Learning a new language can be a time-consuming process. For most people, picking up a second (or third, or fourth) language is usually something done in their spare time – families and jobs usually take priority. One big challenge, aside from finding time in a busy week to sit down and study, is getting adequate chances to practice speaking and listening to the language of interest. Well, thanks to the hyper-interconnected world that we live in today, you can make great progress in a new language all from the comforts of your home or office (so long as you have an Internet connection, of course). That’s why we here at Transparent Language are proud to introduce our new online learning program. From Arabic all the way to Vietnamese, and dozens in between, you can choose the language you are interested in and begin cruising through lessons right away. If you’re interested in the program, the good news is that you can sign up for a free 7-day trial. I’m in the middle of mine as we speak, so here’s a description and a little review of what I’ve seen so far. First, let’s take a closer look at the “Learn” section of the program:
The essential course guides you through lessons step-by-step, using our Byki software for building vocabulary and a variety of other exercises. In addition to the very easy to follow flash cards, there’s also extra tidbits of information added along the way, helping to supplement your learning. First, you’ll get started off with some tonal practice, as this is crucial when learning Chinese. Then, move on to the first lesson, “Hello!”, which of course teaches you basic sentence structure for greetings and introductions. You are led through different activities, all the while practicing your reading, listening, and speaking skills (writing is saved for later in Chinese). If at any point you need any help, there are easy how-to videos for you to view. The various activities in each unit range from multiple choice questions, to dictations, to cultural videos (made by yours truly!), to conversation practices, and so much more. The end of each unit has an assessment, so you can see how you did and go back to review anything that gave you trouble.
As far as reading goes, you’ll be exposed to both pinyin (transliteration) and Chinese characters. The pinyin helps with your pronunciation, and the characters help build up your reading abilities. In terms of listening, you hear a very standard native speaker who uses common Mandarin, without any specific regional accent. For the speaking sections, you can record your voice and easily compare it side by side with the native speaker.
For every unit, you can always adjust the volume and speed of the speech that you hear. You are also able to export the vocabulary from that unit into a PDF file, where you can see the characters, pinyin, and English translation.
Get a quick tour of the Essentials Course.
Byki Quick Start:
This portion of the program leads you through 10 lessons to teach 100 commonly used words and phrases. Use these lessons to quickly build up your vocabulary. They still have activities to assist you, although not as many as the essential course. As such, they take less time and focus specifically on increasing your word count.
Not sure what Byki is? Check out this video introduction.
With a ton of lessons that traverse the alphabet from “Adjectives” all the way down to “Verbs”, these Byki vocab. lists will equip you with hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese words and phrases. The best part is, you can learn at your own pace and assess yourself as you go along. The very specific lists range in topic from “at the restaurant,” to “emergencies,” to “post office” and just about anything you could imagine in between. Going shopping in Chinatown? Focus on one of the many shopping related lists. Flying into Beijing next week? Brush up on your taxi vocabulary with a handful of lessons. There’s something for everyone in these lists.
Yet another helpful video guide.
If at any time you want to go back and quickly check something without filtering through all of the lessons, just go to the reference section and browse by subject. Here, you’ll find useful grammar and vocabulary that’s been covered in the course.
In this section of the program, you can view an abundance of short videos that assist you in your language learning. For Mandarin Chinese, you can choose between three sections: About Mandarin Chinese, Language Learning Tips, and Grammar Tips. From introducing the many dialects and other variations of Chinese, to helping you with tones and characters, to useful everyday grammar points such as comparatives/superlatives, these videos are a great complement to the main program.
Now, how about the “Explore” section? Through this section of the program, you can easily browse our many online resources and communities. This very blog you are reading, our Facebook community, YouTube page, Twitter feed, and Chinese Word of the Day are always right at your fingertips. Best of all, you don’t even need to open a new link, as everything can be loaded directly through the program. Post comments or questions to our 64,000 strong Facebook community, find photos and recent news about China, browse through our collection of culture, travel, and grammar videos, and learn a new word every day!
So, do you want my honest review of our new product? Well, here are some pros and cons, in my humble opinion:
- The program is very interactive, and thus it doesn’t get boring.
- Each unit has a great variety of activities, making it much more fun than following a book.
- You can get experience with both pinyin and Chinese characters.
- The pronunciation of the native speaker is very standard and easy to understand.
- The Byki lists, and the ability to export PDF files, make learning vocabulary easy.
- Of course, the culture videos are awesome, seeing as how I made them.
- The Explore section gives you more resources with the click of a button.
- There isn’t the option to use Traditional characters, so if you’re learning Chinese because you want to go to Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan, you won’t be able to learn their written system.
- While there’s information about other dialects and accents, there’s no exposure to them in this program.
- You can record yourself, but it’s up to you to judge and assess your pronunciation.
- Grammar videos go quickly and don’t have pinyin to help beginner learners who are not familiar with characters.
- There really isn’t any focus on how to write Chinese characters.
In the end, I think the pros easily outweigh the cons. After all, most people who find themselves learning Chinese fall into the same category as me; that is, they are going to the Mainland and are mostly interested in improving speaking and listening abilities while building vocabulary. If your main goal is to master the Chinese art of calligraphy, read an ancient text in traditional characters, or go become fluent in Shanghai-nese or Cantonese, then this program isn’t for you. If, however, you want to improve your Chinese on your own time, at your own pace, and from your own home or office, however, this online solution is a solid investment. So what are you waiting for? Whether it’s Chinese, Dutch, French, Korean, or Thai, get started learning the language you’re interested in.