Monday, May 15, 2006

Pimsleur (my view)

I managed to aquire the Pimsleur Mandarin courses to play with for a while, this is what I think of them.

I have been searching for other Mandarin learners locally (posting on company noticeboard etc.) and found none but turned up a number of interesting responses. Chats to people who have been to China, someone with a Taiwanease wife (he is not interested in learning though), references for a couple of local tutors (which I haven't followed up yet), a bunch of useless books and the Pimsleur Mandarin course (eventually they will want to sell it but I have plenty of time to play). What was surprising was the number of people who had started Mandarin but given up. I took the opportunity to plug Chinesepod and maybe a couple will restart?

First things first Pimsleur is expensive, there are various deals around but it looks like hundreds of pounds for the full whack. They also promise to have you speaking Mandarin in 10 days or your money back. I can have you speaking Mandarin in 10mins! repeat after me "ni3hao3". I think I see a catch 22 here
client: "can I have a refund my Mandarin sucks, I can't speak it"
pimsluer: "bu4 hui4"
client: "but you said I could have a refund"
pimsluer: "ahh you understood me then? click........"

Despite these reservations I have to say though that I am finding the Pimsleur quite useful, I have completed the first five lessons and the vocabuary is very basic so far but is starting to build up surprisingly fast, I am also getting benefit from their use of alternative words and Beijing pronounciation. Lucky for me one lesson just fits into one of my car journeys, I can shout out the Mandarin without feeling silly.

I think the Pimsleur will help with my speaking, you are encouraged to create new sentances so it is not all repetative. I really do need to excercise my Mandarin voice to let out all the vocabuary I am absorbing from Chinesepod. At the moment Pimsleur is fulfilling an important role but a I am still listening to plenty of podcasts too.

In the long run is Pimsluer worth the money? Hmmmm... probably depends on what type of learner you are and how much money you have. It can get a little boring and I would definitely recommend supplementing learning from other places. Bear in mind that there is already a lot of audio material at Chinesepod and it is growing all the time so I am sure that the lion's share of my words will come from there. Also consider that Pimsleur is speak and listen only and you get that bit free at Chinesepod. I do question the Pimsleur strategy here. Even if you don't want to learn Chinese characters, for me the pinyin input is vital. I wonder whether Chinesepod could release some podcasts in a slightly different style for speech drilling? there have already been some moves in this direction in my own remixes and the remixes of others.

If you do follow Pimsleur then I recommend you get a transcript, for example this one. I am also starting to build up sets of flashcards at flashcardexchange to go with the Pimsleur lessons.

Friday, May 05, 2006

More flashcard info.

Just a quick update on my strategy for social Flashcards. If you are doing or will be doing the elementary podcasts on Chinesepod these may help eventually.

A very quick update on the flash card situation. I am working through the Chinesepod elementary lessons at the moment and after a little experimentation have decided to make a flashcard set for each lesson on Flashcardexchange.

There are only three there at the moment and progress may be a little slow but progress will be made. Also apologies for the random order but I tend to do the shows in my own order now.

The link to my flash cards is also in the links box on the righthand side of this page. Any comments, corrections or suggestions for improvements will be gratefully received. I have also posted on the chinesepod forum as I am interested to see whether others are as enthusiastic about social flashcards.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Let me flash you (flashcardexchange and ZDT)

I have been messing around with flash cards trying to work out how best to use them and what I might gain from them. There seems to be a few solutions out there, both electronic and paper. I have decided to stick to opensource software and the web community approach for my flash card use.

Okay I knew what flash cards were, but had never used them for any kind of revision that I had done in the past. They do seem to be used a lot by language students, particularly oriental languages. I have been increasingly trying to find something with which to aquire an initial, casual reading knowledge of some of the characters and flash cards seem to be the obvious solution.

I briefly toyed with paper versions and printed some out, I am sure that these whether bought or homemade would be useful to many people but I tend to do most of my learning in front of a computer and quickly lost interest. I binned the paper flash cards after handing what was left of my attention span to a passing gnat. If only I had printed them on absorbant material, I would have had some extra toilet paper.

Now I went searching for an electronic version and I am afraid that if you are looking for a impartial review I failed you miserably. Like a small child I went straight for the bright shiny thing. After fiddling around with a couple of interesting but monolithic one-man band pieces of software that had gone out of their way not to look like a standard application, I thought what would I do if I wanted to write a flashcard program? I would base it on Eclipse an existing integrated development environment for programming languages. Eclipse is highly extendable and supports plugins in such a way that you can basically build your own Java applications out of it.

I am increasingly using Java at work and technically could do this, but I want to spend time on the Mandarin learning curve at the moment not the programming learning curve. A quick visit to sourceforge and I discovered that someone else had already done it. Let me introduce you to ZDT or (Zhongwen Development Tool). This software contains a flash card system, dictionary and annotator. I won't try to describe it fully here (a waste of time, just visit the link) but I have found it effective enough for my early flash card dabblings.

The key that makes Eclipse a bright and shiny thing in my eyes is its opensource nature and the fact that I know it is about as easy as anything could ever be for me to add my own features if I ever want to. If enough programmers who are learning Mandarin get interested in this project it will be huge one day.

That would have been the end of the story but a guy called Matt(a certain kind of monkey) posted about here. One visit and fifteen minutes later I was hooked. If this idea of sets of community flash cards doesn't make sense to you then please visit the site and spend a few minutes thinking about it. As a hint here are my humble beginnings based on a couple of the Chinesepod elementary lessons. I can use them on any computer I wish and so can you. I will be slowly increasing the collection of Chinespod lesson based sets (although in my order so seemingly random addition to you).

I am still using ZDT as well as it is more Chinese specific and I would like to extend it sometime. I may even write a tool to take my ZDT flash sets and post them on flashcardexchange (if I can overcome the inertia and find that damn gnat to give me back my attention span).