ChineseMe - a more structured course for beginners?
I was excited to see Chinese getting out in beta on Duolingo last year. There are obviously areas to improve but at least I believe it's doing an OK job at introducing the basic ideas for people curious about the language.
I'm an advanced learner and I've been working on creating a comprehensive course for complete beginners (www.chinese-me.com). The approach is different and complementary to Duolingo, so I thought it could be helpful to share it with this community. Any idea to make the course better would be great! Bellow is my personal opinion:
Improvements over Duolingo: - A limited number of new items per lessons and a slower pace. - A more comprehensive approach (includes Chinese characters writing, calligraphy and etymology, as well as dialogs and culture tips) - A better structure (I feel somehow the Chinese course here mimics the structure from other 'Western' languages, but this approach has its limits for Chinese. For example, it makes more sense to focus longer on the basics of Chinese pronunciation at the beginning instead of rushing into learning vocabulary.) - Integrated exercises (with no mistakes and quick fixes if you can find any).
Duolingo is however technically speaking very well made. ChineseMe doesn't have a mobile app yet (it's a web-based course) and works best on Chrome. Here is a PDF version of the course if you want to read it offline or on mobile: https://www.chinese-me.com/blog/learn-chinese-pdf
I will! The course is very new and pretty much nobody knows about it so it's always very encouraging to get feedback.
TBH I'm quite happy with the first part so far (auto-congrats but ...hey!), this really is the course I hope I would have had access to when I started learning Chinese 12 years ago. Now I'm 26 and I'm determined to make it better and continue developing it!
it makes more sense to focus longer on the basics of Chinese pronunciation at the beginning instead of rushing into learning vocabulary
Having looked through the first few lessons, I must take issue with some of your explanations of Mandarin phonology.
English 'chin' is /t͡ʃɪn/, not /t͡ɕɪn/. Pinyin 'sh', /ʂ/ is not the same as English 'sh' in 'show', and saying 'the position of your tongue and mouth [for r-] should be exactly the same as when you pronounce sh-' is not very useful when the learner's tongue is now in the wrong place for 'sh-'!
And I have no clue how anyone is going to read 'Zh- is a d-sound followed by a Chinese r' and come up with /ʈ͡ʂ/.
If (as I gather from the website), the text was written by a Swede, it's possible that he uses /ɕ/ and /ʂ/ in his English, and so the explanations might be entirely accurate in his own case, but this is really not going to apply to the average English-speaker.
Well done for explaining pinyin 'd' and 'g' properly, though, which is something that few resources ever bother to do. I hope you take my comments on the other sounds as constructive criticism.
I hope you take my comments on the other sounds as constructive criticism.
We for sure do! This is how the course becomes better and better and closer to theoretical perfection.
The main author is indeed Swedish. Almost all the phonology explanations are homebrewed and try to be as accurate as possible. You're right, many courses don't even bother explaining the subtleties of Mandarin pronunciation, or they provide wrong explanations. So we want to avoid the later case at all costs.
I'm forwarding your comment and we will take it into account after analysing this point one more time. Thank you!
Hi garpike, thanks for your comments! Firstly, let me say that we agonize a lot over whether to include "comparisons" from other languages at all: every language has its own sound system, so comparisons are approximations which always risk confusing the learner more than they help, especially given regional and social differences. So first of all, I will review the text to make sure we communicate this philosophy correctly.
We aim to provide options for learners: high-quality sound, close-up video of native speakers, cross-section diagrams and IPA transcriptions are all in the works. Comparisons to the learner's mother tongue are for beginners who want to try to "find" a sound they have difficulty hearing or identifying using the other methods, which is why we spent some time on formulating them at the outset. But this is absolutely no excuse for sloppy descriptions; if we provide them, they must be correct!
I am no expert in English phonology, so bear with me if I am wrong here, but the IPA transcription you quote seems not to capture the allophones of the sounds transcribed [ʃ] in English. To my ear, there is a difference in the pronunciation of [ʃ] in "sheep" and "cheap", respectively, where the former is more like the palatoalveolar fricative influenced by the [i] sound, and the latter more similar to the alveolo-palatal fricative that we are looking for. The same goes for "chin", at least for some native speakers of English: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chin#Pronunciation.
I chose "chin" because its other sounds are close to their Chinese equivalents. Perhaps there is another, more pedagogical, example that we could use to help English speakers find the sound written x- in pinyin?
I also agree that pinyin "sh" does not indicate the SAME sound as English "sh", but again, it is the closest approximation I have found. I agree with you that perhaps instead we should emphasize WHAT'S DIFFERENT so that beginners are not tricked into thinking they are "the same". Let me revisit the text and see if we can improve this.
On the difference between "sh" and "r" I feel less certain – my take on this is that they are similar enough to warrant describing as having voicing as their only relevant difference. But I realize that this may be oversimplifying – I will revisit this with a linguistics professor later today and get back to you!
Again, thank you for these valuable challenges to our thinking. If you have concrete suggestions for how these and other sounds might be more pedagogically – and scientifically – described, I'm all ears!