New song

I’ve added a new song “Black matches White” by Fan Wei Qi to the newly renovated music page. The singer wrote this song for her boyfriend. She considers herself very pale and so represents the “white” while her boyfriend being quite tanned (apparently his nickname in real life is “black man”) represents the “black” side. So in her song she states that “black matches white” just like in their relationship and to not mind what others say.

This reminded me of my own personal experience living in Taiwan. Being of Indian origin myself, I am considered “brown” in North America but in Taiwan they have no word for brown skinned people so I’m considered “black” there. I suppose this song could apply to me and my relationship with a Taiwanese girl.

Simplified Traditional


Site access problems

I apologize for any site access problems you may be having in the last day or so. They are being investigated and I hope they can be resolved shortly.

UPDATE: Looks like everything should be back to normal now. (Yay!)


Bulk Downloads

As we are approaching the magic 100 lesson mark I’ve decided that the feed is becoming too big and it’s not practical to have all the old lessons available for download on the main podcast feed.  Add to that the font problems associated with the feed version of the lessons.  So I’ve decided to make older lessons available for bulk download.  The advantage to downloading them this way is that those wanting to play lessons on iPODs will be able to view transcripts on their screen without the font and screen switching problems that occur with the regular podcast versions.

Premium subscribers can also download all the dialogue only and podcast reviews for older lessons in bulk zipped up format.  You can find all this goodness here.

I have also reorganized the drop down menus so Flashcard and Word Bank now appear under the Premium content tab.  The above Bulk Downloads link is now under the Resources tab.  Enjoy!


Audiobooks

I have added a new Audiobooks section to the Resources page.  This page includes links to other learning Mandarin courses.  The Pimsleur series is one of the most popular language learning systems (for any language) and was one of the influences in the design of my course.  The various levels and versions are now available for purchase here.  Links to other courses are also available for those looking for more material to supplement your learning here.

While they are being sold by third party vendors, CLO gets a small commission for referring them to you.  I will also be adding Google Adsense ads to the Music pages in the near future.  Revenue from these ventures will be used to enhance the free resources on the website.


Murphy’s Law

This has been a very interesting week for me (notice I’m using past tense here since I’m expecting that the troubles are over).  In the span of two days, my main system crashed and was rendered unusable, the server that the site is being hosted on crashed for several hours and multiple speakers mysteriously canceled on me leaving me behind in my lesson development.
The good news is that the main computer has now been replaced, most of the data was retrieved, the server is back up and I was able to find alternate speakers.  The Premium podcasts and notes should be up to date in the next day or so.  Thanks for bearing with me.


Updated features

I’ve color coded the vocabulary in the vocabulary pages to separate individual vocabulary items from dialogue examples.  Also, these items can now be clicked on to take you back to the Word bank to see how they may relate to other examples in the course.  For the Chinese character versions, individual characters can be clicked on to see other examples in the Word bank.
The latest Complete word for word transcript (Lesson 91) now lets you click on some of the Chinese Pinyin words to take you to the Word bank.  I’ll extend this to future lessons and later to past lessons.

I’m hoping having these links to the Word bank will allow you to easily get the bigger picture of how different words and characters relate to each other in this course.


General Updates

The Word Bank should be up to date for Level 2 (lessons 61 on).  I’ll slowly start adding level 1 lessons.  The complete functionality will of course be felt when it’s completely up to date with all lessons but hopefully you can still find it useful now.  Once it’s up to date, I will add cross links to the transcripts allowing you to click on a word in the transcript and have it search the word bank for you.
The Flashcard program is also up to date with the latest lessons.  I was trying to hook it up to the Word bank so that it can automatically be updated.  However, since each lesson only has a few new vocabulary items rather than having each lesson with its own quiz with only a few questions I’ve decided to continue to manually update it – combining multiple lessons into quizzes so that most of the questions are new.

If you notice any typos or bugs in the above, please let me know.


New song

I added a new pop song to the Music section today. It’s a duet between two very popular artists. Enjoy!

“Marry me today” (Jintian ni yao jia gei wo) by David Tao and Jolin Tsai

Simplified Traditional


New Premium Podcast transcript format

Since the Premium podcast consists mainly of questions and answers, I’ve hidden the answers in the transcript. This allows you to use the Premium podcast in two ways. You can test your understanding using the audio format of the podcast lesson, and/or test yourself visually by going through the questions (in Pinyin) and trying to come up with the answer on your own before clicking to reveal it.

All previous Premium podcast transcripts (Lessons 61+) have been updated with this new format. Enjoy!


Course Schedule Update

I’ve had to update the Course schedule to reflect a week break from lessons that will be taking place this week. I am going in for laser eye surgery on Tuesday and was told that I need a week of rest for my eyes to heal. Hopefully this won’t put a cramp in anyone’s learning.

You will notice other breaks in the schedule between now and level 3. Those breaks represent travel time as I will be in Taiwan for a month. How does that benefit you, you ask? Well for one thing I’m in Canada now and Kirin is in Taiwan which means you won’t hear anymore of her voice till I get there. I also hope to shoot some nice scenic videos for some of the older dialogues (some of you have been asking for more). Between now and then the speaking roles will be divided between Bing and Jen, Leo and Amy and possibly one more new speaker.

I’m glad you see benefit in the Word-bank. Initially it was just meant to be another tool but now it’s expanded into a way of linking all the lessons together with the enhanced search tools. The real benefits will be realized once it has been updated with content from all the lessons. You will then be able to click on a word or a Chinese character and it should pull up examples from all lessons where that word / character was used.

I’m still hoping to find a solution for the font troubles I’ve been having on the site (the comments on the main site don’t display Pinyin now?!?). Maybe a week of lying in bed with my eyes closed will give me a flash of inspiration…

Update: A small change in the Word Bank code suddenly fixed the font troubles I was having in the Comments section.  Can our Mac users tell me if this has had any difference in the other font troubles you were having?


New song added

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the Music section so I thought I’d add another male singer to balance things out. The name of the song is “Have to Love” by Wilber Pan although it’s better known as “Bu de Bu Ai” by “Pan Wei Bo” Enjoy!

Simplified Traditional


Premium preview

The Word bank page is now available for you to preview at www.chineselearnonline.com/word-bank

Currently only the first few lessons are present but over time I will be updating it with all the lesson material. Non subscribers can view the first four lessons while Premium subscribers will have access to all lessons (when available) by logging in. Your comments and feedback are most welcome.

Premium subscribers may also notice that the Vocabulary page for the latest lesson now utilizes the new format that I mentioned in my last post. Hopefully you’ll find this more efficient as it combines 3 pages into 1. Note though that future lessons will now use the URL structure: www.chineselearnonline.com/lesson-xxx-vocabulary rather than separating the pinyin, simplified and traditional pages like before.

Update: I’ve gone back to the old system of lesson-xxx-pinyin for the main vocabulary page to keep everything consistent so ignore the mention above of the “vocabulary” extension.


Premium Update

I know things have seemed quiet here in the last couple of weeks. However you may be happy to hear that there has been lots of action behind the scenes. I thought I would give you a preview here of what to expect over the next few weeks:

  1. A new word-bank tool will be introduced for Premium subscribers. It will allow you to search for vocabulary introduced in previous lessons. The results will then be displayed on one page with Chinese characters and a playback tool. This should make it easier for you to review vocabulary items that are reintroduced in newer lessons.
  2. The vocabulary page will be reorganized. Currently, each vocabulary page is separated into 3 pages – Pinyin, Simplified and Traditional. These will all be combined into one page. The layout will look pretty similar to how it is currently, but you will be able to switch between the three modes without having to reload a new page each time.

It may take some time to redo older pages to reflect the new format, but I’m hoping to be able to give you a preview of what these changes will look like later this week.


Flashcards and other new tools…

I’m happy to say that the Flashcard program is now up to date with almost all lessons in all 5 modes for Premium subscribers.  Since each quiz has 10 questions and most lessons only introduce a few words at a time, some lessons are combined into one quiz.  Those quizzes with less than ten questions randomly pick questions from earlier lessons to make sure you’re up to date.  If you notice any errors or missing sound files or anything, please let me know.

Now that the flashcard program is up to date, I have begun work on another new tool to help access / consolidate all the material you’ve been learning.  Details will be relieved as they are available.


New speakers

As you may have noticed in our latest lesson, I will be switching to some new native Chinese speakers from hereon – Bing and Jen.  They are a couple in their fifties from central China so I thought it would be interesting to hear a different kind of accent.  I like the contrast with the “younger” voice of Kirin.

I remember while teaching English in Taiwan how I thought I was doing a good job till a new teacher came along from England.  The students had trouble understanding what he was saying because they weren’t familiar with his accent.  It’s for this reason that I’m trying to change up the voices every now and then so you don’t fall into the same trap of only understanding one type of Chinese and being “lost” in the real world.

The other issue I’ve come across is that all the dialogues so far have been prepared with Kirin’s help which means they have a Taiwanese style to them.  This means that certain words and phrases may be used differently in mainland China.  This isn’t a big problem in my opinion since there is still no problem being understood.  However, in order to change things up a little I’m going to switch to a mainland China approach as we progress just to provide a different contrast to the program.  This also means (unfortunately) that I will ease out of using Kirin’s voice in the next ten lessons or so.

Don’t worry though, she’ll be back in the future, for future levels of the course.


Drop down menus

You may notice that the menus on top have been slightly reorganized, along with the addition of drop down menus. As the number of lessons and features increases on the site there has been a need to spread these out over a number of pages. Rather than cluttering the front page with more links, I have now added drop down menus to make it easier for you to go directly to the page you want. This way as more pages are added to the site down the road it should still be easy to get where you want to go.

The old Premium section has now been split into a “Premium feed” page and a “Resources” page. The links to the Premium content are now available in the “Course Outline” and in the main page under each lesson.


Tone problems continue

So it looks like my big fix for the Pinyin tone marks not displaying properly wasn’t much of a fix after all. Some programs display it while others (such as iTunes) butcher it. One of the solutions I’m considering is switching the front page version of the Pinyin to using numbers rather than tone marks. So Nǐ hǎo would then become Ni3 hao3.

This wouldn’t affect the Premium transcripts version, which would stay as it is (using tone marks). The advantages I see are:

  • This should solve font issues as I’d be using normal characters and numbers without any tone marks
  • I could then integrate search capabilities to search for vocabulary. I had a search feature previously, but removed it since people kept using it without tone marks, so the system wasn’t able to find the results they wanted.

I’ll keep looking for other solutions, but I’m curious to know what you would think above. If I decide to go this route I’ll retype all the earlier lessons on the front page to keep it consistent.


CLO Update

Here are a few updates:

  1. I believe the issue with the Pinyin transcripts not displaying properly before should be resolved now.  You may need time for your feed to update to flush out the old versions.  You’re welcome of course to redownload any files you need that were corrupted before.
  2. The separate feed for Premium subscribers has been expanded to include the dialogue summaries so you no longer have to manually download them from the site – they can now be delivered straight to you via RSS.  If you are using iTunes, choose the Advanced menu and then select the “Subscribe to a Podcast” option.  Enter your username and password when prompted.
  3. For those of you not using RSS, you can also access the files directly from www.chinesemanual.com.  Use the login window to play and download the files directly.  You can also use the category tags to only view the podcast reviews or dialogues from a particular speaker.
  4. You may notice that the Premium links have now been added to the Course Outline page.  I am in the process of rearranging where information is located within the site to improve access to it so expect some more changes in this area over the next week or so.
  5. I have placed a temporary link to this Site Updates blog just under the login window in the main screen.  I am looking for a better more permanent spot for it.  :-)

Premium feed ready!

I’m proud to say that the Premium feed for Premium podcast reviews is now ready. You can access it from your favorite RSS program:

http://www.chinesemanual.com/?feed=premium

It will prompt you for your username and password. Please use the same login and password as for the regular ChineseLearnOnline website. From here on, you will be able to access the Premium Review podcasts without having to come directly to the website. Hope this helps!

If there are any technical issues, please let me know.


Level Two Insight

After all the hype regarding Level Two, some of you may be asking what the difference is between Level Two and Level One, other than the tones now being explained in Chinese. Well the truth is that some listeners are hesitant to move up too quickly too fast, so to avoid alienating this market, I’ve toned down (no pun intended) the jump from Level One to Level Two.

Level Two now goes back through the lessons from Level One reviewing and expanding upon each lesson. You will notice that the subject matter for each lesson in Level Two will somewhat resemble the corresponding lesson in Level One.

For those of you who ARE ready to move on though, the Premium review lessons (to be released in podcast format sometime in the future) will represent more of a challenge than the regular lessons. While no new vocabulary will be taught there, they will assume knowledge of all previously taught vocabulary and will try and use it in different ways than taught in the regular lessons. No explanations will be provided either, although translations are provided within the transcript. The idea here is that listeners are likely to learn quickly if they look up the answers themselves. Consider it a fast track of sorts.

So what can you expect in the future of CLO? Expect to hear new Chinese speakers in upcoming lessons and expect to hear the Chinese teacher take over more of the teaching of the lesson. As always, your feedback is what directs this course so keep it coming!


Improved Premium Access

In my never ending quest to improve usability, I’ve added direct links to the Premium pages for each lesson from the main page.  Like in Level One, the first four lessons of Level Two are free for everyone.


Level 2

The Premium content for Level 2 is now available. I will keep the first few lessons free just like I did with Level 1 to give everyone an idea of what format I will be using. Premium subscribers can use the player on the main page of the site to listen to or download the content. I will try and work on a Premium podcast feed so that you don’t have to come to the website to get it.

Update: Since I couldn’t get the Premium feed working, I’ve removed it from the main page and left it in the level 2 page.  I’ve kept it outside the Premium Podcast page to allow you to listen to it first before viewing the transcript.


Site Navigation Work in Progress

Over the next few days you will notice some changes in some of the buttons and the navigational aids being presented within the Premium section.  This upgrade may cause some buttons to seem a little off (cosmetically) while the upgrade is being completed.  Rest assured that when I have finished, the Premium section should be a LOT easier to navigate based on feedback I’ve received from users like yourself.  There will also be some cosmetic changes to improve your Chinese learning.  I’ll specify the details when it’s complete – hopefully sooner rather than later.


CLO Translated…

You may notice the addition of a new feature on the site – the set of 14 flags on the top of the right sidebar.  As this site seems to be getting an international following with many reviews in non English languages, I thought it may be appropriate to involve some translation aspects into the site.  By clicking on one of the flags you can get a translation into one of these languages.  Since it’s a machine translation, don’t expect it to be perfect, but I thought there may still be some benefit.  Once you click on a flag, the site will continue to be displayed in the translated language until you click back to the English (American) flag.
For the rest of you, you may notice there is also a Chinese flag there which displays the site content in Simplified Chinese characters.   You can try that out for an extra challenge.


Premium update

There has been some minor movement and tweaking in the Premium section.

  1. The Music section now has its own page, since I hope to grow the amount of content there over the next little while.
  2. The links to the Premium content for individual lessons have been graphically enhanced since the feedback I received previously showed that the separation between the individual links for each lesson wasn’t clear enough.  Hopefully this will improve that aspect.

Over the next little while, I will be looking at ways to improve the navigation between the Premium content for individual lessons.  Any other suggestions you provide will also be considered, so please keep them coming.


Beijing Station

Another song for you by request:

Love Sky Love Earth by Leon Lai, from the CD Beijing Station. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link to purchase the CD. In any case, here it is. Enjoy!

Simplified Traditional


Flashcards

Ok, I’m now ready to unveil our latest tool here. It’s a flashcard program that is integrated with our lessons. Choose a lesson, and test your understanding of it. There are four (updated – now five!) modes to choose from:

  • Pinyin to English
  • Simplified Chinese characters to Pinyin
  • Traditional Chinese characters to Pinyin
  • Audio only to English
  • Updated: English to Pinyin

If you get stuck on a question, you can get an audio prompt by using the “Play” button but be forewarned that that makes some of the questions very easy! The Audio only mode should be a good challenge to make sure you understand everything. Also, some lessons (especially the newer ones where less new vocabulary was taught) may test you with questions from earlier lessons, just to make sure you don’t forget what was already taught. If you get one wrong, you can take a look at which lesson that question is from (noted at the top of the screen) to review it if necessary.

Premium subscribers (who are logged in) will receive personalized log reports of their progress and have access to all lessons. Please be patient with me as I update it with newer lessons. Curently, the first 72 lessons are available (I’ll keep editing this post with the latest number). Non subscribers can try it out for the first four lessons.

Let me know if you have any feedback.

www.chineselearnonline.com/flashcard


Another song

For those of you interested in hearing male singing, I’ve added a song called Enticing Trick by a Taiwanese boy band called 183 Club. The name 183 comes from the average height size (in cm) of the five members. This particular song comes from the soundtrack of a Taiwanese drama that they acted in called “The Prince who turned into a Frog.” Enjoy!
Simplified Traditional


Background music

I added some background music to the latest lesson (50). I was using music in various forms in the earlier lessons but got away from it since it was taking away from the lesson by either being too long or too distracting. I’m hoping I have the right formula this time. Here’s some background on my new approach:

  1. I’ve stuck the number and title of the lesson at the very beginning to make it easy to navigate through lessons on your MP3 player without having to look at the screen.
  2. The music intro is supposed to whisk you from your Western world into the Chinese world.
  3. Little transition backgrounds have been added to separate the various parts of the lesson.
  4. The outtro music whisks you out of the Chinese world back into your Western world.

As always, your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.


Single Line breakdown

You may have noticed that I’ve started offering playback of individual lines of dialogue in the Premium Vocabulary section.  Thanks to those who requested this feature – I think it’s a great idea and I’ll slowly extend it to older lessons.