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Studying Chinese

September 15th, 2006 . by Matt

Chinese Pod
Learning Chinese through a new technology and new methodology

Learning Chinese is something I have wanted to do for at least a couple of years now. I learned Japanese. I then learned Korean. Both of these languages have countless words that originate in China. Indeed, I could even read a great many Chinese characters, and yet knew nothing of the language they came from. Because of this I felt a need to know more about the Chinese language.

A couple of years ago I started buying some books for the Chinese language but I never even really gave the books a second glance after buying them. I looked at them, and listened to the CDs for a little while, but for some reason Chinese seemed more daunting and harder to get into that Japanese and Korean. Considering the way I was able to learn Japanese and Korean, I know that logically that makes no sense, and indeed, I knew it made no sense. Still, it did discourage me. I knew nothing more than Nihao.

I think that part of the reason for that was the complicated pronunciation. The pronunciation would be memorized one minute, then forgotten the next. Either that or the pronunciation was mangled beyond recognition. Because of this, words were hard to remember, even though I could often read the character.

About a month or so ago I decided to bite the bullet and study Chinese seriously. The problem was how. The old text books were not working for me. I knew I had to approach it systematically, piece by piece. I knew I had to master tiny bits of conversation at first, become familiar with it, then move foward to the point where I could start to hold brief conversations. From my previous Japanese study, I knew one of the most important things in language learning is keeping your interest up.

I started cruising Chinese learning sites on the web. I stopped by Sinosplice, which is a blog written by a foreigner in China that is fluent in Chinese. He recommended something called ‘Chinese Pod‘. Chinese Pod is basically a site that offers free Chinese language learning podcasts. At first I was skeptical of this method of learning, but I was soon converted. I am not so sure of the utility of podcasts for learning the Japanese or Korean languages, but their utility for learning the Chinese language was immediately apparent to me.

Basically the first podcasts used simple Chinese conversations to get the learner used to the Chinese language. First they have the brief conversation, then they break the conversation down by vocabularly. They go over the short sentences many times. If you follow what they are saying, and say it out loud along with them, you find that the dialog actually sticks. Well, it did not stick completely. For it to really stick, I had to access the paid subcribers part of Chinese Pod.

Chinese Pod has a free 7 day offer that they give you to use their services. I signed up and I was given access to all their ‘premium materials’, which includes transcripts of their podcasts, review materials, and lesson plans for each podcast. The transcripts are self explanatory, but for me the review materials was what really made the podcast lesson stick. The review materials are divided into three basic parts. The first part shows the text and audio of vocubulary and phrases from the podcast. The text is in Chinese characters, but the pinyin pronunciation comes up automatically when you move your cursor over the word. You can also listen to the audio as you look at the word if you wish by clicking the audio button. This is good to practice listening or imitation of pronunciation when you desire. The second part is the expansion part of the review materials. The expansion part basically expands on the vocabularly introduced in the podcast. It takes the same situation, for example going to a shop, and expands it to going to a school, or office, and so on. This helps with situations you need to express something that was not in the podcast. The third final part is the testing phase. A short series of tests challenge your memory. The tests are very quick and not bothersome at all. They help cement what you have just learned in your mind.

The lesson plans are for you to use with a native speaker. The lesson plans offer a precise method in which you can have your Chinese native speaker friend or language exchange partner help you, rather trying to learn the language without a methodology. Lets face it, a lot of us have Chinese friends, but it does not mean they know how to teach Chinese any more than we know how to teach English, so these lesson plans are very valuable.

There are other parts of the premium materials that I have not used yet. These include flash cards for Chinese characters, and the construction of lesson sets using something called the ‘learning center’. Actually, in a way I have already been through a lesson set course that consists of the first 7 introductory lessons from the free trial period. The lessons introduce the most basic of Chinese conversation, but by the end of the 7 introductory lessons I felt I had made progress. I also felt a little bit familiar with the language. Because I had understood the 7 introductory lessons, the Chinese language felt much less daunting to me. I knew that it was the same as any other language in that it requires time and effort. The free trial period does not restrict you to just those 7 introductory lessons – I went all out and did about 20 or so lessons.

Around the time I was doing the Chinese Pod lessons, I went to dinner with some of my friends. At dinner there was a Taiwanese coworker of one of my friends there. I was able to practice my Chinese with her. Amazingly, after just 20 or so lessons, I was able to converse in basic Chinese, to the amazement of my friends that know that I can speak Japanese and Korean already. I was able to find out where she is from, what she does, what her name is and so on, and also tell her the same information about me.

The Chinese Pod lessons are bite sized chunks of Chinese language that do not overwhelm you or bewilder you. I am of the opinion that a person of average intelligence that pays attention to the podcasts, and does the review materials will make good progress with the Chinese language. A person that does all that and also follows up by doing the lesson plans with a Chinese friend or language exchange partner will make rapid progress. There are other courses out there, tapes and CDs, and I owned some CDs, but they do not do it in quite the way that Chinese Pod does it. The Chinese Pod way is subtle, it sneaks into your brain rather than pounding at the entrance, and before long you know more Chinese language than you realize yourself.

Chinese Pod is not just for rank beginners like myself (actually, in Chinese Pod there is a rank below beginners called ‘newbie’, which is where I am or was – I think I am ready to graduate to beginner now), but contains lessons for people right up to the advanced level. I intend to continue studying with the Chinese Pod lessons. Perhaps someday soon I will be able to translate accurately stories about ‘Chinese sexual harrassment Vampire Principals‘ by myself.

I hope this post encourages language learners. Learning language used to be a great passion of mine. I am glad to be getting back into it.

2 Responses to “Studying Chinese”

  1. comment number 1 by: learnkorean

    That is a good site

    Do u have some good site for learn korean plz


  2. comment number 2 by: vanessa

    good review! I like the site, hehe
    hope more people can enjoy learning on this site too