Chinese Resources

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Study More Chinese: A website with a fresh look at daily study drills.

Recently I found a community project that is focused on providing free (and fun) ways to learn Chinese. The name is simple-- Study More Chinese. The project is filled with videos, blogs, photos and an open forum. Unlike the pay as you go sites on the net, this site depends on user content to grow and develop, if you find something that you think is interesting, then post it up and share with others. I came across the site on Twitter when Brandon, the creator of Study More Chinese posted a video titled: "Best Chinese Girlfriend Ever at the QingDao China Beer Festival" 

The video is filled with some great vocabulary and got me curious enough to join the site. And I have to admit, that guy has one heck of a girlfriend! One of the things I really enjoy about Brandon's project is the "Daily Chinese Sentence". As he states on the group page: 

A new twist on the passive  'daily word' / 'daily sentence'.  Join this group to receive new Chinese words each day by email & then respond by using them in a new sentence.

It certainly is a twist. Rather than having your inbox filled with random vocabulary words that you will passively observe, this site asks the users to actually join the conversation. It is certainly a fresh take on all those Chinese word of the day messages that are floating around cyberspace. As a group member you can see how others make those two vocabulary words their own. 

If any of you feeling like trying your hand at the Daily Chinese Sentences, then swing over to Study More Chinese and become a part of the community. Part of learning a language means being active in your study, and find things that interest you. This site is a great way to take that to the next level, by allowing you to share your interests with others too.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

App Review: Shi Zi (识字): A Primer of Chinese Characters

A few months back I had the opportunity to try out Shi Zi: A Primer of Chinese Characters. The website outlined the goal of the application, which are as follows:

"Most Chinese characters consist of components that represent physical things. This primer uses animations to teach 88 Chinese characters that are components in many other Chinese characters. Mastering these 88 characters will provide a foundation for Chinese language learners to quickly learn the other characters."

After completing all of the various Chinese Character sets, I thought it would be a good idea to give it a review. 

Positives about the application:

Firstly, the application has a really unique and Chinese feel to it. The layout is simple to follow and I loved the different 獎品 (jiǎngpǐn: prizes) that you receive for completing practice sets, it helps add that extra bit of encouragement when you get 100%.

The topics they selected are all really great as well. The mix of animals, locations, people, weather etc. provide a ride range of characters for people learning Chinese and a lot of background information on Chinese culture. With the exception of some of the animals, much of the vocabulary would be found within a first or second year Chinese language textbook. 

Unlike your basic flash card systems, Shi Zi incorporates animations and pictures to help students memorize the characters. For those of use who are more visual learners this is a huge bonus. Trying the animation and pictures to the character, making them easier to recall the next time you see them. An example of 日 (rì: a day; the sun; date) can be seen below. 

A huge plus to this application is the the ability to record your own voice and play it back while studying. Although I didn't use the option very often, I think that other learners who are still new to Chinese pronunciation will find this component very useful. I did notice that when using the record function my voice came in a lot softer than I expected, but turning the volume up a little louder and speaking louder were easy enough fixes. 

The program allows students to choose Chinese or English as an audio background. When I used the application I had the audio set to Chinese the entire time. However, I noticed that the background information on the Chinese character was still in English. If they changed the background info to Chinese it might give those more advanced (or super curious students) even more opportunity to study some of the vocabulary and sentence patterns being used.

The negatives (or things I would personally change):

I did find that after spending more than 20 minutes reviewing I was a little sick of hearing the women end many of the explanations by asking if you can still see the similarities between the traditional character and what is used today in modern China. I know that it is a set pattern, but it sure got annoying. 

One thing that I did want at the end was the ability to study all the words together, or in larger blocks. By taking the characters and putting them all together it gives a better test of how much the student has learned overall. Also, I think it would be nice to have the names of the prizes in Chinese as well as in English. Again, this allows students to learn even more material than being presented if they wish too.

I did like the fact that the application made use of both listening and visual aids to select characters. This is certainly an application designed for students with a basic understand of Chinese, or those who are looking to get a solid start. Compared to many of the other applications out there in this price range I would say that it is well worth $1.99. Even though I have been studying Chinese for quite a while, I still felt that this was a useful learning tool.


Usability: 5/5
Design: 4/5
Subject Matter: 4/5
Reusability: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Choose your own adventure.

With the growing rise of technology, information is growing easier to come by. You don't need much more than an iPod and a Wi-Fi connection to learn about the best tourist destinations and the easiest ways to get there. I would bet that there is a strong correlation between the ease of information access, and the amount of tourists who are venturing out into unknown lands. They arm themselves with nothing but a few survival phrases and their favorite travel guide (in PDF form of course).  And while this is great, especially for the businesses that reap the benefits of guide book recommendations, I think that it is taking some of the fun and excitement out of figuring things out on your own.

I recently had such an experience, which prompted this post. As I was traveling around Kunming, in lovely Yunnan, China. A friend I had met in the hostel and I decided to check out Qiongzhu Temple, a site highly recommended by the guide books. It was easy to get to, we thought, and would make for a perfect first day trip in Kunming. After stuffing ourselves on some of the local treats we headed out in search of a cab. The guide book assured us that a cab ride would be about 30 minutes and roughly 45 kuai (about 7 USD).

When we finally managed to hail down a cab, I asked the driver if he could take us out to the temple. And although he was willing to get us to the right spot, he wanted 150 kuai... one-way. I'm not generally stingy, but when we are talking about paying three times more than the guide book says, I know when to politely get back out of the cab.

Rather than get ourselves down, we decided to make a change of plans. We picked up a map of the city and got ourselves oriented to our current location. We did it old school, not by using GPS and Google Maps, but by getting our bearings with street signs and local landmarks. We decided to fly by the seat of our pants and ask the locals what was worth checking out. They recommended we check out the East and West Pagodas, built in the Tang Dynasty. From there it was off to Jinma Biji Square, which to our surprise was only a short hike away.

Checking another spot off the list as we toured Kunming by foot. 

From Jinma Biji Square we found a local bus and headed to southern Kunming to check out the Yunnan Ethnic villages. While it was a little touristy, okay it was super touristy, our 1 kuai bus ride was the perfect way to get a taste for the entire city. After heading back to city square we were off on foot again, wandering back alleys in search of Cuihu Lake, a park located in the city center. Along the way, our impromptu foot tour brought us upon some cultural propaganda, in the form of wall paintings, about creating a more civilized Kunming. Without the Government's help I would have never known that walking across the street while reading a book is dangerous.

Getting from place to place wasn't as easy as checking out the guide book or calling a cab, but the sense of accomplishment we got at every stop is hard to beat. If we got lost, we stopped and asked for directions, putting our Chinese listening and speaking skills to test. Most importantly I got the feeling that I was exploring areas of Kunming that few foreigners usually venture to. As cliché as it sounds, it really became more about the journey, rather than the destination. 

A random wall painting we found during our walking tour.

For anyone who is actually interested in learning a language, and the culture that surrounds and shapes it, taking the time to figure things for ourselves is a lesson that we too often ignore. It is important to remember that it is okay to make mistakes while speaking a foreign language, we can use these experiences as an important learning tools. Also, we aren't going to understand everything that is going on around us... that's okay. Learning to pay attention to body language and context allows you to figure things out on your own, rather than turing to the dictionary for every unknown word.

Sometimes, it is best to put the guide book and dictionary away and see where the wind blows you; sometimes we simply have to choose our own adventure.

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