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farfromhome

fluenz mandarin or other beginners resource?

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farfromhome

Hi everybody, this is my 1st post! I'm just about to begin learning mandarin and have just got hold of Pimsleur's I & II. I'll also be taking a once a week beginners class starting next month. What other beginners resources would you recommend?

Fluenz looks interesting but I have not really been able to find many 'independent' reviews and its quite expensive so I am wondering is it worthwhile getting it? - does anyone have any experience of using it and if so would you say it is worth it? I can't seem to find out how many hours of learning it provides.

If anyone could recommend a good balance of 3 or 4 good beginners resources to keep me going for a while that would be great! Many thanks in advance.

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OneEye

I've never heard of Fluenz before, which is saying a lot since foreign languages are a hobby of mine and I'm somewhat of a collector of language programs. I visited the site and it looks very flashy and gimmicky. The presenter on the demo is very cute though. :D

On second thought, she's cute, but she isn't a native speaker. Huge negative points there. Her accent is good, but you want to base your accent on a native speaker, not a good foreigner.

For a beginner, I don't think I could recommend anything other than a Basic Chinesepod subscription, along with Beginning Chinese and Beginning Chinese Reader by John DeFrancis. A dictionary and some sort of spaced-repetition flashcard program to drill characters and words is also extremely helpful. PlecoDict is the way to go as far as this if the cost isn't prohibitive.

So, altogether:

ChinesePod Basic membership (1 year): $60

Beginning Chinese - $8 (used - abebooks.com)

Beginning Chinese Reader Vol. I&II - $27 (also used - abebooks.com)

PlecoDict Professional - $100

Altogether $195, which is significantly more affordable than Fluenz. I also noticed that Fluenz seems to only use pīnyīn. That's ok, but you do need to learn characters if you have any hopes of being literate. So you'll still need the DeFrancis books. So really we're comparing ChinesePod with Fluenz. Let's put it this way: ChinesePod has more than 750 lessons currently, and they add more on a daily basis. The podcasts are free (the subscription is for transcripts of all the lessons). Paying $60 for that huge amount of material (plus 365 new lessons per year) sounds much better to me than paying upwards of $300 for a limited resource. No matter how cute the presenter. That was a good idea they had.

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Volapuk49

Michel Thomas was a language teacher who developed a method to teach languages in record time and without memorization. I studied with him for a number of years and recently was asked to produce a Mandarin Chinese course using his approach.

Here is a review from a British student. It was posted on Amazon.co.uk

How to learn Mandarin the Michel Thomas way, 11 Dec 2007

I've just finished this new Michel Thomas Method Mandarin course, which was written and presented by Dr. Harold Goodman. Apparently, Dr. Goodman was the only person ever to be taught personally by Michel Thomas to understand his approach to learning. It really shows that he has mastered Michel's technique. The style of the course is what many of us have come to expect from Michel Thomas but with some truly unique and individual twists. I also learned to speak French, German, Spanish and Italian with this method (I'm a bit of a language junkie) but I have to say this one stands out for me for several reasons.

Firstly, as a native English speaker we are culturally programmed to believe that Mandarin is almost impossible for us to learn because it is a language which employs tones. The author totally dispels this myth in the first few minutes of the course. He takes English words and then lays a tone over the top to illustrate what they are and how they work. I thought this was very clever because I immediately felt more relaxed with the whole idea of learning Chinese after he did this. When he teaches you a new word he then employs an utterly brilliant method to help you remember both the pronunciation of the word and it's tone. Each word is given a mnemonic and each tone is assigned a hand-movement and a colour as a way of aiding your recall. The hand-movements seem to work on a subconscious level as I found myself making the correct movement automatically when saying the word.

The second reason I love the course is the pace. I never felt rushed or that either of the presenters were becoming irritated with the students. On the old courses Michel himself would often get a bit tetchy when one of the students was slow on the uptake. It must be said that both of the students on this course are excellent and get very few things wrong, usually a mispronunciation, which was corrected in a very gentle way. There is plenty of opportunity to practice each new word (and it's associated tone) before the course moves on. The students ask more questions than on the other courses I've listened to. This is beneficial because they were often questions about things I was thinking of myself. I never felt at any point I was being left behind by the instructor. So often in the past, with other language courses, I've found that they would tend to go from being very easy to impossibly difficult all of a sudden and I was left with a sense of hopelessness and then I would give up on the language. Here the progression is gentle but steadily increasing. It's also worth pointing out that a correct model for pronunciation is given by a native speaker. Often the old courses were criticised because Michel didn't speak with a native accent (except, arguably, for German).

The third reason I love this course is the humour of the presenter, I had a few laugh out loud moments with some of the mnemonics he used. Put it this way, I'll never forget the Mandarin words for `and' or `really' which standout to me as hilarious. There are a few other jokes which are esoteric and may be picked up by some sections of the listening public.

I'm a teacher of Finance and I recently had a Mandarin speaking student on one of the courses I was presenting. I thought to myself `I wonder if she will understand me if I use some of the Chinese I know'. So I gave it a try. She immediately played back to me what I had said to her in English to show that she understood and commented that my use of the tones was perfect. When she asked how long I'd been learning she refused to believe that it was only a few hours. This was a real boost to my confidence that in such a short period I was communicating relatively complex ideas and being understood by native speakers.

Finally, having finished this course I feel a tremendous sense of achievement. I have done something that most English speakers consider to be virtually impossible. I now have a good understanding of the sentence patterns and tones of Mandarin so that when I wish to take my studies further I will be able to do so. However, I've decided that I'm going to wait for the Advanced course and Vocabulary course that are promised by the publisher for 2008; I just can't imagine any other method being as good. I hope many people who read this review will also experience this truly unique learning method for themselves, I highly commend it to you.

--------

This course and its sequels will also be published in the US in February, 2008 by McGraw-Hill. See Amazon.com for that edition.

--------

There are also two related threads on Michel Thomas ( MT) Mandarin Foundation Course and Michel Thomas at the following language learning site:

http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_topics.asp?FID=2

The link to the review is:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michel-Thomas-Method-Mandarin-Foundation/dp/0340957263/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199500126&sr=8-1

Good luck!

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Chinese Learner

Hi,

I've been using both Michel Thomas Mandarin and Fluenz. I am halfway through both.

I have to say that I like them both even though they are both fairly expensive.

In many respects they are similar. They seem to try to start you form scratch and then build-up slowly from there. I think the main thing about both products is they are more interested in providing you with basic useable grammar constructions rather than a whole load of stock phrases learnt parrot fashion or vocabulary. I repeat; they are more interested in teaching grammar than vocabulary but the way I see is they are laying the foundations so therefore better to learn a few very practical every-day constructions well that you will be able to use comfortably and know exactly what they mean than than learn a whole load of stuff that you won't remember or can't use because you don't understand how they 'work'.

In the long run I think that it is much more useful teaching someone to able to actually 'communicate' by having the ability to construct what they want to say rather than try to teach someone stock phrase that they don't truely understand or can't de-contruct.

As I speak Cantonese already, I find both these products really helpful though I have to admit that I find Sonia Gil's and Lisa's (one of the actors) Mandarin accents are terrible!

How good or bad these products are I can not say as I am not going to Beijing until two weeks from now to test out my Mandarin!

I'm trying to finish both courses before I arrive though I have to stop using both at the same time because sometimes they teach completely different constructions to say the same thing and I get confused!

Michel Thomas has an introductory 2 cd which comprise the first 2 cds out of the 8 cd set course that you can buy but I would recommend buying the whole set because I have a feeling you will like them - I do believe that they are a very good start to learn Mandarin!

After I bought the Michel Thomas Mandarin course, I found them selling for half price on the internet in the UK...sigh....

I don't know if this offer is still valid but maybe you can try...

http://www.pressoffers.co.uk/hod196

If not:

http://www.michelthomas.co.uk/mandarinchinese.htm

And you can get a free demo of Fluenz from download.com.

http://www.download.com/3120-20_4-0.html?tg=dl-20&qt=fluenz&tag=srch

By the way version 2 is being released in February but I am sure you will probably qualify for the new version if you buy now - they will sending me a copy free-of-charge and I bought it a few months ago.

And to learn to read which I have put aside for a moment I am using a; 'A Key To Chinese Speech and Writting Vol.1' by Jöel Bellassen. Same thing. Starts off with a few basics and builds up. There is a volume 2 too. You can get cassete tapes for the Englsih version of the books or CDs for the original French version of the books; 'Initiation à la langue chinoise et à l'écriture chinoise, tome 1 & 2'

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw/105-1519705-8052454?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bellassen&x=0&y=0

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renzhe

I don't have much experience with (good) language software, but I can recommend some resources which should help you learn:

Textbook: New Practical Chinese Reader (with the DVDs)

Flashcard program: Anki or Mnemosyne

Dictionary: Google xiaoma cidian for a decent online one, or think about purchasing a paper or electronic copy

Listening: Chinesepod and a soap opera of your choice once you get more advanced

Speaking: You'll need a Chinese friend or a course for this one.

I find that, while instruction is almost indispensable when learning Chinese, most courses take too long, and that you'll learn faster if you're dedicated. Still, you should run with the course as long as it's not too expensive because a teacher will help you set a good basis as far as pronunciation goes, and you'll have someone to ask questions.

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flameproof

Seems the USA edition is a bit cheaper with US$50.37 - not sure it's the same though:

http://www.amazon.com/Mandarin-Chinese-BeginnersThe-Beginners-Program/dp/0071547363

(but not available yet, just for pre-order)

You can also check ebay.co.uk , there are a few from £35.00 upwards.

I wouldn't consider Fluenz, it's CD-ROM, so can only be used in front of a PC. I prefer audio stuff which I can hear while on the PC, or in the car, on your MP3 or wherever you want to. Means, you have far more chance to listen to it.

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Volapuk49

The US edition is the same as the UK except for the title and the price.

McGraw-Hill says it will be out in February, 2008.

We just recorded the sequel, Advanced Mandarin ( UK title), but I am not sure when it will be out in the States. It should be out this Spring in the UK and available on Amazon.co.uk.

I am open to answering any questions you may have about the course, teaching approach, etc.

Good luck in learning Chinese!

Harold Goodman

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flameproof

I am too curious, I bought one off ebay.co.uk yesterday. Can't await to get it.

So how many words do you learn in the "foundation course"? How many in the the soon to be "advanced course"?

8 hours sounds quite short. Pimsleur level 1 has 15 hours, and they have 3 levels. However, they repeat a lot and each level has only about 200-300 words.

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Chinese Learner

I've done the first 6 cds now. I actually think it does work! Tell me what you think.

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Volapuk49

Flameproof ,

Let me explain a bit about the course before I specifically answer your question.

This course gets you really well grounded in the basic patterns of spoken Mandarin. Without these patterns really hard-wired and in place it doesn't matter how much vocabulary you have; you will not be able to freely speak.

In addition, this course is the only one that I know of ( and I have checked out most printed and audio, audio/visual ones out there to prepare the course) that actually can guarantee that you will emerge proficient in tones.

The course uses a new, patent-pending method to teach tones that is amazingly effective. Without the tones you will not be understood. They are absolutely essential and, unfortunately, poorly taught, if at all, in most courses.

The amount of actual vocabulary in both the Foundation ( maybe 100 words) and the Advanced ( about 75 but I don't have the specific figure in front of me when I write this) is much less than most other courses.

However, the intention is not to build up your vocabulary. The intention of the courses is to give you the best foundation for immediately speaking Mandarin that is currently possible. The vocabulary in the course serves the purpose of grounding you really well in the structure of the language.

Once you have this, you can easily acquire vocabulary elsewhere.

In addition, and this is really remarkable, there is absolutely no memorization, homework, review, or practice involved.

I know that this sounds unbelievable but it is true.

It is a totally unique method for teaching languages that has been around for about fifty years.

Up until 2000 you had to pay many thousands of dollars to study with Michel Thomas, the man who created the approach behind much of the course, in order to get these benefits.

He died in 2005. He never taught Mandarin.

Today we have this course in Mandarin.

I hope that you enjoy it!

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farfromhome

Hi there,

I just wanted to thank everyone for their suggestions so far. You've given me plenty of options to consider!

I think on balance I will probably give Fluenz a miss for now as it is very expensive for a learning tool that will only be useful for a limited time. Having quickly looked at the demo, I do think it has some things going for it over other products though. I think that both the visual and interactive element do make it attractive over many teach yourself type products but at the end of the day the evening class I'm starting next week will hopefully serve that function.

(Had I been studying completely in isolation I think I would have gone for it)

I really like chinsespod - I downloaded all the newbie lessons during my free 7 days but am planning to subscribe to the basic package so many thanks for that suggestion. I'm also going to keep plodding through Pimsleur 1 :). The Michael Thomas Mandarin looks very interesting also so I think I might pick that up also - just looking around for the cheapest price:oops:

I haven't looked into any flashcard programs yet, but i will get around to it so thanks for those suggestions also.

So that just leaves me to choose a textbook and reader. I'm finding this quite difficult although at moment I'm leaning towards Beginning Chinese & Reader (DeFrancis) over New Practical Chinese Reader but that's just really based on reading amazon reviews. Many people seem to rave about the simple thorough appraoch of De Francis but others give out because its so old and much of the chinese quite antiquated. Others seem to really rate New Practical Chinese Reader whilst others say it skips over many crucial basics too quickly - all very confusing!!

I'd be hugely greatful if anyone else could briefly comment on what they consider the best basic textbook and why. Also if OneEye or Renzhe could say a little about what it is about their recommendations they like I'd really appreciate it. My problem with language textbooks is that although English is my 1st language, due to the prevailing way in which it was taught to me in school I'm extremely ignorant of most technical aspects of language. For instance, I'm embarassed to admit I have no idea what a participle is - past present or otherwise!! So basically my preference would be for a textbook that does not rely so heavily on techincal terms relating to grammar and syntax (if such a thing exists)so I can get on with learning chinese rather than english! Or am I being unrealistic?!

Any further pointers or advice would be most wecome:)

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flameproof
I'd be hugely greatful if anyone else could briefly comment on what they consider the best basic textbook and why.

Just buy some primary children books. The normal learning material I find too boring. I could suggest "Rapid Literacy in Chinese: New Approaches to Learning Chinese/Pengpeng (Sinolingua)", it's boring too, but I like their approach a lot.

A good book with CD is: Wit and Humor: An Easy Chinese Reading Series: A Simple But Difficult Problem (with CD) (简易汉语趣味阅读-简单的难题)

However, it has about 1500 different characters. Sinolingua has now 3 such readers.

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OneEye

The layout of NPCR is pretty jumbled and confusing, I thought. The DeFrancis books are clean and well-organized, but more than that there's a lot more practice reading Chinese text. The vocab is also presented very logically, building compound words from the characters you've learned rather than giving you multi-character words from characters you don't know yet. And in the character version of Beginning Chinese, the characters are hand-written, so that's good practice as well.

The DeFrancis books also start out with traditional character and then teach simplified in supplementary lessons. This makes a lot of sense and makes learning the simplified much easier than it would be to learn traditional after simplified (trust me, I did that). The NPCR books only teach simplified as far as I know. All around I just like the DeFrancis books much better. The old PCR books, however, aren't bad, and I use them some just for a change from the DeFrancis books.

Cost is another factor, too. I bought the character version of Beginning Chinese (the other is pinyin-only) and both volumes of the reader for $35 total. I'm not sure if you can even get one NPCR book for that price (just one book, not textbook/workbook/teacher volume combo) outside of China.

Hope this helps.

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renzhe
I'd be hugely greatful if anyone else could briefly comment on what they consider the best basic textbook and why. Also if OneEye or Renzhe could say a little about what it is about their recommendations they like I'd really appreciate it.

I think that either one is fine and will help you along. "Integrated Chinese" is another popular choice used in the West.

I haven't looked at DeFrancis' book, but I've learned from 3 other Chinese textbooks, including two written in German, and NPCR was by far the best one of the lot. I have studied other languages and must have been through over 10 different textbooks, and NPCR is the best I have worked with.

I like the fact that it keeps a good pace. It won't take a year before you start learning useful phrases and words, and with Chinese this is especially important. I like the fact that it has a storyline with likeable characters, which keeps you interested. I like the fact that the dialogues are sometimes funny and that the characters have their own quirks. It keeps you interested. In many other textbooks, it's a completely different setting in each new lesson, so you don't really care after a while.

The text is large and legible, there are good explanations for weird grammar rules, and plenty of exercises to drill the sentence patterns you've just learned. There are also detailed explanations relating to how the characters are built and learning how to write them (this is missing in most textbooks).

As for simplified-traditional, I urge you to learn one set, whichever is more relevant to you. Once you have mastered/learned one set, you can usually get decent in reading the other one very quickly. This is how the Chinese people learn it too. Trying to learn both sets at once will totally overwhelm you. Once you learn (for example) simplified up to a level of knowing 3000+ characters, you'll see that you will be able to read a lot of text written in traditional characters already, and the rest is easy. Don't worry about that now. NPCR is made with simplified characters in mind, but all the lessons are also available in traditional script in the appendix, and the traditional forms of characters are available in the dictionary.

My problem with language textbooks is that although English is my 1st language, due to the prevailing way in which it was taught to me in school I'm extremely ignorant of most technical aspects of language. For instance, I'm embarassed to admit I have no idea what a participle is - past present or otherwise!! So basically my preference would be for a textbook that does not rely so heavily on techincal terms relating to grammar and syntax (if such a thing exists)so I can get on with learning chinese rather than english! Or am I being unrealistic?!

It shouldn't be a big problem, as Chinese grammar is so very different from English.

The Chinese grammar explanations do tend to get technical, but they are usually explained in simpler terms first, and you'll find that most of the time, you will figure out what is meant by the grammar rule without the technical explanation.

As for getting it, the first volume is quite cheap on Amazon, and the rest I ordered from friends who visited China. It's 4 times cheaper there.

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flameproof

I got my "Michel Thomas Foundation Course" yesterday. It's a bit too early to make too many comments as I listened only to the first 10 or so lessons.

To combine physical action (finger movement + color) with tones sounds a bit silly at first, but I think it does make perfect sense as a physical and visual representation and really helps to remember tones.

The English contend is very high. It's maybe hard to avoid for an Audio only course. Speed seem to be OK for beginners. Some little chit chat gives a positive note too.

Two points I find arguable, that Mandarin has "well above 1 billion" speaker. I think it's about 850mio that speak it as 1st, 2nd, or whatever language. And Cantonese has 8 tones. I think nowadays we speak about 6 tones. But who cares anyway? I agree with most other points (other people may argue that Mandarin is easy, but I agree here). In general the information given is very good and fresh.

I would have no hesitation to get the advance course too, after it's out.

I will give some updates later.

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farfromhome
I got my "Michel Thomas Foundation Course" yesterday. It's a bit too early to make too many comments as I listened only to the first 10 or so lessons.

To combine physical action (finger movement + color) with tones sounds a bit silly at first' date=' but I think it does make perfect sense as a physical and visual representation and really helps to remember tones.

The English contend is very high. It's maybe hard to avoid for an Audio only course. Speed seem to be OK for beginners. Some little chit chat gives a positive note too.

Two points I find arguable, that Mandarin has "well above 1 billion" speaker. I think it's about 850mio that speak it as 1st, 2nd, or whatever language. And Cantonese has 8 tones. I think nowadays we speak about 6 tones. But who cares anyway? I agree with most other points (other people may argue that Mandarin is easy, but I agree here). In general the information given is very good and fresh.

I would have no hesitation to get the advance course too, after it's out.

I will give some updates later.[/quote']

Thanks for the info flameproof. I'd be very interested to hear an update of how you're getting on once you've had a chance to get into it in more detail:)

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flameproof

I am just on the 2nd cd now. Not much news for me and i don't think I will get too much out of it. I would go the "advanced" once it's out anyway (more out of curiosity rather then necessity) .

To represent the tones by finger movement is quite a good idea and it can really work if you use it consequently. I does help remembering (major problem for all types learning is actually forgetting).

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roddy

If anyone is interested, you can get a free 20 minute sample of the Michel Thomas course from Audible, here. Does require registration though. I've got it playing in the background and first impressions are that it reminds me very much of Pimsleur - slow and steady.

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imron
To represent the tones by finger movement is quite a good idea and it can really work if you use it consequently.
Haha, the problem with this is that then everytime you talk, you look like you're conducting an orchestra :mrgreen:

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