CLO User 133's blog

Couple of Tweaks

In response to some great user suggestions, the following two features have been added.

1. The audio player in the Complete and Podcast review pages now features a pop-up version, hopefully allowing better coordination between pausing and restarting the audio, while scrolling down the page.

2. There is now a direct access window on the sidebar that lets you go directly to the Vocabulary or Complete page for any lesson. This will hopefully be easier than manually looking for the lesson in the (many) Course Outline pages.

These are great, because I wouldn't have been able to come up with these ideas on my own. If you think of other such features that will help out your overall usability experience do tell!

Pinyin Conversion Tool

In order to make the word bank work properly, we had to have a Pinyin conversion tool installed.  Thanks to feedback, we have decided to turn this into a separate tool.  While there are a lot of similar tools out there on the web, the difference here is that this lets you convert back and forth between numbers and tone marks (all the other ones I've seen only go one way).  This will be useful to me for the front page to turn the tone marks into numbers.  If some of you prefer to use numbers or have applications that don't display tone marks properly, you are welcome to use it.

Again, this is another great tool brought to you by your own comments and ideas.  So do continue to send me your feedback and how you use the resources on this site, and / or what else would help in your learning.

The Pinyin Conversion tool can be found under the Resources tab.

Learning Insights Blog

The latest addition to the community page is the new learning insights blog.

In this blog, I hope to chronicle some of my own personal experiences while trying to learn Chinese, as well as detail some of the practices that worked best for me and how they apply to this course.  Along the way, I hope you will share some of your own thoughts of what ideas work for you, so that we can all benefit as students.  Much of the direction of this course has come from user feedback, so I hope this new blog will provide a better forum for that.

Create Your Personal Feed

In preparation for the return of PDF transcripts to the Premium section, I have added an option for you to select what exactly you would like delivered to you in your Premium feed. The Premium feed currently features 3 different categories - the dialogue summary, the slow dialogue summary with pause for repeating after the speaker, and the podcast review. By visiting the new feed options page, you can select which of the above you want delivered to you in your feed. If you are happy receiving all of the content, then no changes are necessary.

Later, when different PDFs options are available, you will also be able to choose which versions of the PDFs you would like included as well.

If you do make any changes, it may take some time for your old feed to update, so do be patient. As always, if you have any technical issues, please let me know.

Word Bank Update

Thanks to feedback from users, I've been trying to improve the functionality of the Word Bank.  As this course has progressed (now heading into level 3), so has the size of the Word Bank.  While this of course is a good thing, it also means that when searching for certain entries in Pinyin, a lot of homonym results may also show which may be completely unrelated to what you are searching for.

In the past, the Pinyin search did not support tone marks, so every variation of a word and all its homonym equivalents were shown with the search.  Recently, I have added tone mark support to increase this accuracy.  This has resulted in better results when you click on Pinyin words from the Complete transcripts.  However the problem still remained that it wasn't easy for users to enter tone marks when searching for Pinyin words manually.

I'm happy to say that this problem has now been solved!  When searching in Pinyin, you can now use numbers to represent tone marks (similar to the number format used when lessons are released on the front page of the site), and the Word Bank will automatically convert these numbers into the appropriate tones.  Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think.


Really Complete Transcripts

Observant viewers may notice a change in the latest Complete transcript for lesson 116. There is a bar on top that now allows you to view the characters in various forms including Pinyin (the default), Traditional, Simplified or in plain English! The popup translations still work as before translating Pinyin to English, Chinese characters to Pinyin and English back to Pinyin. Hopefully those of you studying to read Chinese characters will find this useful for upcoming lessons.

UPDATE: This format is now being used for the Premium podcast transcripts as well.  So you now have multiple ways to test yourself there as well.  Enjoy!

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.

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