Anyone considering learning Mandarin should seriously consider signing up for this course and becoming a premium subscriber.
There are many good books, CDs, and websites out there that teach Mandarin but this course beats them all.
The founder of the website, Adam Menon genuinely wants to help people learn Chinese. Since Adam is a non-native Chinese speaker, he has an appreciation of the problems non-native speakers of Chinese have in trying to learn Chinese. I feel his teaching methods are more appropriate that say a Chinese academic who decides to write a book on how to learn Chinese. What may seem obvious to us in our own language may not be so obvious for a foreign person trying to learn our language.
The course is aimed at absolute beginners to intermediate level speakers. As the weeks pass the material of the later lessons on the site will gradually increase in difficulty and eventually it will include material for more advanced speakers.
Structure of the course
At the time of writing, the course consists of 132 lessons divided into 3 levels with 60 lessons in each level. The course is currently on the 12th lesson of level three.
There is over 27 hours of downloadable audio lessons currently available to premium subscribers and around 40 minutes of new audio is added every week! Three new lessons are provided every week with each lesson lasting on average for about 10 minutes. Premium subscribers also get lesson summaries which are the Chinese parts of the lesson without the English explanations. They also get supplementary audio material which consists of further examples of word usage in different context and question and answer sessions which make you actively think more about what you are learning rather than just passively listening to it.
The teaching methods used in this course are very effective and are superior to learning from books and CDs. One problem with learning from a book and CD is that the lessons are often too long. It is very discouraging to realise you have to get through 20 pages to finish 1 lesson. Books usually provide you with a few short texts which are covered but not explained on the CD. It is very frustrating to try to keep up with the audio while flicking back and forth through pages a book. Books also provide you with a long list of supplementary words that are not covered in the CDs and sometimes these words donâ€™t appear anywhere else in the book. One of the biggest problems with learning from books is that they confuse you with strict grammar rules and technical linguistic terms that require you to have a PhD in linguistics to understand them.
This course gets around these problems brilliantly. Since the lessons are short, learning never becomes a chore. The material is wide and varied and never becomes dull like the predictable stories of students in a university that most books use as their lesson topics. Each lesson will provide you with around 5 new words or phrases, so you are not overburdened with long lists of vocabulary. Words used in earlier lessons are repeatedly used in later lessons. It is this continual usage of words that allows you to memorize them and learn them by heart. Adam gives the translations and explanation in each course and he uses native Mandarin speakers such as Kirin for the Chinese Dialogue. Kirin has one of the clearest voices I have every heard. Since you can clearly hear everything she says this helps enormously. Other native Chinese speakers from various parts of China are also used in the lessons. Some speakers are easier to understand than others, but that is life. Adam is trying to get the listeners to cope with the different dialects that they will hear, so it is a great feature of the course.
The course does cover some grammar where necessary, but the main philosophy of the course is to teach listeners to develop an instinctive feel for when something sounds right or wrong. This can only be done by repetitive listening and using words in context. That is how we learned our own language from being very young. We can all understand, speak and write our own language, but not many of us could write down the grammar rules of our language. The fact is that when speaking and listening in any language, you just donâ€™t have time to apply grammar rules. We need to learn Chinese words to a level where we know their meaning without converting it into our own language. If we find that when we are communicating in Chinese and we are translating what is said in our heads into English, then that is too slow and we would miss most of the conversation.
All the audio lessons and premium lessons are downloadable to an iPod or similar device, so you can listen to them anywhere and anytime you want. If you have a 5th generation iPod, you can also include the pinyin, simplified and traditional characters as the lyrics and you can view them as you listen to them on your iPod. It is considerably better than struggling with a book and CD!
Other material and resources
The course also provides a plethora of material for premium subscribers.
1. Premium subscribers can view and print the full lesson transcripts, lesson dialogue and lesson summaries in English, Pinyin, Simplified characters and Traditional characters! This is brilliant. I donâ€™t know any other course that provides this amount of supplementary material in all four formats.
2. A searchable word bank containing all the words and phrases from all the lessons. Again this can be viewed in English, pinyin, simplified and traditional characters. The databank can be searched in many ways including type, so if you search for hotel, you will get all the words and phrases related to hotels, such as booking a room etc.
3. A very useful on-line flash card system so you can test your pinyin, Chinese character recognition and listening skills.
4. Some lessons are accompanied with short videos
5. Pong Audio forum which allows you to record your voice and improve you Chinese pronunciation.
You can spend a lot more money than it would cost to subscribe to this course on a much inferior course. The premium subscription is worth it for the pinyin and Chinese character lesson transcripts alone. When you include the many other resources such as the word bank, flashcard system and premium pod casts then it is an absolute bargain. If you are not sure whether to subscribe or not, then you can tryout all the premium content for the first 4 lessons of each level for free.
This is a progressive course in many ways. There is an increase of difficulty from one level to the next, as each level uses more Chinese. However at no time do you ever feel lost. Every single new word is explained and reused in later lessons. Since the lessons are of good quality, short and varied, you will want to listen to them again and again.
The course is also progressive as hardly a week goes by without a tweak, to an existing feature or an addition of a new feature which make the course even better.