Hi! I'm a native English speaker taking this course and I have a few ideas about possible improvements. One thing I've noticed with my non-native friends is they have trouble understanding English tenses. Since you're teaching English mainly through examples, I think it would help learners if there were more context (such as adverbs) in the sentences. Tenses often imply certain adverbs which would be easier to translate into Chinese and would make learning the tenses more intuitive.
For example, in the pluperfect/past perfect simple section, I thought that its use was unclear. Some of the example sentences could've been improved by adding a little context:
"He had left." versus "He had already left by the time she came."
The second sentence makes the use of the past perfect simple more clear and can be translated more naturally into Mandarin. (她到了以前他已经走了) . I noticed the translation of pluperfect was "过了" in Chinese, which I don't think expresses the real meaning of pluperfect. "过" is better expressed with "present perfect" (I have been to China. I have tried it before.) while the pluperfect is better expressed through adverbs in Mandarin. It just means something happened before something in the past ("She hadn't told me, so I didn't know" = 她没告诉我,所以我不知道). I'm still learning Mandarin, so forgive me if some of the translations are rough.
Adding context could also improve learners understanding of:
- simple present and present continuous:
"I walk to the post office every morning" "I often walk to the library" "I'm walking to the post office right now" "Every Tuesday evening I call her" "I'm calling her now"
“我看书” can either mean "I read" or "I'm reading" in English, without adverbs. Adding adverbs would not only help learners, but also contributors by reducing the number of possible translations and make the uses more clear. This would reduce the amount of maintenance work you have to do with adding a lot of translations. Since tenses imply adverbs, I think stating them explicitly would help learners internalize them. It would also help differentiate the uses: "I walk right now" is incorrect, "I walk now" means "I've started walking recently", and "I'm walking" means "I'm walking right now". "I walk" normally implies "I walk often" whereas "I'm walking" implies "I'm walking now".
- Articles: a/the/these etc: ("the" is kind of short for "the one we were talking about before)
"Is that the book she reads every morning" "Which book is she reading now?" "The books she reads in the evenings is over there" "Is that the book she wants" "Can I see the book she bought yesterday?" 我可以看她昨天买的书 "I want the book that she told me about" "I like reading books" 我喜欢看书 "I like books" 我喜欢书 "I want a book" 我想要一本书 "I want that book"我想要那本书
I also noticed some of the lessons tend to mix different uses of grammar which can make it confusing for learners. For example, mixing "I've been waiting for you" （我等你了） vs "I have been to China before" （我去过中国）are two different uses of present perfect that mean slightly different things and are expressed differently in Mandarin. One is to emphasize an experience, the other is to express duration. Also, the "continuous" lesson mixes both the gerund and the present participle. They look the same, but the gerund is used more like the infinitive. (I like walking == I like to walk != I am walking). The gerund acts as a noun ("Seeing you makes me happy"), while the participle acts as an adjective ("I'm sleeping"). That's why you can use the present participle as an adjective in other cases ("He's a sitting duck out there").
I realize the course is in Beta, and these are only suggestions for improvements. If they're too much, I'd love to help contribute. I'm trying to improve my Chinese, and I really love grammar.
I've been enjoying the course so far, so thank you for all your work!
An excellent observation and suggestion! There was recently a discussion about the pluperfect example you mentioned. Without another phrase/sentence as a reference, there seems to be no reason for the usage of pluperfect in e.g, 'He had left', except that it appears in the pluperfect section. I guess the same can apply to other tenses. Mandarin is generally a tenseless language with a few 'markers' here and there, e.g., '过'，‘着’. It would be easier for users to adapt to the concept and distinction of different tenses, if similar 'markers',for example, temporal adverbs, are inserted into the English sentences.
On the other hand, I think these changes would add complexity to the sentences, which may have been the concern to the team, so that they designed the course in the way it is. The course is meant for beginners. It's possible that the team valued modularity and simplicity over clarity, although personally I don't agree with this tradeoff.
Edit: I agree that the mixture of gerund and present participle is a bad one. They are formally identical but conceptually distinct, exactly the kind of things that you don't want beginners to be confused about. A separate gerund skill can be added, like in the EN-FR course.
I think making the sentences more clear would reduce the number of possible translations for each sentence, potentially making it easier for the team overall. Right now, since the sentences are vague, which tense to use is pretty open to interpretation, so they probably get more reports than they would otherwise get.
English and Mandarin have a lot of things that don't really align well, even with things that looks straightforward. For example, I noticed that they used 正在＋v for present progressive. I think it's a good way to introduce present progressive to beginners, but present progressive is more flexible than that, and it could lead to beginners relying on simple present too much. My Mandarin has been getting a little rusty, so I was hoping to gain more insight from the course.
It's an interesting challenge, that's for sure!
Good point! I'm currently working on Chinese course from English. The questions you mentioned are exactly what trouble me.
I'm glad that's in the works! I realize there are a lot of challenges since English and Mandarin care about very different things. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help.