Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 039: Caleb Shetland

In this episode, I interview Caleb Shetland, an American now working in Taipei as a firmware engineer.

Listen to find out:

– His experience learning Chinese at a US college
– What approach he wishes he had used instead, to learn characters
– When he realized that learning Mandarin would be useful for his engineering career
– How he thinks Mandarin compares in difficulty versus other languages
– His experience traveling overseas for the first time to Beijing
– His experience as a foreign student at a Chinese campus
– His struggle trying to find a job as an expat engineer in Taiwan
– His initial experience working in an office environment in Taiwan
– What it was like being the only foreigner in a large multi-national company
– The benefit of being a foreign engineer in Taiwan
– The demand for expats in the local tech industry
– The importance of co-ops and internships

Guided Plan and Level Certification

We have added a couple of new options to the pricing page.

New users now have the option of choosing between the existing Premium Online plan, or the new Guided Plan.


In addition to all the features from the regular online plan, the guided plan also provides an assignment for each lesson. This usually requires you to record yourself answering a question related to the lesson. If you require additional or customized vocabulary not taught in the lesson, you can ask the teacher who will provide an answer within 1 business day.

The guided plan also includes a level certification test for levels 1, 2 and 3. This consists of two parts. Part 1 is a timed online vocabulary test to see if you can identify vocabulary taught from lessons in your selected level. If you pass this test (80% or higher score), you then qualify for an online Skype test with one of our teachers.

We have prepared a set of questions for each of levels 1, 2 and 3. If the teacher is satisfied with your answers (passing score of 80% or higher) then you receive your certificate, which can be printed out.

Existing users can only purchase level certification tests for levels 1, 2 and 3. In the coming days, we will also add level certification options to the redeem credits program.


Changes to Course Outline Page

I recently made a couple of small changes to the Course Outline page.

The “Complete” links have been renamed as “Transcript” and have moved to the front of every lesson. I feel “Transcript” is a more descriptive label than “Complete” and moving it to the front better reflects the progression that most users make with the lessons: Start with the lesson, while following along with the transcript, then move to the Vocabulary page, followed by the Activity and other pages that follow.

Hope that makes sense and doesn’t cause too much disruption in your lesson navigation.


Pleco Flashcards Support for iOS

One feature that many users have asked for, is the ability to export flashcards to Pleco, the popular dictionary app.

This could always be done of course through the Export page. However this required multiple steps.

I’m happy to announce that if you’re using an iOS device (iPhone or iPad), then head on over to the flashcard page and select the lesson range you want.

You’ll now notice a new button at the bottom called “Export to Pleco”.

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Clicking on this will directly open the Pleco app (assuming you have it installed already). After a few seconds, you should see a message like this:

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You’ll now have a list of CLO lessons inside Pleco that you can choose from.

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Inside each lesson is the vocabulary, that you can then use to create your own flashcard lists inside Pleco.

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Hope this is useful for you.

At the moment, Pleco says this function only works on iOS devices. We can add Android support when they do.

New Design

If you haven’t noticed, the entire site has been recently updated with a brand new design.

It was a bit of a rocky start at first, with lots of small features not working.

Most have now been fixed though, and early reviews seem to be good.

The biggest benefit of the new site is that it is completely mobile optimized. Most activities should work on your phone or tablet.

The only thing that doesn’t work on phones / tablets are tools for recording your voice, such as Test your Pronunciation and the ability to record voice responses to exercises. These can be done from the desktop / laptop version however.

Other improvements include:

  • Design improvements to the flashcards and word bank pages.
  • New progress bar that shows up on the Course Outline page for each level. Complete all the activities in each level to reach 100%Progress
  • Persistent audio player and mode switch on the Complete transcript page let you pause the audio and switch between characters, from anywhere on the page.Playback

Please send me feedback on things you like or don’t like about this new design, as it’s an evolving process.

CLO App for Android

Well it took some time, but it’s finally here. The new CLO App for Android has been released on the Google Play store.

Like the iOS version, the Android version comes with the first 3 lessons for free. You can then purchase lesson content for levels 1 and 2 into the app.

These include the lesson audio, transcripts, flashcards and new character animations.

CLO Android

Try it out and let me know what you think.

Now that the Android version is released, I’ll be able to get back to making improvements to both apps, including content for later levels.

Thank you for your patience!

New Progress Page

I have added a new home page for subscribers to measure their progress.

Once logged in, click on the CLO logo on the top left of the page to be taken to this new page. It is a modified version of the current course outline page. It will look something like this:

CLO Progress

On the left, is a new navigation bar, to let you switch between levels.

On the top is your current lesson level. This is based on your score from the level test. I encourage you to take this test often, to measure your progress.

Next, we have the name of each lesson in the current level, along with color coded activity icons. Activities you have started, are colored orange, while completed ones turn to green. Obviously the goal is to complete as many of the activities as possible, so that you have green icons across.

Hopefully you find this page useful in your learning. If not, let me know what I can do to improve it.

New Flashcards

The flashcard page on the site has been updated with a new format.

The old format was quite outdated, requiring Java and not being mobile friendly. The new version should work fine on mobile browsers – both desktop and mobile, without requiring any additional software to be downloaded. It uses a similar format to the level test that was added recently.

Additional modes and options will be added to this page in time, so keep sending me your feedback.

When you first go to the page, you will see a settings page:

CLO Flashcards Options

Lesson Range: You can choose to test yourself on a single lesson, or you may select an entire lesson range. Your previously selected lesson range will be shown here. As you change the lesson range, the number of questions in the test will be updated at the bottom of the screen, above the Start button.

Test: You can choose to test individual characters, all vocabulary and sentences as well.

Mode: Choose between testing pinyin (if you’re not studying characters), simplified or traditional characters.

Question Mode: If you want to test your listening skills, choose listening. If you want to test your reading skills, choose Visual.

Test Definition: If you select this option, then each question will have two parts – one testing your recognition of the Chinese, and another asking you to select its English definition.

When you are ready to begin the test, press Start.

CLO Flashcard Test

If you have chosen Listening mode, you will hear a word and will be asked to type in the pinyin for it. If you have chosen visual mode, you will be shown the characters and will be asked to type it below. Type in the pinyin for the characters, and select the characters that match the question.

CLO Flashcard Test

If you enter an incorrect answer, the correct answer will be shown on screen for you.

CLO Flashcard Test

If you have chosen to test definitions as well, then you will be asked to choose the correct definition, after you typed in the correct pinyin.

Try it out and let me know what you think.

CLO Level Test

As I wrote about recently, the CLO Level Test is now ready for trial. Anyone can try it, even without an account.

To begin, choose your mode.

Choose Mode

If you haven’t learned characters yet, then start with pinyin. You will hear a word being played. Type out what you hear with the tone numbers, then press Enter.

You can press the Play button to repeat the word you hear.
Pinyin Test

If you type out the pinyin correctly, it will then ask you to choose the correct meaning of the word you just heard.

Select Meaning

After selecting the correct meaning, you will be taken to the next question.

The simplified and traditional versions of the test work in a similar manner, but ask you to type out the character that you see on screen. You can use the built in pinyin IME (input method editor) to do so, so there is no need to install a Chinese keyboard on your computer / device, if it doesn’t have one already. Choose the correct Chinese characters from the suggestions given. You can press Space to select the first one, or type the number of the selection you want.

There are 20 questions in total. As you answer correctly, the questions will become more difficult, as it selects questions from more advanced lessons. If you answer incorrectly, then the questions will become easier, as they are chosen from earlier lessons.

At the end of the 20 questions, you will be assessed a lesson score.

If you are logged in, your results will be saved in your member page. Future tests will continue where you left off, so you can try to raise your score from there.

If you are not logged in, you can register for a free account, which also gives you access to 10 demo lessons.

Let me know what you think, and if you find this test helpful!

What’s New

Some have wondered what I have been up to behind the scenes at CLO. We stopped creating new course material sometime back as so few people had made it all the way to the end of level 7. Instead I focused on tools to improve the current site and look for more tools to take users to level 7 quicker. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing:

1. Better signs of progress.

The main feature of CLO is that it’s progressive. The lessons get more difficult as Chinese that was taught earlier is reused. So how do you track this progress?

Each lesson has various activities assigned to it, that test your vocabulary, grammar, typing and character recognition skills. A good way to make sure you’re keeping up is to complete the activities after listening to each lesson. I’ve now made it easier to show you what lesson activities you have completed from the Course Outline page.

CLO Progress

I continue to look for ways to enhance the current feature set, so if you have any other ideas for improvements do let me know in the comments below.

2. CLO Test

One question that many users who have already studied some Chinese before starting CLO is “What is my current level?”. In the past, the answer was to go through the Course Outline pages and look at the vocabulary taught in each lesson, until you come across a lesson with a word you didn’t know. Then start there.

In the coming weeks, I hope to offer a better solution in the form of a 20 question test that anyone can take. Your answers will then place you at an approximate CLO lesson number (anywhere from 1 to 420).

This is also a good way to test your progress through the course. More details will be made available shortly, when this test is ready.

3. Learning Insights

I’ve recently started adding more articles to the Learning Insights blog. While some topics pertain to maximizing the benefits from CLO, others are also related to learning outside of CLO and even a new cartoon series that I hope to expand, if there is demand. Take a look, and keep sending me feedback.

4. Updated CLO app

The CLO iPhone app has been updated with a new look to match iOS7. An Android version is currently being worked on. And yes more level content will be added over the next few months.

5. Read Type Chinese

I am currently working on a new online course that will be sold separately called Read Type Chinese. The focus on this course will be on reading characters and being able to type them out. I actually began the original version a few years ago, but went through a few different models before settling on the current model, which uses similar lessons to CLO, but using a more interactive format.

The sequence of words and characters taught is purposely different from CLO, and instead follows the HSK character and word list. This way there is less overlap between CLO and RTC.

Level 1 (around 30 lessons) has been posted, which matches Level 1 of HSK. Level 2 lessons will be begin being posted in the next few weeks.

You can signup for a free account to try out the first 10 lessons of the course, to see what you think. Here are some frequently asked questions about the new site.

Download CLO Lessons Directly into iTunes

If you have purchased a CLO lessons download (or a level download) and want to import the lessons directly into iTunes, you can follow the instructions given below.

1. Make sure you are running the latest version of iTunes. The instructions given below are for version 11. If you have a different version of iTunes that you would like instructions for, then please contact us.
2. Take a look and see if you have a menu showing on the top left. If not, click the little image with a down arrow on the top left, and select “Show Menu Bar” from the drop down options that will show.
iTunes 1
3. You should now see a new menu on top.

4. Click on the File menu and select “Subscribe to Podcast”. A new popup window should show. Enter https://www.chinesetrack.com/feed1 (you can substitute the last number for the level number (1 to 7) that you have purchased access to. Press Ok.

5. You will now be asked to login to your CLO account. Use your email address as your username, and then enter your CLO password. (Make sure that both the email address and password match the ones you use on CLO).

6. If you do so correctly, then a new album for the selected level should be created for you, with the latest lesson downloaded.

7. Look for a button in the top right that says “Old Episodes” and click that to view all the lessons in the level. Then click on the “Add All” button that shows to download all the lessons at once.

CLO Demo

New users to our website may notice a new link greeting you – our new demo page. The idea is to make it easy for new users to try out the different features of CLO by putting all the free demo lessons and resources in one area, with steps to guide you from one section to the next.

We’ve also added a chat box functionality on the bottom right – where you can speak to someone online or leave a message for us to respond to.

Happy New Year – hope 2013 is good to you!

Progress Avatars

If you have logged in to the new CLO site recently, you may have noticed new avatars showing for different users. There is a different avatar for each level, so this gives you an idea on what level (1 to 7) different users are. Of course, you’re free to put your own profile pic (as some users have) if you prefer.

New CLO Users

CLO App – Level 2

Well it took a while, but we finally added level 2 lessons to our CLO app. We also added a Restore button, to retrieve previous lessons that you may have deleted.

Read and Type in Chinese

I recently started a new site, based around the CLO material but with a focus on reading and typing in Chinese. The site is free at the moment – it just requires a Facebook login. The goal would be to eventually integrate it with CLO so that users can choose between focusing on listening (CLO) or reading and typing (RTC). Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Read and Type in Chinese

New CLO Facelift

We’ve been doing some retouch work on the new version of CLO, trying to make the activities look a little prettier. If anything doesn’t look the way it should though, let me know.

NewCLO Sentence Builder

More Pleco Support

Due to popular demand, I have added Pleco format to the export page on NewCLO (you will need to be a subscriber to access that page).

So you can now choose which lessons you want to export, what content from each lesson you would like (vocabulary, characters, supplemental vocabulary) and it will export it in a Pleco ready file.

If you would like the Pleco flashcard list for all 420 lessons on CLO, you can find that here.

CLO Words of the Day

We will be using our Facebook page and new Twitter account to send out words of the day (WOTD). Some days might have multiple words, while other days may not have any.

This way, vocabulary can be introduced to you in the context of what’s happening around the world these days. Here’s the first WOTD:
The Olympics: āoyùnhuì (奥运会 / 奧運會) taking place in Lúndūn (伦敦 / 倫敦).

If you find it useful, please subscribe to our Facebook page (if you haven’t done so already), or follow us on Twitter!

CLO Affiliates

It’s been a long time coming – many have asked if they could become affiliates for CLO. I’m proud to announce that we now have our own affiliate program. Now you can start earning money for promoting CLO!

Sign up and earn 50% of any sales you produce. Let me know if you have any questions about the program.

CLO on Udemy

I’ve posted the first four lessons of CLO on the Udemy site. The lesson audio and transcripts have been combined into a video so you can listen to the audio while reading the transcript. If people are interested in this format, I could offer the first level or two of CLO on the Udemy site.

CLO YouTube Channel

I’m happy to announce that CLO now has its own YouTube channel.

There are several videos there from various dialogues in the course. Here’s one of the early ones:

CLO iPhone / iPod Touch Version 1.21

Version 1.21 of our CLO app is now available for download. Changes include a couple of bug fixes:
– The audio now plays even when your device goes to sleep.
– Couple of MP3s from lesson 31 were not playing before. This should now be fixed.

CLO iPhone / iPod Touch Version 1.2

Version 1.2 of our CLO app is now available for download. Changes include more lessons (all of level one) and character stroke-order animations for new characters in each lesson. The videos that we included in the original version will be replaced with characters for future versions. Enjoy!

New Changes

We will be making some changes to the theme / look of the main CLO site, as well as revamping the signup / login process. You may have noticed that the site now requires you to sign in with your email address, rather than your username. We plan to phase out the use of usernames to make the signup / login process easier. If you notice any issues come up in the process, do let me know.

New CLO Website

I’m happy to announced the general release of the new version of the CLO site for all premium subscribers at www.newclo.com.

As the format on the old site is quite different from the new one, I’ll keep both online for the time being, so users can choose which one they like better, as all premium subscribers will have access to both sites.

If you’re not a premium subscriber yet, you can try a demo of the new site here.

Some of the main differences include:

1. More emphasis on progress. Results from activities you have completed will be saved, so you can mark your progress and see what lesson you left off at.
2. When playing audio, you can now activate a lesson bar that stays on screen at all times. This way you can pause the audio without losing your place on the transcript.
3. Separate text size options that don’t affect the rest of your browser.
4. Additional activities such as Dialogue A/B patterns to practice and record dialogues.
5. Ability to tag lessons, so you can easily find related lessons.
6. Ability to link your account with Facebook, so you can login easily. At the moment we don’t post anything to your Facebook wall, although we could add such a feature in the future, if you wanted to share your progress with friends.

7. Since we stopped creating new lessons, one of my goals was to give users more tools to add their own content from other sources. You now have the ability to import articles and feeds from other sources. These can either be private or shared with others. Why would you want to do this?

8. You can use the integrated dictionary on the left sidebar to look up new words that may not have been taught in our course (since they are from your own content).
9. You can save new words into your own vocabulary section, and then use the site’s flashcard tools to practice them.

We also have our own internal rating system to highlight the top users on the site (you can see this on the main page when you login). Later, we might add bonus features for top ranked users.

If you’re not a premium subscriber yet, you’re welcome to create free account or login with your Facebook credentials to try out the first four lessons for free. I’ve been working on this project for a long time, and I thank the many subscribers who have provided me with valuable feedback along the way. Please continue to send me whatever feedback you have, as I expect more improvements to be made in the future.

CLO iPhone / iPod Touch App Now Available

I’m happy to announce that the app version of our CLO course is now available for iPhone and iPod Touch users on the app store. You can download it for free, to try out the first 3 lessons of the course. Additional lessons can be purchased from inside the app.

This current version lets you purchase up to the first 20 lessons of our course. We will be adding more lessons as there is demand for them. Each lesson includes the following:

– Full audio of lesson with volume and scrub controls
– Complete transcript with Chinese characters
– Vocabulary quiz
– Vocabulary flashcards
– Video recap

There is full support for pinyin, simplified and traditional characters. Try it out and let me know what you think. We also plan an iPad version, that will be available as a free update in the future.

CLO 4th Anniversary

Today marks the 4 year anniversary of Learn Chinese Online. Although it may look like we have been dormant for the last little while with promised updates that haven’t come, there has been lots going on behind the scenes. Specifically, there are now 4 projects that I’m currently working on. Here is an update on all 4:

1. CLO iPhone app – the app was ready quite some time back, but we’ve run into all kinds of problems with the final feature that requires user to be able to download additional content onto it. I’m hoping it will be ready to submit to Apple by the end of this month – cross my fingers there. The first version will have the first 20 lessons of the course available. We will then add more lessons as there is demand.

2. New CLO website – the website is live and operational and all current members now have access to it (if you are a current subscriber and don’t, then please email me). There are still some details to be finalized before I’m ready to open it live to the public. There are a lot more resources on there both for subscribers and for free users. I’ll provide more details when that is ready.

3. Spanish website – I’m working on a Spanish version of CLO for Spanish speakers who want to learn Chinese. I’m hoping that this tool will be ready for launch by the end of this month. We will begin with the first 30 lessons of CLO, and then add additional lessons as there is demand.

4. New online Chinese course – I’m also working on a new online course that uses a very different approach from CLO. The content will be completely different and the progress will be more systematic. So while CLO will stay in its existing form as a self study course, this new course will use a more guided approach, with teachers who monitor your progress every step of the way. I’m hoping this site will be ready for launch before the end of the year.

CLO on Pleco

For those of you using the popular Pleco Flashcard software, I have released the entire vocabulary list for CLO for use on Pleco. You can find them here: CLO-Pleco.zip