updated at the bottom of the screen, above the Start button.
Test: You can choose to test individual characters, all vocabulary and sentences as well.
Mode: Choose between testing pinyin (if you’re not studying characters), simplified or traditional characters.
Question Mode: If you want to test your listening skills, choose listening. If you want to test your reading skills, choose Visual.
Test Definition: If you select this option, then each question will have two parts – one testing your recognition of the Chinese, and another asking you to select its English definition.
When you are ready to begin the test, press Start.
If you have chosen Listening mode, you will hear a word and will be asked to type in the pinyin for it. If you have chosen visual mode, you will be shown the characters and will be asked to type it below. Type in the pinyin for the characters, and select the characters that match the question.
If you enter an incorrect answer, the correct answer will be shown on screen for you.
If you have chosen to test definitions as well, then you will be asked to choose the correct definition, after you typed in the correct pinyin.
If you haven’t learned characters yet, then start with pinyin. You will hear a word being played. Type out what you hear with the tone numbers, then press Enter.
You can press the Play button to repeat the word you hear.
If you type out the pinyin correctly, it will then ask you to choose the correct meaning of the word you just heard.
After selecting the correct meaning, you will be taken to the next question.
The simplified and traditional versions of the test work in a similar manner, but ask you to type out the character that you see on screen. You can use the built in pinyin IME (input method editor) to do so, so there is no need to install a Chinese keyboard on your computer / device, if it doesn’t have one already. Choose the correct Chinese characters from the suggestions given. You can press Space to select the first one, or type the number of the selection you want.
There are 20 questions in total. As you answer correctly, the questions will become more difficult, as it selects questions from more advanced lessons. If you answer incorrectly, then the questions will become easier, as they are chosen from earlier lessons.
At the end of the 20 questions, you will be assessed a lesson score.
If you are logged in, your results will be saved in your member page. Future tests will continue where you left off, so you can try to raise your score from there.
If you’re learning Chinese through one on one, or from a classroom, here are seven signs that you don’t have a very good teacher, and what you can do to fix them.
Uses too much English. Obviously if you’re just starting out, then a certain amount of English will be required up front. However a good teacher should quickly start using Chinese as much as possible, especially words and phrases that you’re likely to hear over and over in each class. If you find yourself hearing the same English words over and over (eg. “Good job!”) then find out how this can be said in Chinese and encourage your teacher to do so.This might also be an issue if the teacher is using you to practice English, rather than focusing on teaching Chinese. Unless the class is meant to be a language exchange, keep the focus on speaking Chinese where possible.
Doesn’t correct your pronunciation. One of the biggest obstacles that new learners to Chinese have is tones. In the beginning it can be frustrated to have your teacher correct each mistake you make, but this needs to be done. You may have to work hard repeating the same words and phrases again and again until you get it right. Some teachers may feel embarrassed to keep correcting you and may instead choose to move on.You can recognize this is happening if you find that words that your Chinese teacher understands you speaking are not understood by others. This is a sure sign you need to continue working on your pronunciation. Encourage your teacher to keep correcting you, and even thank them for doing so, to let them know it’s okay.
Likes to complete your sentences. When you’re asked a question, it can sometimes take some time to formulate your answer. You know what you want to say, but just need to find the right words in Chinese. It’s important to take the time to find the right answer. If the teacher keeps interrupting you by blurting out the answer, then you are losing a valuable opportunity to remember these words and concepts on your own.If this happens, remind your teacher not to give you the answer and instead give you time to think. If you are truly stuck, then ask for a hint, instead of the actual answer.
Always discusses the same topics. A good teacher should recognize when a concept is learned and move on and look for new ones. If you are always being asked how your weekend was, and your answer is always the same “same old“, then you know that either the teacher needs to ask a different question, or you need to come up with a different answer for the sake of learning.A good teacher should be able to ask further probing questions:What did you do? What did you like about it? Was there anything you didn’t like about it?
Some of us are natural introverts and won’t spontaneously come out with detailed answers. A good teacher should be able to get around this by asking the right questions to elicit new answers in new subjects, that will require new vocabulary to be learned.
Doesn’t test if you understand a concept. When a new vocabulary item is learned, a good teacher should test if you understand it before moving on. Ways to do so could include asking you to make one or two sentences out of it. If the teacher is especially proficient, they could ask you what the difference between this word and a similar one was, as there may be subtle differences that may need to be understood.Many words in Chinese don’t have one to one translations in English, so they could be used in some situations like their English counterparts, but not in others, so some additional examples may be required.
Doesn’t provide a proper balance between listening and speaking. Ideally, you should be getting equal exposure to listening to your teacher speaking in Chinese, while also being given time to practice speaking yourself. The exception here would be if one of your skills was especially weak and you specifically wanted your teacher to focus on that.
If you find that your teacher is spending most of the time talking, with not enough time for your replies, then this is something that will need to get fixed.
Is more interested in friendship than teaching. Some teachers may have a fascination with foreign languages and culture, and may use this teaching opportunity to further their own interests. If you find yourself constantly having to change the topic back to learning Chinese, this may be an indication that you need a new teacher.
Do you ever find yourself learning Chinese for an extended period, without seeing any real progress?
Do you know anyone who has lived in China for several years, but still can’t speak Chinese?
Or maybe you’ve been taking classes at an institution for a while, but find yourself still stuck at the same level.
Why is this?
The problem in all these cases is that we easily get stuck in our comfort zone when learning.
When you move to a new learning environment, there is an initial excitement as you start to learn the vocabulary needed to survive there.
Once you get acclimatized though, you find that you know enough vocabulary to survive, without having to learn any more. There isn’t any stress on you to learn anything new, so you’re content at the level you are, without any pressure to learn any more.
Surprisingly, many schools and learning programs are content letting you stay in your comfort zones. You would think that students would drop out if they weren’t making progress, but it’s actually the opposite that happens. They get “comfortable” without the stress of learning, yet still feel good that they are making the effort of learning.
You may have seen this at your local gym as well. People come in for “workouts”, but use it as a social setting instead, listening to music and chit chatting with friends, while barely drawing a sweat.
If the experience becomes too “hard”, then students are more likely to drop out.
At CLO, we take the risk of upsetting you by purposely upping the level of difficulty at each level. Some levels have more of a jump in difficulty from one to another (level 2 to 3 for example). Some students quit when the material gets too hard.
For others though, who do slog it out, and put in the effort to catch up to the new difficulty level, the benefits are clear. It’s what is required to make clear progress.
Are you satisfied with your progress learning Chinese the last few years? Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone?
When you approach someone in a Chinese community, a game of chicken ensures. They hesitate to speak in English with you. Break the tension by approaching them first, in Chinese! Locals tend to be put at ease when they hear you make attempts to speak their language.
However, this also works well in western countries. If you overhear people speaking in Chinese on the street (it is best to confirm that they are indeed Chinese speakers first!), you can expect surprise, bewilderment and then encouragement (usually in that order) when you try speaking Chinese to them.
While it’s common to find westerners who speak Chinese in China, it’s very rare to find ones who do in western countries.
So show off what you know and stand out from the crowd!
When I first arrived in Taiwan, one of my main goals while being here was to learn Chinese. In the beginning, I figured I would automatically learn the language just by being here. So I focused on learning street Chinese – the way locals spoke it!
After I began to get serious about learning Chinese in Taiwan, I started attending classes at local language centers. I ended up trying out three different ones to get a feel for the different styles.
I found clear benefits to learning Chinese in a classroom setting, as opposed to Over time, I tried to integrate as many of these benefits as I could into CLO.
Having a Live Teacher
As good as online courses can get, there is no replacement for having a live speaker to practice with. The teachers I had were very good. There was a lot of interaction and they challenged you to come up with new answers to questions, using the Chinese that was taught in class.
While most of CLO is designed to be self study, I did try to integrate some of the “live teacher” aspect into the exercises feature. The questions posted there are purposely open ended, like the ones you would hear in a classroom. Submit your own answer in your own format and a real teacher will send you feedback on your grammar and character choices (if your answer was typed) or your pronunciation (if your answer was an audio submission).
I actually got a shock the first day of class when the teacher came in and began speaking a mile a minute. I barely understood 20% of what she was saying. I worried that I was in the wrong class and should transfer to a lower level. Fortunately I persisted.
As the classes continued, I realized that 80% of what she was speaking was repeated from class to class. Things like “Hello class, how are you? How was your weekend? Ok, let’s turn to chapter 3 of your text book. Who wants to start reading?”
Over time I began to learn these phrases and expressions very quickly as they were repeated again and again in each class.
Once I figured out those phrases, there was only 20% of new material. This became a good source of comprehensible input, as I could now learn new material in the context of what I already knew. I found my brain much more in tune at this stage, whereas earlier it would start to tune out when there was too much new material.
I’ve tried to implement this same concept in the CLO course. Lessons from later levels are conducted almost entirely in Chinese, which could scare some away. But:
b) Most of the phrases are repeated again and again in each lesson. Phrases like “Welcome to Chinese Learn Online, lesson X”, “Let’s listen to today’s dialog at normal speed”, “Let’s listen to the dialog again at a slower speed. Please repeat after her.”, “What does this word mean?”, “Do you remember what that means?” etc.
So once you get used to all these phrases (which you should, since you’re hearing them so often), the rest of the lesson should be a breeze, since it’s only 20% or less new material.
Learning from Other Students
While in class, other students would ask questions that I hadn’t thought of, that I would learn from. The teacher would also ask the same question to different students around the class, so while you were formulating your own answer to the question, you could also listen in and learn from what other students were responding with.
The Comments section in each lesson is meant to emulate this aspect. You can read what questions others have asked and learn from the answers given, or submit your own.
While I enjoyed the experience of learning Chinese in a classroom environment, there were also some areas that I wasn’t pleased about, that I felt could be improved. I’ll discuss these issues in the next post.
If you happen to be living in a Chinese speaking environment, you may notice a lot of common errors that native Chinese speakers make when they try to speak English. These errors can actually help you learn Chinese, since if you backtrack to see why they make such mistakes, you will often notice references to how Chinese differs from English. Knowing these differences will help in your quest to learn Chinese!
One to Many Translations
Many of the mixups are caused by several words in Chinese having multiple meanings in English, depending on context. So you can expect Chinese speakers to mix these up as the same word is used in multiple situations in Chinese, whereas each situation has its own word in English. Here are some examples.
he and she.Often times, you will hear Chinese speakers mixing up he and she while speaking English. You might wonder how one could confuse males as being females and vice versa, until you realize that in Chinese, tā (in speech) can refer to he or she, so the concept of having a different word for each is new to them. (The written form is of course different, as 他(male) and 她 (female) use different characters, but in spoken form, there is no distinction made between the two).
borrow and lend. You might hear questions like “Can you borrow me a pencil?” The reason for the confusion of course comes from the Chinese word jiè (借) which is used both for both “borrow” and “lend”.
problem and question. The word wèntí (问题 / 問題) can mean “problem” or “question” in Chinese. So the question “Do you have a problem?” sounds much more harsh than “Do you have a question?”
open and turn on. The word kāi (开 / 開) is used for both in Chinese. It even extends to other meanings like drive, start and operate so it’s a wonder it doesn’t get mixed up more often!
have and is. This is a big one. There are many situations in Chinese where the word yǒu (有), meaning “have” is used where we would use “is”in English. So as a result you hear English phrases like “There have” instead of “There is”.
watch, look and read. The same word kān (看) is used for all three.
big. In English, the word “big” is usually reserved for describing the size of a physical object. In Chinese though, dà (大)can be used in all sorts of situations, resulting in English sentences like “The rain is big today” (It is raining heavily) or “Today’s sun is very big” (It’s very hot today).
Special. The word for “special” in Chinese, tèbié (特别 / 特別) can be used to say that something is very good. Eg. “This food is very special” which would be an odd usage in English.
Terrible. Lìhai (厉害 / 厲害) literally means “terrible” but is often used in Taiwan to mean someone is very good at something (terribly good?).
Uncomfortable. In Chinese, saying that you feel uncomfortable, or not shūfu (舒服) is a common way to say that you feel sick. We don’t have this same usage in English.
Very. In English, some verbs are modified with very before them, like “very fast”, while other ones require “very much” to be added at the end. In Chinese, they are all “very”, so you end up with phrases like “I very like”.
Help. In English, “help” means to aid someone. In Chinese though help also extends to doing something for someone. So if you tell a Chinese person you are going to help them do something, they may hand over the reigns to you to do it on your own, since that is one of the meanings of bāng (帮 / 幫).
Can you think of other examples of English words or phrases that are used incorrectly by Chinese, due to differences in how they translate between English and Chinese?