CLO User 133's blog

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.



New Videos

11 new videos have been added to Level 4. My favorite? Well that would have to be lesson 188's. Enjoy!

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.


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.

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