On this page I will compile a bunch of goodies for you all that have proved useful, interesting and often indispensable in my language learning (with a focus on Chinese materials! This list will be updated as I come across new material.
1. The Contemporary Chinese textbooks, published by Sinolingua.
The series caters for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners and is used as the primary text in my University. The books are divided into lessons containing around 30 new words/phrases, which are used as the focus of the following two dialogs in every chapter. Also has grammar notes. The extra audio CD provides spoken version of the dialogues and oral exercises, and is of a very high quality. What I like about this series is that it covers a lot of ground and introduces new words and concepts incrementally. Highly recommended.
2. The Chinese Breeze graded-reader series.
These are fantastic! So great I named a blog after them ;). They are simple, entertaining stories that provide definitions for the more difficult words at the bottom of the page. They come in different levels, each level limiting the amount of different characters used (a full list is provided in the glossary at the back). I believe the first level uses only 300 characters, the second level 500, and the third 700. The included audio CD includes two spoken versions of the story, one recorded at a (very) slow speed, and one at a more normal speaking pace. A great resource for beginning – intermediate level learners.
Online Resources/Learning Systems
I am a huge fan of this website, and the man behind it, Steve Kaufmann. For those who don’t know, he is a former US Diplomat to Hong Kong and Japan and a very accomplished language learner. I think he speaks about 12 languages to date, of which, about 7 fluently. The website (a free subscription provides you to unlimited access to a wealth of material, consisting of audio and the written transcript) is based upon the input theory of language learning, a subject about which Steve has many YouTube videos (his username is lingosteve – click here). There are also optional paid services, which do add value, but are not necessary to benefit from the resource. A full review of the system by Benny the Irish Polyglot is available here. Note that the reviewer has a long-time beef with Steve.
- My Language Exchange
This and other language exchange websites provide an opportunity to chat with native speakers, through email, IM or voice. Generally you will be required to speak English with them too, as this is their incentive for helping you in the first place. For example, you might speak for an hour in English, then an hour in Chinese (for example). Note that these are almost always possible to be organized in person in your home city, too, as long as you don’t live in the middle of nowhere or something.
Although this is not technically a learning system, nor is language learning the main objective of this website, I have successfully used it to meet up with a number of people in my own city from Spain and Latin America to speak Spanish with. The advantage of this site is that some will not even be particularly interested in learning English, as the website caters for tourists needing a place to stay. ‘Do I have to let them sleep on my couch’ I hear you say? No! The great thing is you can search for people by language, and by what they want: either to stay at your place, or just meet up for a coffee and a chat. Perhaps in exchange for showing them around your city they would be willing to speak with you in their language. I have had good experiences with this site.
- Chinese Learn Online
- Slow Chinese
- LingQ Chinese Podcasts
Apps – Computer/iPhone/iPad
This is the ultimate Chinese learning app for iPhone and iPad. They should pay me for the amount of free advertising I give these guys. The app is a comprehensive dictionary, which allows you to download more dictionaries for more definitions. This means you could download a Chinese slang dictionary, for example, if you wish. The app itself is free, but comes with a number of optional paid add-ons at very reasonable prices. I, myself, have bought the Flashcard app (allows you to save words you’ve looked up for later review, with an inbuilt SRS) and handwriting input, meaning that you can scribble out a character you see on a sign somewhere and it will tell you what it means. Your handwriting can be terrible and it will still know which character you’re after. There is another add-on (which I haven’t as of yet bought) which allows you to use your inbuilt camera to take a photo of a character to look up.
I wasn’t sure whether to put this in this section or in the learning system ones, but it does have an app version for iPhone/iPad as well as the internet version, so I put it here. What is it? It is basically a system designed to teach you Chinese (and Japanese) characters, and is a paid service costing around 10 dollars a month, I believe. I actually get to use it for free as my University has a subscription, but I don’t really care for it. I know people that swear by it, though. Maybe I need to give it more of a proper go. For me, I learn characters better by just writing them out in a notebook, the old-fashioned way. Plus, Skritter places far too much emphasis on stroke order and figure/proportionality, in my view, and makes it feel quite robotic. Do let me know if I’m missing something. Definitely something I would recommend for people to try, at least. There is a free trial.
The mother of all SRSs (Spaced-Repetition Software). Available for computer, but it’s even better on iPhone/iPad (maybe Android too? Dunno, I’m an Apple kid, don’t hate me). Better yet, you can create your own flashcards easily, and sync them wirelessly between Anki on your computer and on your phone, for example. Don’t know what an SRS is? It’s basically a flashcard system that uses an algorithm to determine which card pops up and when, based on when your brain needs to review them to avoid forgetting them. I will post on these in the future. Check out the AJATT blog on the topic, too.