The Road to Level 3

It is now nearing 3 weeks since I moved production of the lessons to Taiwan and I’ve been quite pleased with the results. I have lots of ideas now for further development of this course and what the future holds for CLO. Here are some of my observations during this time:

1. Producing lessons from Taiwan does mean that the conversations and accents of the speakers will have a distinct Taiwanese sound to them. Some of you have commented on the differences in pronunciation you have heard including the mixing up of “l” and “r” sounds. I’ve purposely left these in the lessons for the same reason you may have heard extra “er” sounds being tacked on to syllables by Ray and Heidi or Jen and Bing in earlier lessons. These are distinctive trademarks of the various regions of Mandarin speakers around the world. Now the question that comes about of course is which version should you as a listener follow? Fortunately for us learners using Pinyin, the Pinyin sounds have been designed to follow the “standard Putonghua pronunciation” system out there. So when in doubt about whether to pronounce a word using a “l” sound or a “r” sound, you may find it helpful to look at the Pinyin spelling and use that as your guide. I will continue to let the speakers use their own versions though since one of the challenges for me early on as a learner was understanding why the pronunciation I was taught differed from what I was hearing. Hopefully, having a variety of speakers will help you understand these different dialects.

2. I have become more of a believer in the use of video now after reading some of your comments as well, so there will be an attempt to create a video version of most dialogues in the course. I believe that having more forms of input of the material in this course will greatly aid in the retention. So in addition to the lessons being listened to, you can now have access to the Pinyin transcripts, Chinese character representations and now a video version! This is also a great chance to look at the type of body language used in such dialogues since that makes up such a great percentage of communication in any language.

3. We are in the process of winding up level 2 of our course and are now preparing level 3. Since this course is designed to be progressive, there is a fine balance required in increasing the difficulty level at different stages to provide improvement but yet not increasing it to the point where the user falls behind (indeed I’ve received pressure from both camps to increase / decrease the lesson difficulty levels). Using small, individual dialogues alone to teach the language isn’t enough since they provide only a small sample of how new vocabulary is used. So the solution here again is to find multiple ways to present the information being taught. New vocabulary is first introduced in the main lesson. It is then reviewed in the podcast review and future lessons where applicable. In recent lessons you may have noticed that words are now making their way into the teaching of the lessons outside of the actual dialogue. So whereas in the past, we stuck to distinct Chinese phrases that were constantly reused in the same format in each lesson, we will now start to mix it up in upcoming lessons. The idea here is to build up your vocabulary by adding new words to each new dialogue, while finding ways to use and reuse existing vocabulary in the explanations. The amount of vocabulary that has so far been taught in the course is now large enough for us to experiment more with extra Chinese used within the lesson. Fortunately, for users afraid of falling behind, there is a safety net provided in the form of the Complete word for word transcripts which translate all the extra Chinese used within the lesson.

So what does the future hold for CLO? As mentioned above, the vocabulary that has been taught so far is now reasonably big enough for us to experiment with more options. This could be in the form of side material for you to consume between lessons, for those of you looking for a greater challenge. There are also plans underway to increase the Chinese character materials currently provided.

On a side note, as was mentioned in the last podcast update, the pricing plan is going to increase later this summer to reflect the new improvements and content to the course (current ETA is August 1) so you still have a chance to lock yourself into a subscription at a reduced price before the price increase. Existing users are also welcome to change to a longer term plan (which produces lower monthly rates) while they still have a chance.

Much of the development of this course has come from user feedback, so I encourage you to continue to send me your thoughts and comments, since that is primarily what drives further improvements.

Happy Dragonboat Festival to all of you in Chinese communities!

New Videos added

Well, you asked for it. 9 new videos were added to the Vocabulary pages bringing the total to 24. These videos show you the type of situations where the dialogues they represent may take place, thereby adding context to the lessons. As one listener put it, no academy awards will be won here, but hopefully their simplicity will still add some purpose.

The videos today feature Luise, Coco (and even yours truly in one!), who will also be speakers in our upcoming lessons. Expect more such videos to crop up over the next little while.

Graphics have been added to the Course Outline page showing which lessons have videos in them.

UPDATE: Another 18 videos have since been added – mainly to level 2.  Also, the links in the Course Outline now directly play the video.  Better get your popcorn ready!

Pong Audio Forum Update

Well it looks like some of you were able to make it in and post some recordings, which was great to see.  If any of you are interested in having an account that you can login to (rather than using Guest access) please email me your preferred login and password and I’ll set one up for you (you can change your details after logging in).  The advantage to logged in users (as opposed to guests) is that you can see who else is logged in and chat with them (through voice or text) so I hope this will allow you to get to know some of your peer learners.

There are some interesting possibilities for this application that I have in mind, that can hopefully be developed as more users sign in.

Update from Taiwan

There seems to be some problem listening and / or downloading podcasts at this point. I am in touch with my host to fix the problem ASAP.  (UPDATE: Problem fixed!)
Today’s lesson (#109 for those of you keeping track), is the first recorded in Taiwan. You’ll notice all kinds of different speakers in the next batch of lessons. Many of you have asked what the difference is between the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan versus that spoken in Mainland China. While the basics are the same, there is a distinctive Taiwanese “accent.” I personally prefer this style for teaching since they tend to enunciate and emphasize the tones a lot more than their Mainland counterparts. The result is a more musical sound. In these early stages of learning, it’s important to emphasize the differences in tones more to get the hang of it, so expect to hear more of the same over the next little while.

As always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

Pong Audio Forum

I apologize for the site being down the last several hours. Turns out the website had been hacked into which caused some problems. Hopefully everything is resolved now and perhaps this post will make amends by introducing a potentially very exciting addition to the ChineseLearnOnline service.
This service is currently in beta.  It’s a regular forum with a twist.

1. It allows you to record audio messages using your computer microphone directly into your messages.

2. There is a tool to allow you to enter Pinyin tone marks into your text.

The idea here is for you to leave messages to each other (in Chinese of course) and perhaps even leave transcripts of what you’re saying. I’m hoping this will give people a good chance to show off what Chinese they have learned to others, while getting a chance to know other listeners in the process.

You can try it out by going to the following website:

For now, click on the guest account which allows you to view, listen and post. Once the first round of testing is complete, I will be adding registration facilities.

Known Issues:

The website above launches a Java applet which requires the latest version of Java to be installed on your computer. I don’t have enough test results from Mac platforms yet however on the PC side I have heard cases where Firefox seems to run it fine whereas Internet Explorer required the latest Java software to be installed. If you are in the latter case, you may need to download the the latest Java Environment from here:

I have also heard cases of users who were inside a firewalled network not being able to access this site so I apologize in advance if you’re not able to access this site.

I appreciate any feedback you can provide me regarding what you think of this service. My initial idea is for this to be a place for listeners to share ideas and learning experiences with each other while of course being able to practice what you have learned. I will later be looking for users interested in helping moderate the service.


Vocabulary summary page

Greetings from hot and muggy Taiwan!

I’ve been in contact with some of you in recent while and I always find it fascinating to hear about your individual approaches to study and how you use the material provided in the Premium section, as well as what I can do to improve the presentation for your individual applications. As mentioned in the last podcast update, I’m now working on creating more resources that can be used offline. One approach is to go the PDF route, which I still plan to do.

In the meantime though I’ve created a couple of pages that you may find interesting. They provide a listing of all the dialogue lines in various formats. The formatting has intentionally been reduced to a minimum to allow easy cut and pasting. Please let me know what you think of this format and whether it is something you find useful or not. If you have suggestions for other ways it can be presented that would help you out, do let me know as well.

These pages show content for all lessons if you are logged in, or lessons 1 to 4 if you aren’t.

Pinyin only

Simplified only

Traditional only

Simplified, Pinyin plus English translation

Traditional, Pinyin plus English translation

Music section Update

I’m proud to inform you that (what was formerly) the Music page has now graduated into the Music blog. This means that rather than me posting here anytime there is a new song, you can now subscribe to the music feed. To celebrate, I’ve added a new song that ties into my course quite well.

Flashcards updated

The Flashcards are now up to date to lesson 100.  My favorite modes are English and Audio since you can’t cheat on those. 😉

Adam’s Asia schedule

I will be traveling through different parts of Asia in the next month. I would love to meet any listeners in the area for a cup of coffee. Please contact me if interested.

Taiwan (Various parts): May 29-June 24, July 2-5
Hong Kong: Monday, June 25
Bangkok, Thailand: Tuesday, June 26 – Friday, June 29
Singapore: Friday, July 6

The Pig Song

Here’s a song for you pig lovers out there. It’s by a singer called Xiang Xiang who is famous for her “funny” and “off beat” tracks. Enjoy!

Simplified Traditional

New song

I’ve added a new song “Black matches White” by Fan Wei Qi to the newly renovated music page. The singer wrote this song for her boyfriend. She considers herself very pale and so represents the “white” while her boyfriend being quite tanned (apparently his nickname in real life is “black man”) represents the “black” side. So in her song she states that “black matches white” just like in their relationship and to not mind what others say.

This reminded me of my own personal experience living in Taiwan. Being of Indian origin myself, I am considered “brown” in North America but in Taiwan they have no word for brown skinned people so I’m considered “black” there. I suppose this song could apply to me and my relationship with a Taiwanese girl.

Simplified Traditional

Site access problems

I apologize for any site access problems you may be having in the last day or so. They are being investigated and I hope they can be resolved shortly.

UPDATE: Looks like everything should be back to normal now. (Yay!)

Bulk Downloads

As we are approaching the magic 100 lesson mark I’ve decided that the feed is becoming too big and it’s not practical to have all the old lessons available for download on the main podcast feed.  Add to that the font problems associated with the feed version of the lessons.  So I’ve decided to make older lessons available for bulk download.  The advantage to downloading them this way is that those wanting to play lessons on iPODs will be able to view transcripts on their screen without the font and screen switching problems that occur with the regular podcast versions.

Premium subscribers can also download all the dialogue only and podcast reviews for older lessons in bulk zipped up format.  You can find all this goodness here.

I have also reorganized the drop down menus so Flashcard and Word Bank now appear under the Premium content tab.  The above Bulk Downloads link is now under the Resources tab.  Enjoy!


I have added a new Audiobooks section to the Resources page.  This page includes links to other learning Mandarin courses.  The Pimsleur series is one of the most popular language learning systems (for any language) and was one of the influences in the design of my course.  The various levels and versions are now available for purchase here.  Links to other courses are also available for those looking for more material to supplement your learning here.

While they are being sold by third party vendors, CLO gets a small commission for referring them to you.  I will also be adding Google Adsense ads to the Music pages in the near future.  Revenue from these ventures will be used to enhance the free resources on the website.

Murphy’s Law

This has been a very interesting week for me (notice I’m using past tense here since I’m expecting that the troubles are over).  In the span of two days, my main system crashed and was rendered unusable, the server that the site is being hosted on crashed for several hours and multiple speakers mysteriously canceled on me leaving me behind in my lesson development.
The good news is that the main computer has now been replaced, most of the data was retrieved, the server is back up and I was able to find alternate speakers.  The Premium podcasts and notes should be up to date in the next day or so.  Thanks for bearing with me.

Updated features

I’ve color coded the vocabulary in the vocabulary pages to separate individual vocabulary items from dialogue examples.  Also, these items can now be clicked on to take you back to the Word bank to see how they may relate to other examples in the course.  For the Chinese character versions, individual characters can be clicked on to see other examples in the Word bank.
The latest Complete word for word transcript (Lesson 91) now lets you click on some of the Chinese Pinyin words to take you to the Word bank.  I’ll extend this to future lessons and later to past lessons.

I’m hoping having these links to the Word bank will allow you to easily get the bigger picture of how different words and characters relate to each other in this course.

General Updates

The Word Bank should be up to date for Level 2 (lessons 61 on).  I’ll slowly start adding level 1 lessons.  The complete functionality will of course be felt when it’s completely up to date with all lessons but hopefully you can still find it useful now.  Once it’s up to date, I will add cross links to the transcripts allowing you to click on a word in the transcript and have it search the word bank for you.
The Flashcard program is also up to date with the latest lessons.  I was trying to hook it up to the Word bank so that it can automatically be updated.  However, since each lesson only has a few new vocabulary items rather than having each lesson with its own quiz with only a few questions I’ve decided to continue to manually update it – combining multiple lessons into quizzes so that most of the questions are new.

If you notice any typos or bugs in the above, please let me know.

New song

I added a new pop song to the Music section today. It’s a duet between two very popular artists. Enjoy!

“Marry me today” (Jintian ni yao jia gei wo) by David Tao and Jolin Tsai

Simplified Traditional

New Premium Podcast transcript format

Since the Premium podcast consists mainly of questions and answers, I’ve hidden the answers in the transcript. This allows you to use the Premium podcast in two ways. You can test your understanding using the audio format of the podcast lesson, and/or test yourself visually by going through the questions (in Pinyin) and trying to come up with the answer on your own before clicking to reveal it.

All previous Premium podcast transcripts (Lessons 61+) have been updated with this new format. Enjoy!

Course Schedule Update

I’ve had to update the Course schedule to reflect a week break from lessons that will be taking place this week. I am going in for laser eye surgery on Tuesday and was told that I need a week of rest for my eyes to heal. Hopefully this won’t put a cramp in anyone’s learning.

You will notice other breaks in the schedule between now and level 3. Those breaks represent travel time as I will be in Taiwan for a month. How does that benefit you, you ask? Well for one thing I’m in Canada now and Kirin is in Taiwan which means you won’t hear anymore of her voice till I get there. I also hope to shoot some nice scenic videos for some of the older dialogues (some of you have been asking for more). Between now and then the speaking roles will be divided between Bing and Jen, Leo and Amy and possibly one more new speaker.

I’m glad you see benefit in the Word-bank. Initially it was just meant to be another tool but now it’s expanded into a way of linking all the lessons together with the enhanced search tools. The real benefits will be realized once it has been updated with content from all the lessons. You will then be able to click on a word or a Chinese character and it should pull up examples from all lessons where that word / character was used.

I’m still hoping to find a solution for the font troubles I’ve been having on the site (the comments on the main site don’t display Pinyin now?!?). Maybe a week of lying in bed with my eyes closed will give me a flash of inspiration…

Update: A small change in the Word Bank code suddenly fixed the font troubles I was having in the Comments section.  Can our Mac users tell me if this has had any difference in the other font troubles you were having?

New song added

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the Music section so I thought I’d add another male singer to balance things out. The name of the song is “Have to Love” by Wilber Pan although it’s better known as “Bu de Bu Ai” by “Pan Wei Bo” Enjoy!

Simplified Traditional

Premium preview

The Word bank page is now available for you to preview at

Currently only the first few lessons are present but over time I will be updating it with all the lesson material. Non subscribers can view the first four lessons while Premium subscribers will have access to all lessons (when available) by logging in. Your comments and feedback are most welcome.

Premium subscribers may also notice that the Vocabulary page for the latest lesson now utilizes the new format that I mentioned in my last post. Hopefully you’ll find this more efficient as it combines 3 pages into 1. Note though that future lessons will now use the URL structure: rather than separating the pinyin, simplified and traditional pages like before.

Update: I’ve gone back to the old system of lesson-xxx-pinyin for the main vocabulary page to keep everything consistent so ignore the mention above of the “vocabulary” extension.

Premium Update

I know things have seemed quiet here in the last couple of weeks. However you may be happy to hear that there has been lots of action behind the scenes. I thought I would give you a preview here of what to expect over the next few weeks:

  1. A new word-bank tool will be introduced for Premium subscribers. It will allow you to search for vocabulary introduced in previous lessons. The results will then be displayed on one page with Chinese characters and a playback tool. This should make it easier for you to review vocabulary items that are reintroduced in newer lessons.
  2. The vocabulary page will be reorganized. Currently, each vocabulary page is separated into 3 pages – Pinyin, Simplified and Traditional. These will all be combined into one page. The layout will look pretty similar to how it is currently, but you will be able to switch between the three modes without having to reload a new page each time.

It may take some time to redo older pages to reflect the new format, but I’m hoping to be able to give you a preview of what these changes will look like later this week.

Flashcards and other new tools…

I’m happy to say that the Flashcard program is now up to date with almost all lessons in all 5 modes for Premium subscribers.  Since each quiz has 10 questions and most lessons only introduce a few words at a time, some lessons are combined into one quiz.  Those quizzes with less than ten questions randomly pick questions from earlier lessons to make sure you’re up to date.  If you notice any errors or missing sound files or anything, please let me know.

Now that the flashcard program is up to date, I have begun work on another new tool to help access / consolidate all the material you’ve been learning.  Details will be relieved as they are available.

New speakers

As you may have noticed in our latest lesson, I will be switching to some new native Chinese speakers from hereon – Bing and Jen.  They are a couple in their fifties from central China so I thought it would be interesting to hear a different kind of accent.  I like the contrast with the “younger” voice of Kirin.

I remember while teaching English in Taiwan how I thought I was doing a good job till a new teacher came along from England.  The students had trouble understanding what he was saying because they weren’t familiar with his accent.  It’s for this reason that I’m trying to change up the voices every now and then so you don’t fall into the same trap of only understanding one type of Chinese and being “lost” in the real world.

The other issue I’ve come across is that all the dialogues so far have been prepared with Kirin’s help which means they have a Taiwanese style to them.  This means that certain words and phrases may be used differently in mainland China.  This isn’t a big problem in my opinion since there is still no problem being understood.  However, in order to change things up a little I’m going to switch to a mainland China approach as we progress just to provide a different contrast to the program.  This also means (unfortunately) that I will ease out of using Kirin’s voice in the next ten lessons or so.

Don’t worry though, she’ll be back in the future, for future levels of the course.

Drop down menus

You may notice that the menus on top have been slightly reorganized, along with the addition of drop down menus. As the number of lessons and features increases on the site there has been a need to spread these out over a number of pages. Rather than cluttering the front page with more links, I have now added drop down menus to make it easier for you to go directly to the page you want. This way as more pages are added to the site down the road it should still be easy to get where you want to go.

The old Premium section has now been split into a “Premium feed” page and a “Resources” page. The links to the Premium content are now available in the “Course Outline” and in the main page under each lesson.

Tone problems continue

So it looks like my big fix for the Pinyin tone marks not displaying properly wasn’t much of a fix after all. Some programs display it while others (such as iTunes) butcher it. One of the solutions I’m considering is switching the front page version of the Pinyin to using numbers rather than tone marks. So Nǐ hǎo would then become Ni3 hao3.

This wouldn’t affect the Premium transcripts version, which would stay as it is (using tone marks). The advantages I see are:

  • This should solve font issues as I’d be using normal characters and numbers without any tone marks
  • I could then integrate search capabilities to search for vocabulary. I had a search feature previously, but removed it since people kept using it without tone marks, so the system wasn’t able to find the results they wanted.

I’ll keep looking for other solutions, but I’m curious to know what you would think above. If I decide to go this route I’ll retype all the earlier lessons on the front page to keep it consistent.

CLO Update

Here are a few updates:

  1. I believe the issue with the Pinyin transcripts not displaying properly before should be resolved now.  You may need time for your feed to update to flush out the old versions.  You’re welcome of course to redownload any files you need that were corrupted before.
  2. The separate feed for Premium subscribers has been expanded to include the dialogue summaries so you no longer have to manually download them from the site – they can now be delivered straight to you via RSS.  If you are using iTunes, choose the Advanced menu and then select the “Subscribe to a Podcast” option.  Enter your username and password when prompted.
  3. For those of you not using RSS, you can also access the files directly from  Use the login window to play and download the files directly.  You can also use the category tags to only view the podcast reviews or dialogues from a particular speaker.
  4. You may notice that the Premium links have now been added to the Course Outline page.  I am in the process of rearranging where information is located within the site to improve access to it so expect some more changes in this area over the next week or so.
  5. I have placed a temporary link to this Site Updates blog just under the login window in the main screen.  I am looking for a better more permanent spot for it.  🙂

Premium feed ready!

I’m proud to say that the Premium feed for Premium podcast reviews is now ready. You can access it from your favorite RSS program:

It will prompt you for your username and password. Please use the same login and password as for the regular ChineseLearnOnline website. From here on, you will be able to access the Premium Review podcasts without having to come directly to the website. Hope this helps!

If there are any technical issues, please let me know.