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feihong

Clubhouse is a killer app for practicing your Mandarin listening skills

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feihong

I've been using the Clubhouse iOS app for the past couple of days, and while I'm reserving my judgment of the concept itself, I think it's a great resource to practice your listening skills. There are a large number of Mandarin speakers on the app, probably due to interest generated by the recent media coverage. For those who don't know, Clubhouse is an audio-only social media network that lets you join ongoing chatrooms based on your social graph.

 

Chatrooms can be organized under "clubs" which are just groups of users that who can start chats within the auspices of the club. There's a Mandarin Learners Club, which, despite its name, is mostly filled with native speakers, and they have a chat that's been running continuously and around the clock for the past week. Because it's mostly native speakers, they speak at normal speed and have all kinds of weird regional accents. I've heard some non-native speakers chime in, but they're mostly advanced learners from Japan,  Korea, and other Asian countries.

 

They really are just talking about anything. I've heard conversations about the differences between North and South Korean, surviving a bad case of COVID, housing prices (this has come up multiple times), relationship stories, and flying cockroaches in Taiwan. There's always a moderator in the room to make sure that it doesn't become a free-for-all. When someone is being a jerk, other users call them out, and the moderator has the right to mute them or kick them out.

 

Unsurprisingly, they've gained a ton of users over the past week and their infrastructure isn't holding up well. At the time of this writing, they've taken down their waitlist signup form, but you can still join if you get invited by a friend who's already on the app. Since they're a fairly well-funded startup, they'll probably ramp things up pretty soon. They're also working on an Android version of their app, although it might be quite a while before they release it.

 

Pro tip: To discover Chinese language chats, just search for your favorite China-related media creators. For example, I searched for 小声喧哗, my favorite Chinese-language podcast, and found most of the hosts already on Clubhouse. After following all of them, my main screen feed shows the random Chinese-language chats that they're participating in.

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feihong

You can obviously also use the app to practice your speaking skills, but generally the moderator doesn’t allow one person to dominate the conversation unless they have something really interesting to say.

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Moshen

I don't understand how this works. Who decides who gets to talk, about what and for how long? How is it not complete chaos or like a boring cocktail party?

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feihong
12 minutes ago, Moshen said:

 

I don't understand how this works. Who decides who gets to talk, about what and for how long? How is it not complete chaos or like a boring cocktail party?

 

I don’t know, I’m still new to the app and have not moderated yet. Sometimes it gets a bit boring but the moderators always manage to introduce a new topic if it gets too boring.
 

What I do know is that the room is divided into two groups, the listeners and the people on the “stage”. Only people on the stage have microphone access. Listeners can “raise their hand” if they want to go on the stage, and the moderator has the the right to allow them to do so.

 

I think when a moderator wants to sign off, they nominate a new moderator from the pool of people on the stage. So the room is never without a moderator.

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feihong

So what are Chinese people talking about on Clubhouse? While eating breakfast, I browsed Clubhouse to look for Chinese-language chatrooms. Turns out there were quite a few:

 

image.thumb.png.57727dab6a83dabf4de52da28e8e655a.pngimage.thumb.png.fd6d3a9089cf83f42fecbd38503158a7.pngimage.thumb.png.d226af98ed7a2c975e597f6b004d6f24.pngimage.thumb.png.e09d8bf58e6b85f74344517b33fa8c55.pngimage.thumb.png.1b9b7829c3a9c96612750f74adc8fa0c.pngimage.thumb.png.4ef1b380ad0d5f28cbdadf8dfa2a03ec.png

None of these were under the Mandarin Learning Club, they seemed to be spontaneous chats started by native Chinese speakers.

 

There was also one chat scheduled for the evening:

image.thumb.png.5bd568698ac0305d488b61f519ca25af.png

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jiaojiao87

I'd love to try this, but I don't have an invite code.  As soon as I heard about it I had the same thought, this sounds like a great way to practice listening skills.

 

Ah well, they'll likely open up at some point once infra is more stable.

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Dawei3

I just started using Clubhouse.  I was very surprised at how engaging it was.  My Chinese is just intermediate, so I miss much in regular conversations.  However, with the Clubhouse groups I've attended, I could understand most of what was said.  I'd guess this is due in part to the fact that the non-natives speak at a slightly slower pace than natives and use simpler sentence structure.  I even kept on Clubhouse while doing stuff on my computer and I still paid attention to the discussions.

 

One cool aspect of it was that participants were from everywhere.  One I listened to had French, Spanish, Thai and other participants speaking Mandarin.  It also struck me that when someone didn't understand or know what to say, they switched to English.  That is, they recognized that participants would likely not know their native language, so they used English.  I know this is common around the world, but it still surprised me to hear a woman from Thailand complaining in English about her ability to speak Mandarin. 

 

I recommend downloading the app and getting on the waiting list to join.  

 

 

 

 

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TheBigZaboon

I'm sitting in front of the tv now at 6:10am, Tokyo time. Coincidentally,  I'm watching a segment on Clubhouse on Japanese morning news TV. The jist of the story is about security issues with the Clubhouse app. The news report cites a Stanford University cyber security organization that reports (warns??) that the app encrypts your interactions (See edit below.), and sends the data to some company in Shanghai. (Edit: The report was broadcast again an hour later, and I noticed that I was mistaken in saying the app encrypts your interactions, and sends them to a company in Shanghai. The report actually states that the app sends your interactions unencrypted to the company in Shanghai. Apologies...)

 

Because I was playing with my phone, I missed most of the report, but there's no mistaking that the issue IS security. I didn't notice whether or not the Stanford report claims the app accesses other data, and forwards that, too, but...

 

In any case, forewarned is forearmed, or something like that.

 

Just sayin'...

 

TBZ

Edited by TheBigZaboon
To acknowledge my mistakes...

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feihong
18 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

I recommend downloading the app and getting on the waiting list to join. 

I didn't know the waiting list was even still open, but good to know.

 

17 hours ago, TheBigZaboon said:

Because I was playing with my phone, I missed most of the report, but there's no mistaking that the issue IS security. I didn't notice whether or not the Stanford report claims the app accesses other data, and forwards that, too, but...

You should be just as careful with what you say on Clubhouse as on WeChat. SCMP reports that Clubhouse uses communication services provided by a Chinese company, and although the company in question claims to not store user data, Chinese companies face few if any legal consequences if they do actually store user data on Chinese servers.

 

I've heard of multiple reports of toxicity in Clubhouse chatrooms, although I myself have never experienced it. They seem to occur mostly in rooms run by shady characters in the self-help business, and seem enabled by the inability of Clubhouse's moderation capabilities to scale with the number of users. I guess sticking to rooms where people are mostly interested in practicing their spoken Chinese would allow you to avoid most of that.

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Dawei3
33 minutes ago, feihong said:

You should be just as careful with what you say on Clubhouse as on WeChat

This is a good caution because Clubhouse's expectation is that you use your real name (if you don't, your friends won't be able to find/follow you), so if you say something inappropriate, it will be associated with you.  Even if Clubhouse isn't recording you, anyone listening into the conversation could record it.  As a result, I wouldn't say anything that would embarrass me if it was repeated. 

 

Clubhouse is likely the most public chat you'll ever engage in.  The Chinese language groups have had close to 100 (most of whom are listeners).

 

  

 

 

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feihong
30 minutes ago, Dawei3 said:

Clubhouse is likely the most public chat you'll ever engage in.  The Chinese language groups have had close to 100 (most of whom are listeners).

Browsing my feed, I can see several Mandarin language rooms that are in the hundreds. Given the current rate of explosive growth, it’s not hard to imagine more popular Chinese rooms cracking the 1,000 mark.

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feihong
19 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

This is a good caution because Clubhouse's expectation is that you use your real name (if you don't, your friends won't be able to find/follow you), so if you say something inappropriate, it will be associated with you.

By the way, this is just a suggestion, not a requirement. Your friends can easily find you because your account is linked to your phone number. You can also give your username to anyone who wants to follow you.

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