Hanbridge Mandarin Review

The nice folks over at Hanbridge Mandarin reached out to me in order to provide me with a free-trial of their online Skype school.  In the following review I will give an honest run-down of my first impressions and my experience.

Initial Impressions:

Hanbridge is a mandarin school based out of Shenzhen, I first learned about them when I was approached by one of their staff through facebook about receiving a free trial lesson in exchange for reviewing their service.  Their staff are very prompt and focused and gave me a good overall first impression of their services.

Having previously worked for a Skype teacher portal where I had to handle freelance Skype teachers, my impressions of online Skype schools were that they were a cost offering and that in order to preserve margins, they would skimp on service and customer satisfaction.

This was not the case.  Hanbridge staff were very intent on making sure that my experience was a good one and took great care to arrange appropriate material prior to my trial lesson.

So without further adieu, I will dig into the nuts and bolts of Hanbridge and their Mandarin classes.

I will segment this review into three sections –

  • Before the lesson
  • During the lesson
  • After the lesson

Before the Lesson

Before I had my lesson, I took an assessment which helped the teachers assess my levels of Grammar, Vocabulary, and Listening.  I was impressed at the depth of technology, as I have seen similar online Skype schools provide online assessment that was not as thorough, and did not include listening.  I was able to complete this assessment by using my phone which was great because I was able to do it while sitting on the couch.  I was not expecting it to be mobile accessible, that was a nice surprise.

After I finished taking the self-assessment, the course consultant connected with me on Skype to chat briefly in Mandarin and to ask what I would like to cover in my trial lesson.  I requested business mandarin as I often speak with Clients in Mandarin and I wanted to learn some more useful phrases for doing business.  She arranged my lesson time and provided me with a link to the lesson session via email.

During the Lesson

Hanbridge Mandarin uses a customized version of Cisco Webex.  I was highly impressed with the usability of the software as well as the stability of the video and audio connection.  As I speak with many clients in China via Skype, I have had almost nothing but connection issues with VOIP.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

The lesson software itself is very easy to communicate with.  You are connected to your teacher via Video and you can communicate through chat as well as by drawing on the lesson powerpoints.  Here is an example of a class session:

The classroom contains a virtual whiteboard and a full set of communication features that make communication between the teacher and the student very easy.

At this point in the review you may be thinking… “the technology seems nice…but what about the teacher”.

Like any school, Hanbridge succeeds on the fact that its teachers are great.  The teacher that I had, Xia Xia (Forgive me if I’m forgetting your name!) was very pleasant and friendly, she was fully fluent in English and had a very versatile teaching method.

When I would make a mistake in grammar or pronunciation, she would make sure that she would correct me after I was finished with my sentence.  This encouraged me to speak more. She was also very helpful by giving me alternative examples and separate use cases so that I understood how to use the word or phrase that I was learning in many contexts.  I was very pleased with her level of proficiency as a teacher and her ability to manage the lesson, switching from friendly communication to instructive.

The course material was well laid out and custom created by the teachers.  It was functional and practical and it was not overly produced which I liked.

After the lesson:

After the lesson I was given the option to save all of my lessons notes, video, and presentation, which would be very useful for students who are taking regular lessons.  The staff were also careful to follow up with me to make sure that I had a good experience.

All in All, I can highly recommend Hanbridge Mandarin as an online school. The quality of their instruction and their focus on providing a good experience shows through at every step of the process.  You can tell that they are serious about expanding their business through a quality offering.

Score 9.5/10

Pros:

  •  Very easy to enroll, pay, and schedule lessons through their online system.
  • Software is easy to use, stable and helpful.
  • Teacher was fantastic.

Cons:

At $25 per lesson, it can be a bit pricey for the budget conscious language learner.  But in light of the quality, this is not unreasonable.  The market average is in this range.

Cool Games to learn Mandarin

Imagine if you could play a role playing game and by the end of it, you would be fluent in Chinese? Sounds stupid, right? Traditional logic states it is stupid and that Language Acquisition is something that should be hard, something that should be “earned”. In the eyes of most snooty academics, you shouldn’t be able to have fun and learn a language. ESPECIALLY not Mandarin Chinese, the “hardest” of the languages to learn. However, that is exactly what EnterZon promises,

EnterZon

EnterZon was created to fulfill the dream of teaching via a role playing game (RPG). An immersive Mandarin learning RPG, Enterzon is a comprehensive execution of a lofty concept. It plays just like Legend of Zelda with observable dialogues and a linear learning format that is based on situations. For example, the first lesson is about learning how to obtain your bags at the airport..It does a great job of giving learners reading and comprehension practice. But don’t take my word for it…

However, there is one problem and it is no longer publicly available. When I found this out after re-visiting the project a few months ago, I was devastated. I thought to myself… WHY ZON, why have you left me?!!!!

Apparently the exclusive distributor has stopped making it publicly available and will now be licensing it to academic programs. I also found out that you can still purchase a license to Zon, but you have to enquire directly. I am currently enquiring and will update this blog once I have heard back.

Regardless, tools like Zon beg the question, why haven’t games been utilized for Mandarin Learning on a broader scale?  Why are there no comprehensive learning solutions for Mandarin that are gamified? Duolingo has 100,000,000 users, but no Mandarin? What is going on?

The truth is, if you look hard enough, there are several options that can augment your Chinese study in a way that is compelling, but also gives a break from the daily grind of drilling vocabulary with flashcards.

Here are several games that can provide a gamified Chinese Learning Experience that are currently available, or on the verge of release:

Influent:

Originally created as a Japanese learning game, influent now has over 10 extra languages including Chinese.

As you can see from the video, influent is a compelling concept that is eye-catching, as a 3D immersive language learning game; it really is a field-leading product. As a language teaching tool however, it is limited in its ability. The game mostly works as a vocabulary builder, I would recommend it for learners that are just starting to learn Chinese from zero as it provides plenty of “a-ha!” moments, being able to learn words by exploring. Definitely a must get game though, just because of how different and cool it is.

MindSnacks Chinese:

Probably the best put together mobile game app for language learning, mindsnacks is just plain fun. It has gamified levels and a linear progression. It builds from simple vocabulary to complex sentences and it is all around just a great game to play. I can’t say much about its function or ability to teach conversation, but it’s a great alternative to flashcards. Where it fails is that there is not enough native review of previous concepts without you having to prompt it. It is very fun, almost fun enough to just be a stand-alone game, regardless of the Chinese learning content which sets it apart from similar applications like ChineseSkill and HelloChinese.

ChineseSkill:

Chinese Skill is also a linear learning product that has gamified mechanics and flashy graphics. A fun “gameplay” like learning method with its cute design, bright graphics, a friendly panda, and a very efficient learning path. Although not a game in the true sense of the word, it functions as a game in many aspects with picture matching and speech, as well as a Kanji building point and click interface. It has a very sleek design and I am excited to see what the future holds for it.

HelloChinese:

Although not a game, a very slick app much like hellochinese, it is the closest to being a “game”, along with HelloChinese that we have seen.

A very slick app, much like ChineseSkill, and in the same vain, an “almost game” that does a wonderful job of helping you learn the basics of Mandarin. One of the features that sets it apart from the other previously featured learning apps is the native way it teaches stroke order by allowing you to write characters through a stroke by stroke interactive format. However, ChineseSkill promotes a sort of click and drag interface that teaches you radicals. Overall, Hellochinese is earlier in its development cycle so time will tell what improvements both camps come up with.

Aside from the cutting edge technology to come out of these promising apps, there are also more analog solutions in development.

AiYa

The people making this game are a systems engineer, math teacher, and a Chinese teacher who are living in Guangzhou. The game is basically a set of character cards than can be used to play a series of different game types depending on the learner’s level. For beginning learners, they basically play go-fish to match vocabulary sets, whereas the more advanced learners form sentences and learn grammar patterns. The game is currently being re-designed and a newkickstarter will be launched towards the end of 2015.

In conclusion, it is a shame that more story-based immersive games has yet to be invented. However, with advancements in Virtual Reality technologies and mobile computing power, I am excited to see what the future holds for Mandarin learning in an increasingly globalized world. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have a tip on an upcoming project that you would like me to feature and review in a future article. I am always on the lookout for emerging ideas!

Songs to Improve Your Mandarin Chinese Accent

Everyone has that one friend, the one with the terrible Mandarin accent. They speak in a flat monotone, with no emotion and no respect to timing.  It’s as if they were bored and reading pinyin as if it was English.

Most of the time, secondary speakers of Mandarin just don’t understand how bad they actually sound to a native speaker. I think that this is due to several reasons, and can be helped.  Here are a few of the things that I think cause a bad Mandarin accent.

1) No one has ever mentioned that your accent is terrible.

Accents are often viewed as something that just can’t be helped, something that we are born with.  This perception is completely untrue.  If this were true, there would be no need for speech pathologists or diction coaches.  An accent is something that you can tweak and intentionally craft.  When most people speak a language they are not thinking actively about how to manipulate how they are sounding, they first imprint a sound and then focus on the output of the memorized sound. Accent training requires that we be more active in our output.  The view that it is something that can’t be helped does make a bit of sense because it is very hard to change the way we sound, however it is not impossible. So we should try our hardest to improve our accent.

2) You imprinted yourself with sound patterns that you self-developed without hearing them from a native.

The problem with learning from a book and not speaking to, or listening to natives, is that you will not be able to get a feel for where words begin and where they end.  Cadence and timing are just as important to sounding like a native as tones. If you’ve learned the wrong cadence and timing, it’s very hard to change that without having to think about each word.  If you are not including listening to native speakers and speaking with them in your learning routine and making it just as important as learning new vocabulary, you should listen to more Mandarin.

3) There is a “culture block”.

Some people just can’t bring themselves to make an effort to sound like a native.  They may try to imitate it with about 65% effort.  This lack of effort is because they fear that if they try their hardest to have an authentic accent, they will either fail, someone will think that they are mocking or they are “not being American”.  This is just my opinion but after speaking with people like this and asking why they don’t seem to try to have an authentic accent at all, they usually answer that they don’t want to be rude.  I have also seen that after being immersed in the language their accent does improve over time.  So I believe this is mostly a mental problem.

These are all reasons that Singing is a great way to improve your accent.

Singing helps you develop a natural timing and cadence, it gives you a feel for tones, and it`s a powerful memorization tool.

Don’t believe me? Let’s do an exercise: how many songs can you currently sing from memory in English? How many times has a song come on the radio and you were able to effortlessly sing along with it even though you had put no concentrated effort into learning it?

Human Beings have been using songs since songs were invented to pass down oral traditions of history and language. Also, most early stage language acquisition occurs through song with native speakers.

On top of that, it’s really fun, and singing along is an objective way to measure progress and set goals. Too often we get sidetracked with learning because we are unable to see any real progress and we get discouraged. Singing along with a song is something that you can rapidly see progression in, so it acts as a great motivator. Plus it`s really fun to perform in front of your native friends.

Below, I have included a list of Karaoke Songs that helped me when I was first learning. Please try to follow along with the pinyin and sing out loud, because not only is it fun, but you’ll notice in a few weeks that you won’t feel as tongue tied when learning new vocabulary:

曲婉婷 – 我的歌声里

那些年 – 胡夏

心跳 – 王力宏

愛我別走 – 張震嶽

HelloChinese App Review

HelloChinese Speech Audit Screenshot IMG_2648 IMG_2646 IMG_2645

My Friend Vera, who used to work at ChinesePod is now involved in the launch of a wonderful Chinese Learning App called HelloChinese. The app is designed by a talented team with a wealth of experience in Academic Chinese learning, and it looks like they have the design side down as well.

You can get the app for yourself at http://www.hellochinese.cc or at the following links.

Download HelloChinese for iPhone

Download HelloChinese for Android

HelloChinese is a great new learning app that simplifies the headache of automation learning that is Rosetta Stone.  Like any language learning tool, it’s not going to make you fluent.  But it will help you to get started off on the right foot and allow you to hear native speech patterns and get you in the habit of imitating them, which is something that I think is extremely necessary for early learners.

There are several things that sets this app apart.

1) Great design

2) Linear, Progressive format

3) Speech and writing recognition.

Pros:

Great Design –

The design is very simple to understand and looks pleasant.  They have stuck to the golden Keep it Simple rule and it has paid off marvelously. My only critique would be to make the settings button a bit more prominent and easy to find.

Linear Format –

Presented with a visual learning map, it is very easy to contextualize a learning goal and motivate yourself to keep going.  It may seem silly, but Candy Crush has used the same technique to the tune of over 100,000,000 users.  The logic behind this is that if you can visually see where you are going, you will keep going.  I am a huge fan of having lessons laid out in a linear format.  There is no guesswork of what I need to learn next, I just keep learning and I get taken to the next point on the map.  I think that restricting content in a linear format is the best way to learn it in an app.

Speech and Writing Recognition –

Powered by technology similar to Skritter, one of the great features of the HelloChinese.cc app is the quick and powerful way in which it teaches you to be able to write characters. This is important because it will help you to memorize the meaning and pronunciation of the vocabulary. I have Included screenshots of the features above.  In addition, there is a reliable speech recognition tool.  The speech recognition tool here is genius because of the powerful and high quality recording capability built into the iPhone, in the past, speech recognition has suffered due to poor sound cards on windows machines and their variable microphones.  The speech recognition this app actually works!

Too Long/Didn’t Read

This is a great app with great features and it will give you a good base in Chinese learning.

Pros – Great Design, Great Lesson Format, Powerful Speech / Writing Tools.

Cons – Some of the menus and features need to be tweaked and expanded on, several small bugs like not being able to turn off the speech training.  At this stage though, the app is early and all bugs have been reported and are currently being fixed.

Highly recommend!

Integrated Learning: Android Development and Learning Language – Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese

App Inventor
Screenshot of MIT App Inventor

Click here to get Cheap Online Japanese Lessons!

Click here for Cheap Chinese Lessons! $7.00 / week!

Want to make an android application? Want to learn a language at the same time?  Don’t know how to code? No Problem. You can develop Android applications, learn the basics of coding, and develop final products, WHILE LEARNING YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE. Read more below to find out how.

I am using the MIT App Inventor which you can get access to here: http://ai2.appinventor.mit.edu/, it comes with a point and click app designer, as well as a point and click coding interface and many video tutorials geared towards absolute beginners.  The Idea being that coding should be accessible to everyone, MIT has crafted an amazing tool that allows you to develop simple mobile applications that you can publish to the android store.

So how am I using this to learn language?

I am building an application that displays a random verse of scripture in English and Japanese with a vocabulary list that displays the kanji. You can see the beginnings of it in the screenshot above.

If you have ever seen the last lecture by the late carnegie mellon professor Randy Pausch, he speaks about “headfake” learning, the idea being that by taking the focus off of learning and participating in activities where the concepts of what you want to learn are used, you are able to learn much more efficiently.

I have noticed that using app inventor is so fun that I do not mind studying the vocabulary in order to build the application. It’s a twofer!

Setup is very simple, you just need to download a 99mb tool kit if you want to run an android emulator for the program that you are building and everything else is cloud based.  You retain rights for everything that you develop so you can publish the application later to the google play store and monetize it!

It’s a win win win.

Click here to get Cheap Online Japanese Lessons!
Click here for Cheap Chinese Lessons! $7.00 / week!

6 Quick and Dirty Chinese Words: How to talk about Flavors in Mandarin Chinese

Here is a quick and dirty list of words that you can use to talk about flavors in Mandarin Chinese, they won’t be poetic, but you’ll be able to express yourself clearer:

1. 苦 (adj)  – kǔ – Bitter

 一点苦的绿色蔬菜

yì diǎn kǔ de lǜsè shūcài
A bitter green vegetable

2. 辣 (adj) – là – Spicy

太辣了有点刺痛

tài là le yǒudiǎn cìtòng
so spicy that is smarts

3. 味道 (n) – wèidào – Taste

恶心的味道

ěxīn de wèidao
disgusting taste

4. 酸 (adj) – suān – Sour

酸柠檬

suān níngméng
sour lemons

5. 咸 (adj)- xián – Salty

咸土豆片

xián tǔdòupiàn
salty chips

6. 甜 (adj) – tián – Sweet

甜糕点

tiángāodiǎn
sweet pastry

How to talk about life events in Mandarin Chinese!

How to talk about Life Events in Mandarin.

Life is marked by several milestones, in this post we’re going to talk about major life events and how to talk about major life events in Mandarin Chinese.

Click here for Cheap Chinese Lessons! $7.00 / week!

LearnMandarin

出生 – Chu Sheng – To be born.  You can use this to describe where you were born or when you were born.  我是七月出生的 – Wo shi qi yue chu sheng de. – I was born in July.

LearnMandarin

毕业 – Bi ye – To graduate.  他的父母去参加了毕业典礼 – Ta de fu mu qu can jia le ta de bi ye dian li. –  Her parents went to her graduation ceremony.

LearnMandarin

工作 – Gong Zuo To work.  我的第一份工作是老师。  – wo de di yi fen gong zuo shi lao shi. –  My first  job was as a teacher.

LearnMandarin

订婚 – Ding HunTo get engaged.    我最好的朋友订婚了。 – Wo zui hao de peng you ding hun le.  – My best friend got engaged.

LearnMandarin

死 – SI – To die.  我不想死! – Wo bu xiang si! – I don’t want to die!

LearnMandarin

Click here for Cheap Chinese Lessons! $7.00 / week!

Easy Beginner Chinese: How to Introduce Yourself in Mandarin Chinese

Easy Beginner Chinese: How to Introduce Yourself in Mandarin

The first thing that most people learn when they learn a language is how to say hello.  Use this how to guide to learn a basic mandarin introduction. Click here to get more Chinese lessons!

nihao2

你好 - Ni3 Hao3 – Falling/Rising Tone x2

First, say the Mandarin word for hello.  This phrase literally translates to “You, Good” or “You, Well”.

nihao1

我叫(Your Name) – Wo3 Jiao4 – Falling/Rising + Falling Tone

Then say I am called , literally (I, called) and then your name.  The english equivalent would be my name is sam.

nihao3

我是 - Wo3 Shi4 – Falling/Rising + Falling Tone

Here is where we expand, this phrase means I am, and just like in english, you can add things to the end of it to add meaning.

An example would be, 我是中文学生。

Wo3 shi4 zhong1wen2 xue2sheng5.  – literally i am chinese language student.

nihao4

It’s that easy.  Say hello, tell people your name, and give them one fact about your identity!

For more Chinese Lessons Click HERE!

Useful Chinese Bargaining Phrases – 5 Steps: How to Haggle in Mandarin

Four useful Chinese Phrases (4)

Four Useful Chinese Bargaining Phrases + Tips on How to Haggle in Mandarin.`

我不要 – Wo3 bu4 yao4 – I don”t want it / I would not like it. (Useful to tell hawkers that you aren’t interested.)

多少钱 – Duo1 shao3 qian1 – How much is it? How much money? – Useful for asking price.

一点贵 – Yi1Dian3 Gui4 – A little bit expensive. Great for telling the seller that you think it’s too expensive and that you would like to suggest them to lower their price. Yi Dian softens it and tells them that you are willing to negotiate.

便宜点 – Pian2Yi2 Dian3 – A little bit cheaper? Basically you can say this to convince the seller that they should lower their price.

5 Step Easy Haggle –  Mainland Chinese hawkers will try to get as much as they possibly can from you.  Here are a few simple tips that will help you lower the price.

1) Ask them to state a price.  Once they name their price, immediately put it down and act embarrassed.

2) Once you put the item down, turn your body orientation away as if you”re uncomfortable and about to leave.

3) Tell them that you are embarassed (Bu4 hao3 yi4 si – 不好意思)

4) Begin to walk away.

5) They will chase you, reluctantly ask how much it is again.  If you like the price that they restate, take it, if not, restate your price and continue the cycle.

These phrases are a great way to learn useful vocabulary for when you are shopping in china, haggling with street vendors, or bargaining at a fake market!

To sign up for more FREE chinese lessons like this one click HERE!