iPod Flashcards

I’m happy to announce that we now offer 2 flashcard solutions for iPod users:

1. Chinese Flashcards for iPhone and iPod Touch users

2. Our new flashcard sets for standard iPods and MP3 players with screens (see below):

The new sets can be purchased by level (60 lessons). Each set is available in simplified or traditional characters and features all the new vocabulary for that level. The sets currently available are:

Level 1 – 271 cards
Level 2 – 208 cards
Level 3 – 265 cards
Level 4 – 310 cards

Here is what a sample card looks like:

On top, you can see the Chinese characters. At the bottom you can see the pinyin pronunciation. When listening, you first hear the Chinese pronunciation (male voice) followed by a pause, then the English translation followed by the Chinese pronunciation again (female voice). Use the playlist feature in iTunes to create your own sets. The cards can be sorted by lesson number so you can choose how many cards you want to work with and only place those in your playlist, until you have learned them all. You can also use your iPod’s shuffle feature to randomize the order they are played in.

These cards can be used in a number of ways to build up your vocabulary and character recognition skills:

Method 1: View the flashcard and try to come up with the meaning on your own. Repeat after the native speaker before confirming your understanding by listening to the English translation.

Method 2: Listen to the Chinese pronunciation first, then visualize what the Chinese character looks like before looking at the screen to see if you were correct.

Method 3: Turn off the audio and just view the characters. Use your finger to cover the pinyin on screen, and try to come up with your own pronunciation. Then uncover the pinyin to see if you were right.

Method 4: Use just for pronunciation practice. Let the playlist run and keep repeating after the speakers. Great for in the car or for other passive learning occasions.

Method 5: Let it run in the background for an even more passive listening experience. Fall asleep to it and let your subconscious do the learning for you.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Try out a sample set from level 1. If you like the concept, you can purchase other sets and let me know how YOU use them!


Lesson 272

We have changed a couple of lines from the original recording, to make the explanations more clear. The lesson and transcripts have all been updated.


Lesson 279

This updates blog will also be used to mention updates to older lessons. Today’s lesson update is 279. In the original version, the lesson began by talking about weekend activities, but actually only ended up mentioning one – which was a picnic. We have since updated it so that the new topic is just picnics. Feel free to download the new version. All transcripts and PDFs have been updated with the new version.

To see other lesson updates, click on this link. Make sure the lesson file you have has a date that is not much older than the lesson update post.


Character Game

I’m happy to announce a simple game to test your knowledge of individual characters. Listen to the character being pronounced and choose it from a list of 30 or so characters on screen. You are given a score based on how long it takes you to answer it. Incorrect answers are penalized so choose wisely!

A progress screen shows you your high score for each game you have attempted (arranged by lesson number) and compares it other users who have also tried it. You can try out the game here. Enjoy!


Usability Updates

There have been a couple of minor updates made, based on observing how people use the site.

1. In the Quick Access bar on the sidebar (appears after you login), and in the word bank we have added some default text for the different modes. Hopefully that will help new users better make use of it.

2. We have added pagination to the bottom of the main page and premium feed page. This way you can go to earlier lessons more directly.

If you think of other features / issues (however minor they may seem to you), please contact us.


Chinese Flashcards iPhone / iPod Touch Application

We are proud to have released our first external application, Chinese Flashcards for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Use this application to test your recognition of 2700 of the most frequently used characters in simplified or traditional character formats. Begin by choosing which character set (simplified or traditional) you would like to focus your learning on.

Characters are displayed on screen one at a time. Decide how well you recognize the character, then click on the “Show Answer” window at the bottom of the screen.

The pinyin pronunciation and English definition are then revealed to you. If you feel confident in your recognition of this character answer Yes, otherwise answer No to have it shown to you again later. If you prefer to remove this character altogether from your learning list, choose Skip.

At the end of each session, you will be shown how many characters you memorized in that session, plus how many characters you have memorized overall. A rating is given to you based on the number of characters you have memorized overall.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What do I need to run this application?

Why did you choose to create this application?

Who is this application design for?

Does this application teach Chinese?

Does this application follow the CLO course structure?

How do I use this application?

What does the skip feature do?

What order are the characters displayed in?

Why are some common characters not showing up until later?

Why do some traditional characters seem to be missing?

Why do some definitions seem to be incomplete?

I answered Yes by mistake to a character, when I wanted to select No. Is there a way to change my answer?

I have suggestions for improvements, or new ideas for new apps. How do I reach you?

What do I need to run this application?

You need an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch with version 2.0 or higher of the OS installed.

Why did you choose to create this application?

This application was created to take advantage of the iPhone’s extensive mobile features to continue CLO’s goal of providing the best combination of resources to allow users to learn Chinese.

Who is this application design for?

This application is designed for users who already have a background in Chinese, and who would now like to practice their character recognition skills to help in reading.

Does this application teach Chinese?

No, for that we recommend you stick to the existing CLO course.

Does this application follow the CLO course structure?

No, in order to broaden the appeal for this application, it has been designed to be used independently from the CLO course. However, it can also be used very effectively in combination with CLO course.

How do I use this application?

There are multiple ways to use this application. One is to try and learn all 2700 characters by following the procedure outlined above. You could also use it to count how many characters you do know, by marking the ones you already know as memorized, while skipping the ones that you don’t.

What does the skip feature do?

Skipped characters will not be tested again, but will not be counted as memorized. This feature allows you to focus your learning on characters you are familiar with already, by skipping characters you have never heard of before. You can also use it count how many characters you recognize, by skipping characters you don’t know and selecting Yes for characters you do know.

What order are the characters displayed in?

The characters are displayed in order of most common usage in the Chinese language. Bear in mind, this usage varies greatly from situation to situation. Literature tends to feature a lot of different characters that are not used in everyday conversation and vice versa.

Why are some common characters not showing up until later?

As mentioned in the last point, characters that are used often in daily speech, may not necessarily be used as often in written materials. Similarly, there are a lot of characters used in written material that aren’t used as often in daily speech. Depending on where your strengths are, you may find new characters appearing early on, that you aren’t familiar with, while characters that you are familiar with appear later on.

Why do some traditional characters seem to be missing?

In daily life, there is a lot of overlapping that takes place between simplified and traditional characters. There are some simplified characters that are often used in place of traditional characters, and there are also cases of traditional characters sometimes being used in areas that normally use simplified characters. Since both lists are offered in this application, you may find some characters appearing in one list and not the other. Standard numerals are included in the simplified list, whereas the formal versions (used by banks) is included in the traditional list. You can use the skip function if you come across characters that you choose not to study.

Why do some definitions seem to be incomplete?

Since this application is not meant to teach you Chinese, the definitions are included only as a guidance, and in some cases further meanings are left out. It is recommended that you use this application in conjunction with a standard course like CLO to help you determine which words the characters found in this application are used in, and what their meaning is in context.

I answered Yes by mistake to a character, when I wanted to select No. Is there a way to change my answer?

Yes. After each session, you can choose to restart the session if you want to change any of your answers. You can also restart a session by first clicking on the Menu option at the bottom of the screen during a test. This is also useful if you changed your mind about skipping a character.

I have suggestions for improvements, or new ideas for new apps. How do I reach you?

You may either contact us directly or leave a comment below.

Back to our apps list.


Remembering Login

There was a bug that we had in the past, where the site said that you weren’t logged in, even though you were. I believe it’s fixed now, so hopefully that will enhance your user experience.


Wordbank Sidebar

You may have noticed a new “Wordbank” item on the sidebar after you login. It is not functional at the moment, but we are working on having it up as a quick way to access the word bank. I’ll post an update when it is ready.

Update: The Quick access bar on the right is now functional and includes an option to search the word bank directly. Enjoy!


Course Outline Problems

Due to an internal glitch, the course outline pages for levels 3 and 4 became corrupted, so I have taken them down for the time being. Rather than rebuilding them manually as was done in the past, I’m going to use this opportunity to create an automated version that should hopefully speed up the loading of pages as well. Please bear with me as we work on this.

Update: Ok, the pages are up again. The level 2 page needs some formatting, but all the content is all there. Thank you for patience!


More Updates

We have made a few updates to the site design.

– You may have noticed a new landing page greeting you when you first get on to the site. Users who are logged in won’t see this page. The idea is to introduce new users to our site with this page, rather than throwing them right in the midst of the latest lessons like before.
– Related to this is a (long due) “Remember password” option that has been added under the main login window.
– A “Vocabulary” option has been added to the Wordbank. This way you don’t have to specify whether you’re searching for Pinyin, Simplified, Traditional or English – all should work from that field. If not required, the other options may be removed.

You will start to see other additions to the site over the next few weeks. More information will be provided here as they are released. As always, please continue to send me feedback on what you like and / or what can be improved.


Level 1 and 2 Updates

I’m happy to announce some updates to level 1 and 2 of our course. In the past we have announced new features that have been implemented for future lessons, but not for earlier lessons. These include Chinese characters in the complete transcripts and the Fill in the Blanks exercises.

I’m happy to say that over the break, we have added Chinese characters to all lessons in the course including all the earlier lessons. Users can now begin learning characters from the very beginning. New PDF versions of these lessons have also been added to the course outlines for these levels. The bulk level downloads have also been updated with the new transcripts. You will also find Fill in the Blanks tests every few lessons starting from lesson 4 on to check your understanding of recently taught vocabulary.

As always, if you something is missing or doesn’t look right to you, please let us know. Happy learning!


New Premium Feed

The Premium feed has been updated to provide a better experience for the user. Previously, it was hosted on a separate site that required a separate login. I’m happy to say that the new feed is now integrated within the main CLO site, so by logging in to the main site you are also logged in to the premium feed.

The old feed and the new feed are identical so no changes are required from the user.


Bulk Level Downloads

As announced earlier, I have now updated the pricing page with new options for our subscribers. Once upon a time, we offered online, offline and one on one plans that were all recurring. The one on one plan was then replaced with a one time payment option that offered more flexibility by letting you just purchase the time you needed, until it ran out. Well I’m happy to say that the offline recurring plan has now been replaced with a level download plan that is also a one time download. Each level has been reduced to 4 zip files that together contain hundreds of PDFs and review audio files for all the lessons in that level. The individual levels are priced at $19.95 USD each.

Note that these level downloads are also optional purchases for existing premium subscribers. While online subscribers can still download individual PDF and audio files for each lessons, the convenience of downloading them all together will be a separate option. As older lessons are updated, the relevant PDF files and audio files for them will also be updated. You can see the sizes and latest update dates in the level download chart on the bottom of this page. Users who purchase level download access, will have access to the directory for 30 days from purchase in order to take advantage of any updates that may occur in the near future. Enjoy!


Simple Podcast Reviews

As our lessons have moved from typical conversation based lessons to articles and discussions, we have been looking for a new podcast review format. The one we have decided on (suggested by one of our long time listeners), is to offer a simple review of vocabulary for each lesson – first in female Chinese, followed by male English translation and then male Chinese. Hopefully putting together a few podcast reviews together can provide you with a good review playlist. You can find all this goodness on the premium review feed (the first four lessons of level four are available free to all listeners). Enjoy!


Premium Offline Pricing

This is a notice to let you know that I will be removing the premium offline plan from our current pricing plan options next week. The plan will be replaced with the option to purchase PDF and review audio sets separately for each level. Current premium offline subscribers will not be affected and can continue to keep their plans for as long as they want.

This change is being made in response to demand for bulk PDF downloads. As a result, both bulk premium audio and PDF sets will soon be available for purchase separately by level. More information will be announced here when the new packages are ready.


Lesson Updates – 231

I’m happy to announce a new category to this Updates blog – Lesson Updates. From time to time, we are going to be updating older lessons – whether to improve sound quality or to improve the course content. Each time a lesson is updated, I’ll make a note here. If it’s a lesson you have listened to before, you may want to download it again.

The first update is lesson 231. The original video featured some words that weren’t taught in the lesson. So we have now simplified the video and included some more vocabulary in the original lesson.


Pricing Tweaks

I have made a couple of adjustments to our pricing page.

In response to user feedback about our Skype one-on-one plan, I have changed it from being a recurring plan like the others to just being a single payment of 5 hours of sessions. I realize that you are all busy people and can’t always make the rigid schedule set in our previous plan. Others were interested in having more sessions than our plan originally offered. So in response to these issues, the new option allows you to purchase time in sets of 5 hours, to be scheduled as and when you please over an extended period. As before, your first hour of sessions is free, so try it out and see what you think!

The second adjustment I have made is to introduce a new partner to the companies we have chosen to work with. You can now use TrialPay to receive a month of Premium online access without having to pay us again. The graphic below explains how it works.

I hope these options provide more choices for CLO users. As always, if you have an idea that you think would benefit you, please let me know.


User Mode Preferences

I’m proud to announce another nifty new feature. Throughout our site, we offer scripts in pinyin, simplified Chinese characters or traditional Chinese characters. It has been easy to switch from one mode to another by just a click of a button. But what if I could save you that click? How much time would you save over a lifetime if you didn’t have to make that extra click? Minutes? Hours? Perhaps days??

Well now you can do just that, by specifying your mode preference on your account page (found on the right sidebar under the Sign Out button). The default is pinyin like before, but now you can also change this default for the entire site to simplified or traditional. Try it out and let me know what you think!


Fill in the Blanks

We’ve added a new review tool to the lessons in Level 4. Every few lessons, you can test your understanding of the vocabulary taught recently by dragging the appropriate word from the list on the right into the blanks on the left to form sentences with meaning. Not only does this teach you to recognize the vocabulary and its usage, it also gets you working with grammar and sentence patterns.

This activity may be a bit more difficult than the traditional activities since it also incorporates supplementary vocabulary (not explicitly taught in the lessons). The good thing is that every word can be searched from the word bank, so this is also a great tool to expand your vocabulary.

As usual, you can choose your mode – pinyin, simplified, traditional or even English.

You can test drive this feature by clicking on “Fill in the Blanks” in the middle of this page. Enjoy!


Server Upgrade

In light of the recent performance issues on our website, we will be performing a server upgrade on our site on Tuesday, May 20 from 12 a.m. to 1 a.m. EST (4 a.m. to 5 a.m. GMT). I apologize in advance for any user inconvenience this down time may cause. The end result though, should be a smoother and faster user experience when using our website.

An update will be posted here when this upgrade is complete.

Update: The upgrade went smoothly. Everything should be back to normal now. Thanks for your patience!


Hacked Again

The site was down for about 16 hours over the past 2 days. The problem was identified as a systematic attack on our site from professional hackers, I suppose. Someone seems to really like us out there! Hopefully the problems are behind us now. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

We have and are taking further steps to minimize future disruptions. The podcast files are now hosted separately from the main site, so if the site goes down, you should hopefully still be able to access the files themselves. We will be looking at other ways to improve our infrastructure in the near future.

Regards,

-Adam


Looking into the Future

I thought I would share with you some of the exciting developments that you can expect to see over the next few months.

Staff Reorganization

I have a very strong team here at CLO. I wish I could say that I did it all by myself, but that would be far from the truth. I will be investing heavily in them over the next few months. What does this mean for you, the listener? I’m glad you asked. There are a few major changes planned for the long term:

1. Existing premium content:

There has always been some lag between when lessons are released, and when the premium content for them is released. As the difficulty of our lessons has increased, this lag has begun to increase as well. Rest assured, I plan to have this lag eliminated so both lessons and premium content can be released together.

2. Earlier lessons:

Since about lesson 196, we have hired a local university teacher with ten+ years teaching Chinese, as a consultant. Her job has been to look over our lessons before they are released, to make sure the material being taught is relevant and appropriate for our course. I’ve been so pleased with her work, that she has now been instructed to go over earlier lessons to correct and update their content too, where appropriate. As you might expect, this is a pretty time consuming task that will take many months to complete. Sections of earlier lessons will be rerecorded where necessary. Stay tuned for updates on this blog for details of which lessons are updated.

What this also means is that the lessons recorded prior to our moving production to Taiwan (lesson 109 on), will be rerecorded completely with our current speakers. The end result for you will be a much more developed course, with a more consistent feel to it throughout. I personally feel that the quality of lessons after 109 (both content and audio quality) are a much better experience than the earlier lessons. My goal is to eliminate this gap altogether.

There are other changes that have also been taking place behind the scenes. Key staff members have been enrolled in courses specifically for teaching Chinese to foreigners. These changes have been implemented not only within the lessons themselves, but also in our Skype one on one sessions.

New Premium Content:

While I’m pleased with the many resources we have been able to offer our Premium subscribers, I still have a few other ideas that I plan to roll out over the next little while. I am looking for a replacement to the Podcast Review that is still in the development stage. The podcast review was a great way to review the dialogue based lessons. However, since many of our more recent lessons aren’t dialogue based, the podcast review in its current form doesn’t always work out.

We also have another review tool that is ready, and will be deployed over the next few months as well.

Overall User Experience

– We are still having issues where our site has been going down, due to too many users trying to access site content at the same time. Thanks to investment in new hardware, the problem is much more manageable now than it was a few months ago. However it’s still not at the stage I would like. Rest assured, there will be more investments made over the next little while to improve the speed and usability of the site.

– We have commissioned a local artist to create pictures for each lesson for us (another time consuming process). I’ve been very pleased with the work I’ve seen so far. Again, with more than 200 lessons to go, it will take some time before pictures are available for all lessons, but I’m confident that the results will be worth it. Like the videos, I’m hoping the pictures will add some visual context to the lessons, better allowing you to remember what was taught.

Please continue to use this blog to give me feedback on what works or doesn’t work for you. You are also welcome to email me directly or visit our new Facebook fan page for other ways to contact us.

-Adam


Miscellaneous Updates

1. You may notice that the Word Bank results now show up color coded. The main colors are:

Green – New vocabulary
Black – New character
Blue – Sentences from dialogues
Red – Related vocabulary (but not explicitly taught) for that lesson (see point #3 below)

2. It recently came to my attention that the Sentence Builder exercises were not functioning properly on Internet Explorer browsers (they seemed to work fine on all other browsers). This has since been fixed. Please let me know if you notice any features not working the way you think they should be.

3. Since our goal is to limit new vocabulary to only a few words per lesson, we might not be able to teach all the vocabulary for a particular topic within a lesson. For example, if we are teaching a lesson on colors, the main colors will be taught – but what about the more obscure colors that you might want to know? The solution we have been using is to add this supplementary vocabulary to the vocabulary page for each lesson. These will not be tested in the flashcard program. If any of these words are reused in later lessons, they will be taught as a new word first.

By doing so, we hope that as our course progresses, our word bank can begin to resemble a real dictionary. Hopefully the color coding above will help distinguish between words taught within the lesson with related words that weren’t explicitly taught.

In the next few days, this supplementary vocabulary will also be added as an option on our export page. Update: This has now been added.


CLO Page on Facebook

For those of you on Facebook, we have created a new fan page. Feel free to join in, view pictures, videos, start discussions etc. This will be a great way for me to connect with listeners and of course for you to connect with each other.

You can view the page here.


New PDFs, New Colors!

Our PDF pages have been updated with a new set of PDFs for most lessons. The PDFs allow our premium offline users to practice writing the new characters for each lesson on paper. There are two versions for each lesson, one featuring just the new characters for the lesson and another featuring all the characters for that lesson. As many characters will be repeated in future lessons, use the latter to practice writing characters that may have shown up in earlier lessons. Doing things this way will automatically give you more practice writing characters that show up more often, than those that don’t.

Take a look at the following samples:

New Simplified characters for lesson 4
All Simplified characters for lesson 4

Traditional character versions of the above will be added in the future.

Update: Traditional character versions of the above pages have now been added!

As well, since our PDF list seems to be growing daily, we have begun to color code them to make it easier to find what you are looking for.

Blue – Simplified character version
Green – Traditional character version
Yellow – Spanish translation of complete transcript
Purple – Italian translation of complete transcript
Brown – French translation of complete transcript


Flashcard Update

The Flashcard program has been updated to load a lot faster than before. Previously it took a few minutes to load up, whereas this should now be reduced to a few seconds.


Site Issues

It seems that the site has been up and down for much of this weekend. Lately, we’ve been the victim of some massive spam attacks on our Contact Us page, and this weekend it seems that hackers have been trying to wreck havoc with the site in general.

The good thing is that we will be using this opportunity to improve the infrastructure that holds this site together. Please bear with us the next few days as we there may be some more ups and downs. In the end however, I hope to have a faster site with better performance.

Update: The site will be down for an hour on February 20, 2008 from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. GMT for some hardware updates that will hopefully improve the recent sluggishness.


Recording and other Updates

It seems that this since we moved the site to a new server, the recording tool wasn’t working for the Pronunciation and Exercises. Well I’m happy to say that after some lengthy testing and reinstalling, everything seems to be working again! I’m also happy to say that the user experience should be better than in the past, thanks to the better equipment it is now running on.

We will continue to look for ways to update the site and improve your user experience. Next on the list is to improve our actual course content. We have added a new consultant with over a decade of teaching experience to our team who will be overseeing the material in new lessons. Her work will begin from lesson 195 onwards. Some of our staff are also upgrading their credentials in teaching by taking courses in Mandarin teaching.

I hope to use the added experience from all of us (including me) to edit and / or redo some of the earlier lessons in our course later this year. When we get to that, I will release a separate set of updates so you can see what changes were made.

In the meantime, please continue to send us your ideas and suggestions in all areas. Some of our newer lessons feature content and material suggested by users like yourself, so keep them coming.

All the best to everyone this Chinese New Year – welcoming the year of the rat!