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JiangshiLieren

Speakmandarin.com - Learning Chinese via VoIP

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JiangshiLieren

I thought it would be good to post a write-up of my experience learning Chinese via VoIP. I use a website and service called speakmandarin.com. The folks here are extremely friendly and they employ a wide variety of very skilled teachers. Their level of knowledge in English varies but you can see their biographical information before you choose them for your classes.

 

When you first sign up, you fill out some forms and enter an essay-type response describing where you are in terms of your current learning and where you eventually want to be. They have a learning consultant who will then analyze your level and your goals and recommend the best way to get you there. Naturally, they will usually recommend that you attend 2-3 classes per week because that makes them more money, but frequency does have a huge impact on learning. The more exposure you have to Chinese and the more frequently you experience it, the better your understanding, comprehension, retention, and comfort level will be.

 

The lessons themselves are done via WebEx and the instructor will go through what amounts to a powerpoint presentation for an individual lesson. They have different tracks like regular Chinese learning or Business Chinese, but they can also tailor the learning to exactly what you want. When I was studying for the HSK exams we stopped the regular lesson plan for 1.5 months and did nothing but prep on HSK vocabulary, grammar, and listening practice. I am convinced that, in addition to vocab memorization tools like Skritter, the frequency and quality of my classes with speakmandarin.com are largely responsible for the fact that I scored in the 99th percentile (I got 1 question wrong in the listening comprehension section).

 

WebEx, especially when dealing with an overseas connection, can be very flaky. I regularly have audio problems with the instructors and don't really know the best way to fix it. However, they do offer Skype as a backup in case the audio fails (the presentation/slides portion of WebEx is so low bandwidth it rarely has problems) and they are even willing to call your phone for a lesson in case all the Internet options fail.

 

I am an extremely shy person despite my prolific nature when writing or communicating over the Internet and I often find 1-on-1 experiences, even over VoIP, very intimidating. When a teacher asks me to make a sentence, I struggle with coming up with an English one due to my shyness, let alone coming up with a Chinese one. That said, the teachers I have worked with have all been very understanding and friendly.

 

Just attending regular online lessons has done wonders for me, but alone it isn't enough. I need to supplement my learning with tools like Skritter and other reading. Speakmandarin.com also comes with a free membership usage for learning tool that uses a similar math algorithm (to determine what words to show you when and how often) called Supermemo. I don't know off hand if there's an iOS app for Supermemo, but I wouldn't be surprised.

 

Bottom line? If you don't have any native speakers around and are having trouble finding a source of decent Chinese education, then I highly recommend signing up with them. The prices may seem a little high, but I've done other online VoIP learning systems for other languages like Japanese and the prices are pretty comparable. Given the fact that having a 1-on-1 class is the default and you're not paying extra to go from group learning to personalized, I think it's a bargain.

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imron

Supermemo is the granddaddy of all SRS programs, and the guy who wrote it came up with the algorithms that everyone else uses.  However I've always found the UI to be horrible.  Anki is another program that does much the same thing except it has a much nicer/simpler user interface.  It is also free.

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JiangshiLieren

Agreed. SuperMemo is ugly. I've used Anki before and found it very useful but I really, really love the stroke and character drawing practice I get with Skritter that I can't get with Anki.

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imron

Yep, I was proposing Anki as a replacement for Supermemo, not Skritter.  Personally I use Pleco, but both Pleco and Skritter are special-purpose SRS programs aimed at Chinese (and in Skritter's case also Japanese) learners.

 

Supermemo and Anki are general SRS programs that can be used for anything.

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roddy

Thanks for the write-up!

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roddy

Has anyone given Speakmandarin.com  a try based on the above? Ruben, I know you've been checking out online lessons....

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Ruben von Zwack

No, but I went and checked out their website, when JiangshiLieren wrote the above review. So thanks, JiangshiLieren!

I don't even think they are that expensive.
 

But the pricing/subscription system is not for me personally.

I think it will suit you if you know exactly how much time you can regularly invest over the next months.
But I don't know that in advance: I may find myself with a lot of spare time next week, and study a lot of Chinese, or I may as well have some project coming in today and find myself working 50, 60 hours/week over the next 2 weeks, and my Chinese "studying" will be limited to watching some series while already half asleep at night.
I did these sorts of hours per week/per month commitments in the past with swimming memberships, music lessons, etc., and always ended up with many paid hours that I just couldn't use up in the given time.

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JiangshiLieren

Send an e-mail to [email protected] and explain your situation. They may be able to either recommend a plan you might not have seen or they might be able to work something out with you. They seem pretty flexible and willing to try and accommodate the needs of their learners. 

 

It couldn't hurt to try. Also, when you pay for the monthly plan, credits accrue when they are billed to your credit card, but they expire I think like 6 months later, so if you pay for 10 lessons in January and you're booked solid and you pay for 10 lessons in February, you can do 20 lessons in February while still maintaining the same plan price.

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speakmandarin

To JianshiLieren: 
 
Thank you, JiangshiLieren, for taking your time to post your experience at SpeakMandarin.com here! We’re glad that you enjoy your study with us and very happy to see that you scored so well at your HSK exam! To address your other concerns, yes, I agree with you, that sometimes Webex does not perform so well as Skype in terms of its audio quality. But with the combination of using the audio/video of Skype and the presentation from Webex, it delivers the class quite well as you may have experienced.
 
Regarding SuperMemo, I am curious to know if you were using the course “Chinese: Fast Track for Beginners” or the personal vocabulary course that your teacher made for you? SuperMemo is a very close partner of SpeakMandarin.com. We’ll definitely let them know about your feedback and help improve the UI for a smooth flow of study. (Thank you, imron, too, for your feedback.)
 
To Ruben:
I’m sorry to hear that the pricing/subscription system is not for you. And I understand your situation of being uncertain of your study time. One of the benefit of studying 1on1 at SpeakMandarin.com is that you control your time and pace! As JiangshiLieren suggested, why don’t you write to [email protected] and explain your situation in details? I’m sure that we’re able to come up with a plan that suits your needs. SpeakMandari.com customize the plan and lessons for each of our individual student! 
 
But, again, as JiangshiLieren said, the regularity of exposure to the target language is essential for retaining and improving the skills while an intensive study in a short period could help you advance to another level. Now we have a new solution for the busy people. We call them every day for a short 15 minutes conversation practice. They don’t even need to open their computer for this. For those who regularly use SuperMemo and established their studying history in the system, we can even use the system data to form the highly-targeted conversation to practice what they need to! Wouldn’t this interactive study work better than watching some series at mid of night?
 
I’d strongly recommend you to write to [email protected] and ask for a plan that works with your situation. Regarding the price, I would suggest you to take a free trial with us and only then you’ll understand the difference between our service and the cheap community college classes.

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Flickserve

I noticed that speakmandarin.com have lessons in PowerPoint. I downloaded the lessons and put them in my Android phone and tablet.

However I couldn't get any audio out of it. It works on computer though. This limited my capacity to review lessons as it is pretty boring just read a PowerPoint presentation.

I have a feeling that the powerpoint presentations were prepared a long time ago and seem to be based on 'flash'. Tablets/smart phones don't run flash software (AFAIK) so one is limited to sitting at a computer.

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aslate

Hi Flickserve,

 

Yes, unfortunately, downloaded courses do not work on mobile phones as of now. We are currently working with SuperMemo to present our courses in an interactive mobile-friendly way. This is targeted to be completed and released early next year.

 

In the meantime, if you download the Adobe plugin for Android, you can play the courses by going to our website on your device. I know it's not the same as downloading it, but at least gives you one way to access them.

 

Angela

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