Monday, July 26, 2010

Studying via PopupChinese.com

Until recently, I'd never used the internet to study Chinese. I've seen the light now, though.

In the past, I was all about Supermemo and other memory techniques for "burning" Chinese into my brain. Supermemo is very effective and I think that it's helped me a lot get to the intermediate-ish level of Chinese that I'm at. But Supermemo used as a primary method of learning a language lacks a lot. Focusing on vocabulary and reading instead of listening and speaking eventually caught up with me. I was to a point where I knew hundreds upon hundreds of characters but could have only the most basic of conversations.

Frustrated, I focused more on one-on-one classes and eventually really expanded myself with my Chinese. I got to a very conversational level of Chinese. Not incredibly proficient, but I could do a wide array of things with the language. Focusing on listening and speaking helped me tons.

Things were going great and I was making serious strides and then... Qian and I moved away from China to America. I stopped studying for several weeks after the move. Eventually, I got reinvigorated with Supermemo and studied pretty well for a while. I wasn't able to continue an any one-on-one classes though. And without the listening and speaking practice, the studying of characters tapered off after several weeks. I stopped Supermemo months ago.

People reading this who know my living situation must surely be thinking, "Mark, have lessons with your Chinese wife for God's sake!" Yes, Qian is Chinese. And add on to that that she is a Chinese teacher of all things! But it's not that simple. Qian and I talk some, but we've never been able to have a productive teacher/student relationship. I can't explain why, but it doesn't work. In lieu of formal classes, she and I have made efforts to move our conversations over to Chinese, but it, too, has had limited success. Again, I can't explain why. It just hasn't worked.

In more recent months, watching Chinese TV shows has been a good way for me to keep up a steady exposure to Chinese language. But watching TV with Qian is not necessarily a great way for me to learn anything. It's good for listening practice, but if I have any trouble she just explains things to me and I hardly ever write anything down or stop to focus on a certain grammar point. And I have plenty of trouble trying to watch a Chinese TV with my Chinese level.

I've been at a a crossroads in recent months. I still have desire to learn Chinese, but have been frustrated with studying via textbook/Supermemo, watching Chinese TV, and annoying Qian about speaking Chinese. All the while, I've certainly been forgetting a lot of what I'd learned over the past few years by not using any of it in the US of A.

Everything changed for the better for me recently, though. I found popupchinese.com.

After listening to another excellent Sinica podcast hosted by popupchinese.com a few weeks ago, I actually checked out the rest of the site. I found a vast library of podcasts/language lessons for learning Chinese. The lessons ranged from absolute beginner to a level that I'm sure I'll never ever achieve. I was captivated by the high-quality and free content given to anyone who cares to download it.

The best thing about popupchinese is that the lessons are hilarious and twisted on top of being relevant. The host of most of the podcasts, Brendan, has a unique sense of humor. The lessons are consistently full of win. Some of my favorite lessons recent lessons are as follows:
- A father telling his daughter that her childhood has been a sham and that her mother and brother are not her biological family members.
- A father cooking his son's pet rabbit.
- And an honest cabbie telling a foreigner how terrible his Chinese is.
The Popup lessons, both the dialogs and the explanations by the teachers, Brendan and Echo, are entertaining and the language in them is very useful. So basically the opposite of using the conventional textbooks that have guided my first couple years of studying Chinese.

I'm finding the elementary lessons to be great review and the intermediate lessons full of new information. I have a notebook for new grammar structures, vocab, etc. and am trying to listen for a few minutes a day.

I recommend anyone interested in learning Chinese to go check out the site. The lessons start at the most basic of basic. You can listen to any of the lessons for free. If you really like the site, you can sign up for membership at really quite reasonable rates. I haven't decided whether I'm going to sign up for membership. Seeing that I haven't given them a dime yet and I really like what they're doing, I figured the least I could do is to try direct some traffic their way from my little blog.

We'll see whether I can continue on with Popup Chinese. For the moment, at least, it is helping me immensely in my life-long challenge that is learning Chinese more proficiently.

10 comments:

maxiewawa said...

Good luck in your study!

Hopfrog said...

I agree with you on Popup Chinese. I am getting ready to really buckle down and tackle Mandarin and have been going over all the different methods and materials out there and narrowing them down to a shortlist of what will be the most beneficial.

So far in my limited studies I rank Popup pretty high. Popup does a great job at expanding conversational level as you point out. I have gone over hundreds of conversations in other programs that repeat the same "ordering in a restaraunt" type conversations again and again, so Popups offerings are rather fresh.

I also find Pleco to be an invaluable resource as a dictionary and an outstanding flashcard system with a supermemo/anki esque way of regurgitating the cards.

The Pimsleur CD's have been great, but lack depth. Rosetta Stone has been the biggest dissapointment and I can't believe they charge what they do for the program. Great vocab work, but limited potential.

So far though, I think the most effective method is one that you pointed out with credit to Ben Ross. Watching Chinese TV. It seems to provide the most exposure to natural conversations and keeps you engaged which is a huge part of language learning. Watching TV, with Pleco by my side, will probably be my main point of attack in tackling the language.

In tackling Mandarin it certainly helps to have a bag of tricks and as a beginning student I'll echo what you say here. Popup is a solid tool in the arsenal.

Harvey said...

Thanks! I just subscribed to the podcast today. It's just as good as ChinesePod.com from what I see so far. Thanks it will certainly supplement what I already to for my Mandarin studies!

- Harvey

Mark said...

@maxiewawa - Thank you!

@Hopfrog - I think everything you say makes sense. I agree that TV can be a good way to keep up with things. It's just that if Qian and I are watching it together, I'm never stopping it, writing things down, or really pushing myself. I just let her explain things to me. Saying that, watching all these shows has been awesome for me.

@Harvey - I've checked out Chinesepod a bit too. It seems fine. I guess the big difference is that they require you to pay for any aspect of their service whereas Popup Chinese offers free partial lessons. That makes Popup really attractive.

I suppose the most important thing for all of us is to 努力学习!

trevelyan said...

Thanks a lot for the great review, Mark -- Richard at Peking Duck tipped us off about it.

A lot of the things we're trying with Popup Chinese are responses to the experiences Brendan and I had learning Chinese ourselves - everyone shares the same frustrations with the more traditional institutional approaches to language learning. That said, PC is always a work in progress and negative feedback is as valuable as positive feedback so if you have suggestions on ways we can improve please let us know. Next up is better integration with mobile devices like flashcards, character writing software, etc.

Incidentally, if you like our more bizarre podcasts, this one is one of my personal favorites. Andy and Tiansen improvised the dialogue:

http://popupchinese.com/lessons/elementary/the-missing-plunger

Mark said...

Thanks for the heads up on that dialog, Travelyan. Very brown!! Certainly can't find anything like that other places!

Honestly, I can't really complain about anything with your site. The free content that you've put out is awesome.

I suppose it'd be nice if users could sign up for membership without committing to a year. Although a year's membership, at the basic rate of $50, is very reasonable. So the year commitment really isn't that big of a deal.

You guys are smart to have the Sinica podcasts hosted on your site. I'm listening to all of those. It's through those that I found out about the language lessons.

Just keep producing high-quality lessons and building up your archives. You guys are going to force me to sign up before too long!

Brendan said...

Thanks for the very kind review, Mark -- the only time I've ever been described as "full of win" before was by myself.

I'm glad you're digging the lessons. As Dave said above, we're trying to make Popup Chinese the sort of resource that we wish we'd had when we were studying Chinese. I don't know that I necessarily felt the absence of the "Missing Plunger" lesson that Dave linked to (boy, does he ever like that lesson), but for the most part I like to think that we're coming up with lessons that thinking people can listen to without wanting to put their thumbs through their eyes. And yeah - Kaiser's doing a great job with the Sinica podcasts.

Cheers!

Richard said...

Just listened to the plunger lesson (don't know how I missed it). Definitely full of memorable imagery.

Mark said...

@Brendan - I don't just throw around the words "full of win." Your podcasts are very deserving of the description.

I appreciate you, Dave, and everyone else at the site sharing your knowledge with the masses. I'm envious of your guys' Chinese skillz. Your grammar points, funny stories, and vocab tricks are resonating with me.

And adding humor to what you're doing is just the icing on the cake.

@Richard - I agree! My Mrs. was pretty grossed out when I played that for her. At first, she didn't really like the Popup Chinese lessons. But they're growing on her. She's no longer holding back her laughs. She's now just letting them flow out.

Vivian said...

Very interesting review! I'm Chinese married to an American, I had never been able to teach him any Chinese either.