Match your Learning with the Right Chinese Tools

Chinese is a difficult language to learn. We’ve all heard that. The tones are hard to grasp and there are too many characters to remember. Many have tried learning Chinese in the past, only to give up in frustration.

Part of the reason for giving up is that the training methods they were using didn’t match the goals they had for themselves.

When I first started learning Chinese in Taiwan, I enrolled in a local university language center. All I was looking for, was to improve my listening and speaking skills so that I could improve the quality of my daily life here. However, in the course I was in, there was a heavy emphasis placed in reading and writing, both of which I wasn’t interested in at the time.

In addition, a written placement test was given to me, so they could place me in the right class level. However my reading and writing skills were non existent at that time, so I was placed in a beginner class, despite my listening and speaking level being much higher than that of my classmates.

This resulted in a poor learning experience for me, as I spent a lot of time repeating things I already knew, while also spending time in areas I wasn’t interested in.

At CLO, we have separated the skills needed to learn Chinese, so you can focus on the areas you want to strengthen yourself in.

The 4 skills required to learn Chinese are:

  • Listening:
  • Speaking:
  • Reading
  • Writing

The learning methods you choose should depend on what priority you put towards each of these skills.

If you want Listening to be your strongest skill, then focus on the CLO lessons, since there is so much listening content provided there. Don’t worry about characters, and just use the pinyin transcripts available for each lesson.

If you want to practice speaking, then I recommend our Skype One on one program, where you’ll be matched up with a teacher who will give you a lot of speaking practice. Since pronunciation is important, focus on the tone marks for each word in pinyin, to make sure you are using proper pronunciation.

If you want to focus on Reading, then you’ll need to look at the character (simplified or traditional) word for word transcripts provided with each CLO lesson. You can also try out our new site that helps you read and type in Chinese.

Lastly if you want to become really good at writing in Chinese, then you’ll need to learn the stroke order system. You can either use the character sheets that are provided with most lessons, or look at third party tools like Skritter that focus solely in this area.

4 Chinese Skills

By matching our tools with your exact learning needs you should find yourself seeing faster progress, as you’re only spending time in the areas you need to. You’ll also experience much less frustration in the areas you’re not interested in.

How about you? What skills are you most interested in developing? What tools do you find the most useful for you to improve in this area?


CLO vs Pimsleur Review

Pimsleur Chinese (Mandarin) (affiliate link) is one of the most popular tools available for learning Mandarin Chinese. When I first began learning Chinese, I went through Pimsleur programs 1 to 3 and found it to be a great primer for learning the language. The features I liked about it included:

  • It was audio based, which meant I could listen to it on my iPod or while on the go
  • The lessons got harder as Chinese from earlier lessons was reused, which meant real progress
  • It forced me to constantly review earlier material as this material was reused in later lessons

There were a few issues about it that I didn’t like though:

  • The Chinese being used was very Beijing centric, which wasn’t how the locals where I was (Taiwan) spoke
  • The program only had 3 levels (now 4), and I wanted more beyond that
  • It was mainly an audio program, so I didn’t have any pinyin or character sheets to follow along with
  • While there was a lot of learning done within the lesson, there wasn’t much I could do outside of the lessons to help review the material

CLO was actually created to address these issues. I tried to incorporate the features I liked about Pimsleur (audio based, progressive, constant review) while adding more to it, namely:

  • Use speakers from Taiwan, whose accents I find are easier for beginners to follow (due to tones being emphasized more)
  • Expand the course to 7 levels of difficulty
  • Provide transcripts in pinyin or characters to follow along
  • Provide review tools to let students review the vocabulary, grammar and characters taught in each lesson

The course has gotten great feedback over the years, but we are not done yet. Expect to see more tools added in coming months to improve your learning experience. Stay tuned!


Download CLO Lessons Directly into iTunes

If you have purchased a CLO lessons download (or a level download) and want to import the lessons directly into iTunes, you can follow the instructions given below.

1. Make sure you are running the latest version of iTunes. The instructions given below are for version 11. If you have a different version of iTunes that you would like instructions for, then please contact us.
2. Take a look and see if you have a menu showing on the top left. If not, click the little image with a down arrow on the top left, and select “Show Menu Bar” from the drop down options that will show.
iTunes 1
3. You should now see a new menu on top.

4. Click on the File menu and select “Subscribe to Podcast”. A new popup window should show. Enter https://www.chineselearnonline.com/feed1 (you can substitute the last number for the level number (1 to 7) that you have purchased access to. Press Ok.

5. You will now be asked to login to your CLO account. Use your email address as your username, and then enter your CLO password. (Make sure that both the email address and password match the ones you use on CLO).

6. If you do so correctly, then a new album for the selected level should be created for you, with the latest lesson downloaded.

7. Look for a button in the top right that says “Old Episodes” and click that to view all the lessons in the level. Then click on the “Add All” button that shows to download all the lessons at once.


CLO Demo

New users to our website may notice a new link greeting you – our new demo page. The idea is to make it easy for new users to try out the different features of CLO by putting all the free demo lessons and resources in one area, with steps to guide you from one section to the next.

We’ve also added a chat box functionality on the bottom right – where you can speak to someone online or leave a message for us to respond to.

Happy New Year – hope 2013 is good to you!


Standing in Line

Standing in Line
One aspect of Chinese culture that I found quite different in Taiwan was the concept of standing in line. Wherever possible, I’ve grown up trying to avoid standing in line. However in Taiwan, people seem to almost enjoy standing in line. If a local coffee shop has a buy one – get one free deal, expect a long line-up. While I might balk at having to wait for half an hour to save $3, many locals here embrace the thought of being able to save money, even if it means standing in line or a long time.

Lines are also used to gauge the popularity of a shop. Imagine you are standing in front of two drink shops that both seemingly sell the same type of drink. However one has a long line-up while the other one stands empty. Which shop would you choose?

In Taiwan, people will usually choose the shop with the line-up – after all it must be popular to have such a line-up, right?

Taipei MRT Line up

All this experience in lining up though has paid off for them. The line ups for getting on the Taipei MRT transit system are some of the most orderly that I’ve found anywhere in the world. Lines are marked on the ground where people should stand. What a difference it makes during rush hour to have people be able to step off the train in an orderly fashion, while new passengers patiently wait their turn without blocking them. It results in a very efficient system of moving mass throngs of people from one train to another.

Waiting Room

Despite all the places that I’m used to lining up at,  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many places use ticket systems to avoid line-ups. Banks, mall food courts, utility companies, hospitals etc. all provide seating while you wait for your number to be called. While you wait, you can kill time by watching headlines from the local news on a nearby television.


Progress Avatars

If you have logged in to the new CLO site recently, you may have noticed new avatars showing for different users. There is a different avatar for each level, so this gives you an idea on what level (1 to 7) different users are. Of course, you’re free to put your own profile pic (as some users have) if you prefer.

New CLO Users

Why you Can’t Learn Chinese Through Osmosis

As I grew up in Canada, I got to know a lot of immigrants who moved from non English speaking countries. When they first arrived, they could barely say a word in English. However a year or two later, they could converse in English with no problem.

When I first arrived in Taiwan, I assumed the same thing would happen here. Sure, I couldn’t speak any Chinese when I got here, but give me a year or two and I’d be fluent! However, after a year or two, I came to the realization that I could still barely speak any Chinese. Why was that? Was I that bad at learning the language?

The truth was, I hadn’t put much effort into learning the language. Why would I need to? I live in Taiwan! I hear Chinese all around me, and see Chinese characters where I look. So what was the problem?

The problem, it turns out, came from the characters. When people learn English for the first time, they usually start with the alphabet, then work their way up from there. When learning Chinese though, many students (myself included) skip learning characters, as they are too complicated. Instead, we focus just on listening and speaking – using pinyin as our writing system. What’s wrong with that?

Back to how people learn English – a lot of the learning comes from reading. When we hear this, we assume they are learning from reading children’s storybooks, but this is only a part of the learning. A bigger part of learning comes from being out on the streets in an English environment.

CitiBankImagine that you’re just learning how to speak English and you see the picture to your left, in front of you.

You know it’s a bank, because of the ATM in front of it, and you see the word “bank” on top. You’ll start to recognize this word, as you’ll see it on every bank that you see. So eventually your brain will recognize this word as meaning bank, even though you may not have consciously taken note of it. If you’re really eager, since you’ve learned the alphabet, you might even try to pronounce “b-a-n-k” in your head, so that you can reproduce this word in the future, should you ever need it.

Now extend this typGrocery Store Titlese of experiential learning throughout your daily life in a new country and you can see how you can quickly learn the language just by reading the titles of all the objects and places you’re interacting with regularly.

Now compare this with trying to learn Chinese in a similar manner. You see a bank in front of you and recognize it as a bank (after all it’s the same Citibank you’re familiar with) and try to associate it with the equivalent word in Chinese, but this is what you see instead.

CitiBank (Chinese)

Since you haven’t learned any characters, it takes a lot more effort to recognize that 銀行 refers to the word “bank” in Chinese. Even if you could recognize those characters, it would be a lot harder to reproduce this later on, since you won’t know how it’s pronounced. As a result, in most cases, the brain just ignores what it can’t understand.Wulai

This results in a lot of wasted learning opportunities with all the signs in Chinese we see in front of us on a daily basis. Imagine how fast your Chinese would improve if you could read each sign and figure out what it was referring to. That’s the edge most people are missing.

So what’s the solution? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just learning the Chinese alphabet first, since there isn’t one. Instead you have to go through the process of learning each character, one at a time, and hopefully maintain your character recognition skills with the vocabulary you’re learning.

The current CLO course has an emphasis on listening, leaving you to learn the character portion on your own, using the available transcripts. For those interested in emphasizing characters more though, I’ve recently begun work on a new course, that is based around the same CLO course material, but with an emphasis on reading and typing Chinese. Create a free account and try it out today!


CLO App – Level 2

Well it took a while, but we finally added level 2 lessons to our CLO app. We also added a Restore button, to retrieve previous lessons that you may have deleted.


The Benefits of Watching Chinese TV and Movies

Learn from Chinese TV

Watching TV or movies in Chinese is a great way to improve your Chinese, as it teaches you skills you may not normally pick up from traditional books and CDs. If original Chinese shows and movies are too difficult for you, you can start off with Western shows / movies that are dubbed into Chinese, and work your way up from there. DVDs are a great choice for this activity, since they give you the option to control what subtitles you see.

Most Chinese TV / movies are shown with Chinese subtitles. This is obviously a great way to practice your reading since you can try and follow along with the speakers as the subtitles roll by. Don’t worry if you can’t pick out every character – you’ll get better with practice. Your brain will also learn to speed up over time, and you’ll be surprised with what you can read in the future, if you do this regularly.

Once you get really good, you’ll find yourself reading the subtitles faster than the speaker, than using the speaker to check if you got it right. Another option would be to watch the movie with a pause button – giving you time to read as much of the subtitles first, before unpausing it to see if you got it right.

For a different challenge, you can try watching Chinese content with English subtitles. This way your focus can be on the translation of what the speaker is saying. Don’t worry if the content goes by faster than you can process it. You can always repeat it later, to enhance your comprehension.

The trick is to find material that is slightly ahead of what your brain can normally comprehend. If it’s too complicated, your brain will tune out completely, whereas if it’s too easy then there’s no learning involved.

Apart from reading and listening comprehension, there are other benefits that also come from watching this type of content:

  1. Learning interjection particles and when to use them – basically the Chinese versions of “Ooh, wow, huh, ugh” etc. Watch enough content and you’ll find yourself subconsciously spouting out the same particles. That’s when you’ll know that you’ve crossed to the next level!
  2. Learning about Chinese culture – the shows and movies will showcase a variety of contexts such as parties, weddings, funerals and festivities where you’ll get to see how people participate and what types of things go on.
  3. Learning emotions – how do Chinese people react when they are angry, sad, excited, confused etc. What kinds of words and phrases do they use in these contexts?

The beauty of learning from this format is that many of the above points will be taught to you passively, so you can focus on enjoying the content, even though you’re learning so much on the side!


Read and Type in Chinese

I recently started a new site, based around the CLO material but with a focus on reading and typing in Chinese. The site is free at the moment – it just requires a Facebook login. The goal would be to eventually integrate it with CLO so that users can choose between focusing on listening (CLO) or reading and typing (RTC). Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Read and Type in Chinese

New CLO Facelift

We’ve been doing some retouch work on the new version of CLO, trying to make the activities look a little prettier. If anything doesn’t look the way it should though, let me know.

NewCLO Sentence Builder

Chinese Exclamation Particles

Emotions

One way to tell if you are mastering fluency in a language is how well you know the various exclamation particles used in the language, and more importantly whether you can reproduce them when the context is right.

The CLO podcast uses a lot of the particles you’ll see below in the various dialogues throughout the course. Here is a list of the more common ones – some sound and behave very similarly to their English counterparts. Others have similar behavior but with a different sound. Take a look below.

哈哈 / hāhā – Haha

哇 / wā – Wow

啊 / ā – Ah

嘿 / hēi – Hey

哦 / ó – Oh?

嗯 / ēn – Mmn (indicating acknowledgement).

唉 / āi – Indicates surprise

咦 / yí – Also indicates surprise

Since a lot of communication these days takes place on forums and social networking sites like Facebook, it’s common to see these characters sprinkled throughout. You can identify them by the 口 radical they all share.


More Pleco Support

Due to popular demand, I have added Pleco format to the export page on NewCLO (you will need to be a subscriber to access that page).

So you can now choose which lessons you want to export, what content from each lesson you would like (vocabulary, characters, supplemental vocabulary) and it will export it in a Pleco ready file.

If you would like the Pleco flashcard list for all 420 lessons on CLO, you can find that here.


CLO Words of the Day

We will be using our Facebook page and new Twitter account to send out words of the day (WOTD). Some days might have multiple words, while other days may not have any.

This way, vocabulary can be introduced to you in the context of what’s happening around the world these days. Here’s the first WOTD:
The Olympics: āoyùnhuì (奥运会 / 奧運會) taking place in Lúndūn (伦敦 / 倫敦).

If you find it useful, please subscribe to our Facebook page (if you haven’t done so already), or follow us on Twitter!


CLO Affiliates

It’s been a long time coming – many have asked if they could become affiliates for CLO. I’m proud to announce that we now have our own affiliate program. Now you can start earning money for promoting CLO!

Sign up and earn 50% of any sales you produce. Let me know if you have any questions about the program.


CLO on Udemy

I’ve posted the first four lessons of CLO on the Udemy site. The lesson audio and transcripts have been combined into a video so you can listen to the audio while reading the transcript. If people are interested in this format, I could offer the first level or two of CLO on the Udemy site.


CLO YouTube Channel

I’m happy to announce that CLO now has its own YouTube channel.

There are several videos there from various dialogues in the course. Here’s one of the early ones:


CLO iPhone / iPod Touch Version 1.21

Version 1.21 of our CLO app is now available for download. Changes include a couple of bug fixes:
– The audio now plays even when your device goes to sleep.
– Couple of MP3s from lesson 31 were not playing before. This should now be fixed.


CLO iPhone / iPod Touch Version 1.2

Version 1.2 of our CLO app is now available for download. Changes include more lessons (all of level one) and character stroke-order animations for new characters in each lesson. The videos that we included in the original version will be replaced with characters for future versions. Enjoy!


New Changes

We will be making some changes to the theme / look of the main CLO site, as well as revamping the signup / login process. You may have noticed that the site now requires you to sign in with your email address, rather than your username. We plan to phase out the use of usernames to make the signup / login process easier. If you notice any issues come up in the process, do let me know.


New CLO Website

I’m happy to announced the general release of the new version of the CLO site for all premium subscribers at www.newclo.com.

As the format on the old site is quite different from the new one, I’ll keep both online for the time being, so users can choose which one they like better, as all premium subscribers will have access to both sites.

If you’re not a premium subscriber yet, you can try a demo of the new site here.

Some of the main differences include:

1. More emphasis on progress. Results from activities you have completed will be saved, so you can mark your progress and see what lesson you left off at.
2. When playing audio, you can now activate a lesson bar that stays on screen at all times. This way you can pause the audio without losing your place on the transcript.
3. Separate text size options that don’t affect the rest of your browser.
4. Additional activities such as Dialogue A/B patterns to practice and record dialogues.
5. Ability to tag lessons, so you can easily find related lessons.
6. Ability to link your account with Facebook, so you can login easily. At the moment we don’t post anything to your Facebook wall, although we could add such a feature in the future, if you wanted to share your progress with friends.

7. Since we stopped creating new lessons, one of my goals was to give users more tools to add their own content from other sources. You now have the ability to import articles and feeds from other sources. These can either be private or shared with others. Why would you want to do this?

8. You can use the integrated dictionary on the left sidebar to look up new words that may not have been taught in our course (since they are from your own content).
9. You can save new words into your own vocabulary section, and then use the site’s flashcard tools to practice them.

We also have our own internal rating system to highlight the top users on the site (you can see this on the main page when you login). Later, we might add bonus features for top ranked users.

If you’re not a premium subscriber yet, you’re welcome to create free account or login with your Facebook credentials to try out the first four lessons for free. I’ve been working on this project for a long time, and I thank the many subscribers who have provided me with valuable feedback along the way. Please continue to send me whatever feedback you have, as I expect more improvements to be made in the future.


CLO iPhone / iPod Touch App Now Available

I’m happy to announce that the app version of our CLO course is now available for iPhone and iPod Touch users on the app store. You can download it for free, to try out the first 3 lessons of the course. Additional lessons can be purchased from inside the app.

This current version lets you purchase up to the first 20 lessons of our course. We will be adding more lessons as there is demand for them. Each lesson includes the following:

- Full audio of lesson with volume and scrub controls
– Complete transcript with Chinese characters
– Vocabulary quiz
– Vocabulary flashcards
– Video recap

There is full support for pinyin, simplified and traditional characters. Try it out and let me know what you think. We also plan an iPad version, that will be available as a free update in the future.


CLO 4th Anniversary

Today marks the 4 year anniversary of Chinese Learn Online. Although it may look like we have been dormant for the last little while with promised updates that haven’t come, there has been lots going on behind the scenes. Specifically, there are now 4 projects that I’m currently working on. Here is an update on all 4:

1. CLO iPhone app – the app was ready quite some time back, but we’ve run into all kinds of problems with the final feature that requires user to be able to download additional content onto it. I’m hoping it will be ready to submit to Apple by the end of this month – cross my fingers there. The first version will have the first 20 lessons of the course available. We will then add more lessons as there is demand.

2. New CLO website – the website is live and operational and all current members now have access to it (if you are a current subscriber and don’t, then please email me). There are still some details to be finalized before I’m ready to open it live to the public. There are a lot more resources on there both for subscribers and for free users. I’ll provide more details when that is ready.

3. Spanish website – I’m working on a Spanish version of CLO for Spanish speakers who want to learn Chinese. I’m hoping that this tool will be ready for launch by the end of this month. We will begin with the first 30 lessons of CLO, and then add additional lessons as there is demand.

4. New online Chinese course – I’m also working on a new online course that uses a very different approach from CLO. The content will be completely different and the progress will be more systematic. So while CLO will stay in its existing form as a self study course, this new course will use a more guided approach, with teachers who monitor your progress every step of the way. I’m hoping this site will be ready for launch before the end of the year.


CLO on Pleco

For those of you using the popular Pleco Flashcard software, I have released the entire vocabulary list for CLO for use on Pleco. You can find them here: CLO-Pleco.zip

Enjoy!


Various Updates

Here is an update on a few different fronts:

1. The new version of the CLO site is coming along slowly and surely, with several premium users currently using it regularly. The delay has been in matching up new features and design with the current version of the site. The goal is to be able to add features and usability without removing anything from the current site experience that users enjoy. in the process. This is a delicate balance as some new features had to be nixed, while options were added for others to allow users the choice of old versus new. If you’re an existing premium subscriber and would like access, then please let me know.

2. I’m hoping to be able to submit the CLO iPhone app to Apple in the next 2 weeks. Parts of the app had to be rewritten to support a much improved usability design, so I think the delay will be worth it. The app will be a free app with the first 3 lessons included. If you like the format, you can then purchase additional lessons in packages of 5 lesson for $5. The app is completely self contained and so does not require a subscription to the site or even internet to use. The first 20 lessons of the course will be available on release. We will then release additional lessons on demand.

3. There is a Spanish version of CLO that is being worked on. The first 30 lessons of CLO should be available upon release. We will then release additional lessons on demand.

All 3 projects have taken a lot longer to complete than originally expected, but I’m very happy with the results so far.


Login Problems

We are having a temporary problem on our site, where members are not able to login to their accounts. I’m working on getting this fixed ASAP, and will post here when it is back up and working. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Update: All fixed now!


New YouTube Videos

I’m happy to announce a partnership with Kevin Hogan, who will be creating videos of certain lessons that will be placed on YouTube and on our upcoming iPhone app version of the course. Kevin will be posting links in the comments section of lessons that have videos available. Here is a sample to begin with. If there is demand, we could have more videos created and placed on the site.

Expect to see more partnerships like this announced between CLO and other content providers over the next few months!


Work in Progress

Here’s an update on what we are currently working on:

1. Fixing up older content:
a. Fixing up typos from older lessons(thanks to all the CLO users who have been sending us edits. A special thanks to Karl in Germany who has been going out of his way in this area to send us regular edits).
b. Replacing older lessons with older speakers with rerecorded ones. Only 13 more to go! (Lessons 48-60).
c. Redoing PDF transcripts and uploading of corrected lessons.
d. Replacing the normal speed dialogs in select lessons with a new native speaker pair.

2. New CLO website:
a. Some of you have had your accounts copied to the new site to try out and send feedback. If you are an existing online subscriber and would like a trial account, please let me know.
b. More features are being added to the new site, including linking with existing social networks (so you don’t have to create a special account just for CLO), as well as being able to import content from other sources on the web.
c. General usability issues.
d. Graphic design.

3. Other (more distant projects):
a. An iPhone app version of CLO
b. A Spanish version of CLO.

More details will be provided on some of the above points as they get closer to fruition / completion.