About two months ago, I decided I should use the time before Baby Boy arrives a bit more productively. After all, I’ll probably never be this relaxed and well-rested again. =)
One of my goals was to learn some Mandarin. It’s been over ten years since I took a semester of basic Mandarin in college, and frankly not that much stuck with me.
So I decided I’d check out the different options. I limited my search to something I could do from home, because let’s be honest, I’m not going to waddle out of the house to go to classes. And a lot of teachers just suck. (I learned that lesson trying to study Tagalog, what a waste.)
Here’s my roundup of the major options:
Rosetta Stone: SUCKS. Their marketing may be everywhere, and their IPO was a big success, but at least for Mandarin, their software doesn’t cut it. I tried the software for a couple of days a few years ago. They don’t have any English-language explanation of grammar or word derivation, you’re just supposed to work everything out as they show you phrases and have you pick which pictures apply. That’s fine for basic vocabulary (listen to the word, then click on one of the four pictures until you get it right), but concepts are not going to work unless you’re (a) a small child and still wired to learn this way, or (b) if the grammar and vocabulary are very similar to English. For adults learning Chinese, this approach just doesn’t work. $494 from Amazon. No way.
Michel Thomas: MAYBE. I love Michel Thomas’ method of instruction which has plenty of explanations from a teacher and two “fellow students” who give you lots of practice. (I’ve tried it in Spanish and liked it.) The down-side is that it’s audio-only, and especially with tones in Mandarin, I think I need to see the words written in pinyin, complete with tones, to remember them. Eight CDs for just $50 from Amazon, so maybe I’ll get this later on.
ChinesePod: NOT BAD. Downloadable free podcasts, plus accompanying materials online. You pay for written transcripts, and one-on-one instruction. Overall, seems pretty good. But I found that the podcasts had a lot of padding for the amount of stuff you learn. The side conversations between the instructors are cute and fun, but kind of a waste of my time. I also didn’t like that the vocabulary didn’t explicitly build and rehearse from one lesson to the next. I may return to ChinesePod later, when I need something I can listen to on my iPod, or when I want to hire an instructor.
Fluenz Mandarin 1+2: GOOD! I was pretty excited to find this start-up. Really good, comprehensive software. They focus on the spoken language, sticking to the pinyin Romanization – no characters – and a limited but highly useful vocabulary. I love that. There are clear English-language explanations, and the lessons include tons of different exercises (listen, repeat, read, write, match, etc.) that do a good job of reinforcing vocabulary and grammar, and each lesson builds on the preceding ones so that you don’t forget stuff. Not cheap, $323 from Amazon, but that’s OK. Slightly cheaper than Rosetta Stone, and it doesn’t suck.
In later posts, I’ll talk more about my adventures with Fluenz.