I can’t say I’m a language learning expert but I have tried my fair share of language programs over the years. After all, I’m an American. That is, I am interested in learning another language but absolutely terrible at it. I’ve traveled all over the world and it’s true, you can survive in any country by just knowing English, so there has been no real need to learn over the years.
One of the reasons we chose the city we are living was so I would be forced to learn the language. It is a small city with zero English language resources so I thought that we would have to learn Mandarin just to get by.
Yet, sigh..somehow arm gestures and basic words have gotten us everything we need. (Notice I said need, not wants. I know we are missing out on some great stuff by not speaking the language, but we are by no means starving and we’ve always been able to get everywhere we want to go.) After the first 6 months I realized that I wouldn’t pick that much up by just living here. I would have to work at it. Sigh again…
For the past two months I have been taking 6 hours of Chinese class a week. There is only one other student, an Indonesian, so the classes are real hard work. There’s no slacking off or staring out the window bored when you are 50% of the student body. I can say, without a doubt, taking classes is the best way to learn a language. I’ve learned more in the past few weeks then I did on the first 6 months.
But, most of my classroom vocabulary consists of “I am Mary, a foreign student. What are you studying?” which isn’t really applicable to my daily life. So class isn’t the only resource I use. There are plenty of online resources for learning Chinese (or any language for that matter) that I’ve been trying. Here are some that I like.
General Language Resources
LiveMocha: When I was living back in America this was my favorite language site. It is a combination of Rosetta Stone and Facebook. The lessons are set up in a similar style to the Rosetta Stone language program in which you see pictures, hear the words, and see the writing so you can connect all three things together. LiveMocha takes it a step further by having writing and speaking assignments. You do the homework and then post it for all your friends to see and correct. (Your friends are native speakers of the language you are learning, and learning the language you are a native speaker of.) Best part is it is FREE!
Fluent in 3 Months: This is a blog from Benny, an Irish world traveler. After graduating college, and not knowing any language other than English, he began traveling and came up with tricks and tips for becoming fluent in any language. Taking shortcuts and tricks to learn a language quicker is called ‘language hacking’ and I’m a big fan of it. This blog is filled with great ideas.
Tim Ferriss: The author of 4-Hour Workweek has a number of blog entries on learning a language as quickly and efficiently as possible. I like this entry the most. His approach is a little different then other peoples but it makes sense to me.
Pimsleur : There are 2 main players in the language learning world and that is Rosetta Stone (which needs to be done on the computer) and Pimsleur (an audio only system). I have to say that I like Pimsleur the best. It focuses on repetition and slowly adds new vocabulary in an almost seamless way. This is also an excellent resource if you have a regular commute because you can practice and listen regularly. I also find the voices very clear and well spoken. The downside of this system is the price for the full sets. It’s crazy expensive. But you can likely find copies at your local library so check there first.
Lingt: I’ve tried a lot of sites and systems over the years and this has been my favorite so far. It’s a flashcard learning system where you see each word at least three times. Once with the character and pinyin and you pick the meaning. Then the meaning and you pick the character/pinyin and last you have to type the pinyin with tones. This is the best feature for me because you have to get the tones right to clear the word and tones is one of the hardest things for me to remember. Also, it is totally free!
Nciku: This is a Chinese dictionary type website. The best feature is they have a little box and you can draw the character into it and it displays all the characters that look similar to what you have drawn. This is a godsend when I want to translate something like a menu item. I just draw in the characters and it translates it for me. I love this site as it has been a really helpful resource.
Skritter: This site is all about writing. Every Chinese character has a certain stroke order and this is the site to learn and practice. To be honest I decided to focus more on learning new vocabulary and reading right now, rather than writing, but I’ll join Skritter someday because learning how to write, and write properly is important.
Chinesepod: This is the king of Chinese language websites. It is a well known company, and for good reason. They produce high quality, entertaining podcasts to teach you Chinese. I have often been tempted to sign up for their paid service but so far I have just been getting the basic lessons for free. The two hosts are very entertaining and throw in some culture as well as new vocabulary and sentence structure.
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