CLO User 133's blog

Things Back to Normal

I apologize for the site issues we've been having the last couple of days. I'm happy to say that things seem to be back to normal for now. The PDFs that weren't accessible for the last few days should also be accessible now. If you notice any other problems, please continue to let me know.

Stay tuned to this page for a slick new feature that should be ready within the next week or so!

Email Troubles

We moved our site to a new (hopefully) faster server over the weekend, which caused some downtime over the last day. During this time, emails sent to us were not received. If you sent an email that was rejected, please send it again, as everything should be working now. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Vocabulary Page Reorganization

You may have noticed that the Vocabulary page for some lessons has a slightly different look to it. As we add new features, the page was starting to get cluttered with the Test your Pronunciation recorder and the Sentence Builder app. To maintain a cleaner look, the Pronunciation tool is now hidden behind a link that lets you swap between the different applications we add to this page. Some pages will also let you listen and reply to exercises directly from within the vocabulary page. As well, expect another new tool to be added here during the holiday break to help you learn character. Stay tuned or more details...

Database Issues

During the holiday break, we will be doing some maintenance and upgrades to the website which may cause some mysterious "database errors" to pop-up (looks like they are here already!). As far as I know, these shouldn't affect usability - they are just error messages that are displayed at the very bottom of the screen. If you do notice any actual issues affecting usability, please let me know.

When the maintenance is complete however, you should hopefully notice slicker (faster!) premium pages, with even more content! More information on the upgrades will be released as they are introduced, so stay tuned...

Happy Holidays from Chinese Learn Online

For those of you wanting to know more about who we are, we created a short, impromptu video during our last recording session. Since this wasn't planned, the quality and editing isn't anything fancy, but hopefully the message still comes across. If there's demand, we could release more "behind the scenes videos" of what goes on around here. Enjoy!

New Flashcard Program

I'm proud to announce version 2 of our flashcard is now available for you to try out. What's new you ask?

The program is bigger now, so the initial loading time might be a little longer, so please be patient. It now features 2 modes - multiple choice and memorization. The former is basically version 1 of the program. You choose what lesson you're at, and the program will create a quiz based on vocabulary from your current lesson as well as a few earlier lessons. You're given a choice of answers to choose from, and the program will keep track of your score.

The new memorization mode uses a different approach. Here, you can specify a range of lessons, in case you don't want to start all the way from the beginning. The program will then proceed to test your recognition of all the vocabulary taught in each lesson within the range. The difference though is that you won't be given any choices. A word will be shown on screen and you have to first determine on your own how well you know it. The answer will then be displayed, at which point you can tell the program how well you knew the answer on a scale of 0 to 4, with 0 being no recognition at all, and 4 being immediate recognition. Based on your answers, the program will either return the card back to the deck or remove it completely. The program will keep track of your performance so that on future sessions, vocabulary you didn't recognize can be shown again.

Obviously the bigger range of lessons you choose, the more vocabulary there will be to test for. If you decide to go from lesson 1 to the latest lesson, there will be more than 1000 questions! I recommend you choose shorter ranges initially. While you are welcome to go through it at your own pace, I recommend using it once a day so your brain has time to remember what is being taught.

One other feature that has been added to the Memorization mode is an export feature. After choosing your mode and lesson range, you can select the export option which will generate a text file featuring the select content in tab delimited format. Note that this feature seems to work on some browsers and not others. In some cases, a window may popup with the data, whereas in others, a download link is displayed above the flashcard window.

I suspect there may be some glitches with this program. Please send me all your comments so the program can be improved.

Update: Thanks to your feedback, there have been a few improvements, including audio playback of answers, the ability to modify your current testing range and an increase in font size of the question. If you have any other suggestions on how to improve it, do continue to let me know.

General Updates

While it may seem on the outside that we're on a break, there has been a lot of behind the scenes work going on. Here are some updates on different sections of the site:

  1. Exercises page - A new batch of questions has been added, bringing the current total to about 30 or so. Eventually, depending on user response, we could have a question there for most lessons. The idea here would be to get you using what you learn in each lesson by having to answer an open ended question on the subject for that lesson. By keeping the questions open ended, we are encouraging you to find and use vocabulary related to your personal life. So if we asked what your job is, you would need to know how to say your particular profession in Chinese. This page has recently been enhanced to allow "conversations" with the teacher, so if you needed extra vocabulary, you could ask for help and the teacher could guide you through your answer. Each time an answer is posted, you will be notified via email. Links have also been added to the lessons that each question was taken from. Thanks to those who have used this feature and provided feedback so far. Update: I have noticed some users submitting answers in numbered Pinyin. I have since updated the interface to convert numbered pinyin into tone marks. This should hopefully improve the usability.  Update 2: Another batch of exercises has been added, bringing the total to about 70 questions now.
  2. PDFs for levels 1 and 2 are currently up to date. Level 3 will take longer as each lesson has 6 to 7 PDFs associated with it. My target is to have PDFs for all lessons available by the end of the year. Update: PDFs are now current for level 3 as well.
  3. Videos for level 3 were recently added, so almost every dialogue in the course should now have a video associated with it.
  4. Sentence builder questions have been added for most lessons in level 1 and are currently being added to lessons in level 2 onwards. Update: Sentence builder exercises are now available for every lesson in the course.

We hope to be able to use all these tools to improve the approach used at CLO. When we first began this course, new vocabulary was first introduced and then later reused in future lessons. However, with our word bank currently sitting at over 2000 items, it isn't practical to solely use future dialogues and lessons as review practice. So the new approach is to continue to use new lessons to introduce new vocabulary. Users can then study the examples used in the lesson in the vocabulary page while practicing their pronunciation. The sentence builder program can then be used to play with the words in other contexts. The podcast review will then reinforce this vocabulary further in more contexts. Finally, the exercise page can be used to test the user's own understanding by forming responses using this new vocabulary. Later, the flashcard program can be used to test the user's retention of vocabulary from older lessons.

It is hoped that this process will greatly aid in retention of new vocabulary. Where it's forgotten, the word bank can hopefully aid in quickly accessing old material. All these tools have been added based directly on user feedback, so keep your comments and emails coming in. Let me know how exactly YOU use these tools and what can be done to improve your learning experince.

Exercises Page

As announced in the last post, the exercises page is now ready and has been added to the Premium menu. The Pong Audio forum has subsequently been removed from the Community page.

I expect this feature will take some getting used to, since the idea is to get you from passively studying to actively studying by actually submitting your own input. The questions given for you to answer have purposely been given as audio only. If you're not sure what a question means, write a text message saying which part you didn't understand and a teacher will gladly reply.

Each question is a separate entity as we don't expect you to be able to answer all the questions (not initially anyway). For each question you do answer, the teacher's feedback will appear below the question after she has had a chance to review your answer. Don't forget as well that you can answer by recording your voice using the tools on the left side of the page, or by submitting your answer as text (pinyin, simplified, traditional or english if you need more help).

Like the other features on the site, the more you use it and the more input you give me, the more I can improve it, so keep the feedback coming!

Pong Replacement

I'm proud to announce the latest feature to CLO that will soon be replacing the Pong Audio forum. The original premise of Pong was to ask some open ended questions that users could record answers to and submit. Judging from feedback, these were the reasons I found why people weren't using Pong:

1. System requirements were high - it required a specific version of Java to be installed on your computer, which wouldn't run on many computers. Also, not everyone had a microphone attached to their computer. Some of those that did had to manually adjust their microphone settings. This was too much to expect the average user to do.
2. Usability wasn't good - accounts had to manually be entered by the admin, so it wasn't friendly enough to get right into. As well, there were complaints that the quality of recordings was low.
3. It was public - since most users are still beginning to learn Chinese, they weren't ready to broadcast their potentially flawed pronunciation to the world.

4. No feedback - there was no way for the user to know whether the answers they submitted were correct.

Solution: I still believe there is merit in a system of this sorts, so I had a new version of this application created in house that attempted to solve the issues noted above. So without further adieu, I'm proud to present (drum roll please...) the new Exercises page!

The premise here is similar. Questions will be asked in audio format. There will be no audio clues however, so you will be forced to use your listening skills. There are references to the lesson that each question is taken from however. To begin with, there are a list of 16 questions - one from each 10 lessons. Go through and see which ones you can figure out. You can then choose whether to respond or not.

Your response can either be in audio format - grab your microphone if you have one and record your answer - or you can type out your answer in any format if you so choose. Then click submit. Your answer will then be sent to a CLO teacher who will then send you feedback. Once the feedback has been sent, your page will be updated with teacher feedback for each of the questions you answered.

Unlike Pong, your answers will not be made public, so don't be shy! We also encourage creativity in your answers!

This application is still in beta, so I expect there may be some bugs initially. Please send me your feedback on what you like, as well as what we can change to improve the experience further. Enjoy!

UPDATE: It turns out that the audio recordings aren't working. I'm on it to get that fixed. In the meantime you can still send in text answers. Thanks to those who submitted answers and sent me feedback. Some of your suggestions have already been implemented.  UPDATE: Everything is now working smoothly.  Please continue to send me your feedback.

PDF Mania!

As announced in our October podcast update, we have now begun releasing PDF versions of all the notes on our site. This is a pretty time consuming process however, since in addition to there being 160 lessons worth of material, many of the pages have to be reformatted from the current "pop-up translations format" to one better suited for paper (this is especially time consuming for level 3 on, where most pages are available in 4 different formats). As new PDFs, are released they will be added to the Course Outline.

The release of PDFs allows us to create a new price plan for users who prefer to work away from their computer. They will now be able to subscribe to the podcasts and review podcasts as well as have access to all the PDFs that can be printed out and used offline. Once the PDFs for all current lessons are up to date, I can look into adding them to the Premium feed for future lessons.

UPDATE: The PDFs for Level 1 are now all available. You may have also noticed transcripts in Spanish available for the first few lessons. As time permits, we will be adding more of these for later lessons.

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