2014 Fall Intern: Natalie

intern-natalie

Natalie Kuan is a Chinese American sophomore in the NYU Shanghai program, and was one of our first NYU interns. Because Natalie had a high level of Chinese, she was well-suited to a wide variety of tasks, from Chinese Grammar Wiki editing, to social media management, to having demo lessons with our teachers, to proofreading new print versions of Mandarin Companion titles.

Natalie’s account:

The past four months at AllSet Learning have flown by so fast! I first got in contact with John through my school’s (NYU Shanghai) internship fair. At AllSet, I worked a lot with the Chinese Grammar Wiki, learning some basic HTML, editing content, translating example sentences, and adding pinyin to all the example sentences. By finalizing all these small details of the Chinese Grammar Wiki I realized how big of a project it is and how much effort it must have taken to get it to where it is today.

The Chinese Grammar Wiki has also made me realize how many small points of Chinese grammar I actually didn’t know! One of the more challenging aspects of editing the Wiki content was adding and clarifying uses and rules. As a heritage speaker, even though I know how to use most of the grammar points, I realized that I didn’t know how to explain them. Why is it that you can put 了 here and not there? To me, Chinese grammar just was the way it was, and I knew what it was purely through practice. I never had to learn all the different structures and so I really had to push myself to research and think about these grammar rules, then put them into writing. It has been such an eye-opening experience to watch the wiki grow and even get the new layout that it has today.

Another task I had at AllSet was updating the social media accounts. This allowed me to spend some time researching for interesting articles to share. Through this process, I got to learn a lot more about Chinese culture and current events. I also had the opportunity to witness how it is that a business can take advantage of the current social media trend to widely inform and promote an idea or product.

I’d like to thank all of the staff in AllSet for making my first internship in Shanghai such a wonderful and warm experience. Thank you to Yu Cui and Yang Renijun for helping me to distinguish and clarify grammar points. Thank you, Weiwei, for giving the office such a fun and bubbly atmosphere and always feeding me snacks! Lastly, thank you to John for giving me this opportunity to work in your office and for having the patience to teach me how to do the different tasks.

We really appreciate all the hard work, Natalie, and we’ll miss having you in the office. Keep up all your Chinese socializing, and maybe you’ll even become a Chinese teacher someday!

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2014 Fall Intern: Salomé

Salome

Salomé is another example of a brave intern that took on AllSet Learning’s myriad of marketing internship tasks while simultaneously learning the basics of Mandarin Chinese. She used our Pronunciation Packs for daily practice to improve her Chinese.

Salomé brought French style to the AllSet Learning team for the first time ever, and proved a big help with her Photoshop skills and also video editing skills. In addition, she helped fill our social media accounts with lots of interesting, beginner-friendly material. She was also one of the fastest-working interns we’ve ever had!

Coming to Shanghai I didn’t really know what to expect about life here, as I had never been to Asia before. My time at AllSet Learning has been a great experience: I had the chance to not only get familiar with life in a Chinese office, but also to learn few sentences in Chinese as my level of Chinese was below 0 before coming.

During my two months at AllSet, John gave me various different tasks, from writing blog posts to taking care of the social media accounts, which always kept my work interesting. I learnt way more than I thought I would through my internship, and I feel like the skills I gained will be very beneficial for me in the future, especially when I’ll start my university degree next year.

I felt really lucky to have found an internship in a small office, where I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted and see so many different aspects of the company, whether it was witnessing the designing of the new Chinese Grammar Wiki website or proofreading the Secret Garden graded reader before it was finalized for print.

I’d like to thank John for always keeping me occupied by giving me fun tasks (and making me realize I could actually like Chinese music) along with the rest of the AllSet Learning who helped me everyday to improve my Chinese pronunciation! And thank you Weiwei for helping me order my lunch everyday and make me discover new delicious Chinese food I would never have had the chance to try back home in Switzerland. My two months in the office flew by and were always enjoyable, thank you!

We’ll have videos of Salomé’s pronunciation progress soon. In the meantime, we wish her the best of luck, as she goes on to Costa Rica to help take care of sloths in a sloth reserve (yes, really).

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中文老师:请用你的中文名!

If your Chinese teacher asks you to call him by an English name, send him a link to this article. (Original English version here.)

让你的学生用一些发音简单的英文名称呼你,对他们丝毫没有帮助。但很多老师并没有意识到这点,因此,强调使用中文名字的重要性还是很有必要的。

Chinese Teachers: Please Use Chinese Names!
1、使用你真实的中文名字是显示你对自己文化的尊重。

作为老师,你能决定你的学生怎么称呼你。在中国文化中,这不是什么大问题,因为学生通常不会直呼老师的名字,只是称呼“X老师”。作为一个中文老师,你为什么不利用这个机会开始你的中文教学,让学生了解中国文化呢?从第一节课就让学生理解并尊重你的文化,那以后的课就会更加顺利。

2、使用你的中文名字是学生练习发音的好机会。

不使用中文名字的主要借口就是“我的姓的发音对外国人来说太难了。”是的,也许你的姓对大多数外国人都很难,但是你的学生既然下定决心学中文,那么他应该知道这不是一件容易的事情。即使你的姓特别难发,那也只是一个音节,况且这个音节在每次课上学生都会重复发音很多遍,所以最终他们一定会掌握正确的发音的。

不要太娇惯你的学生,让他们经历一个克服困难的过程,即使你姓“许”、“朱”、“江”、“张”、“于”什么的,他们最终也会掌握这些发音的。

3、让学生称呼你的中文名字可以增加学生的信心。

第一次课就让学生正确地发出“许”当然不太可能,但是当你对学生说“你不需要叫我‘许老师’,叫我Vivian就好了”的时候,你就是在打压学生的信心,你就是在暗示他们,你没有信心让他们掌握正确的发音。

老师的这种做法很可怕,你不仅在向学生传达“你不可能掌握这个发音”,你也在告诉他们“这个音很难发,难到我都教不会你这个发音。”这种行为实际上也显示了老师对自己能力的不自信。

作为一个合格的老师,你完全可以这样告诉学生:“我的名字的音有点难发,但是别担心,只要你多练习,你一定会掌握正确的发音。”所以,在第一次课时,老师就应该对学生抱有信心,这样学生才会不断尝试和练习。你的鼓励和信心对他们很重要!

4、中文名字很难记。

对大多数外国人来说,中文名字难记是事实。但是,不鼓励学生尝试着记住中文名字,只是让他们一遍遍重复你的英文名字,这是在偷懒,对他们没有丝毫帮助。

刚开始学中文的时候,学生很难记住一些中国人得名字,但是随着学生接触到的中国人越来越多,学到的中文名字越来越多,这个过程就会变得越来越顺利。而帮助学生跨出这一步的,就是中文老师。

5、这种情况在香港怎么样?

在香港,很多中国人也用英文名,这也是事实。但作为汉语学习者,没有必要去学习诸如“Jacky”、“Coco”之类的名字,他们需要的是练习那些不熟悉的,诸如“张”、“王”、“胡”这样的姓。所以,直呼英文名虽然在香港很常见,但是在大陆,这并不普遍,更不能因此作为逃避使用中文名的借口。

6、中文名字让中文课堂更加合理。

试想一下这样一幅画面:Carl是一个金发碧眼的外国人,他在中国教英语。Carl会说中文,他的中文名字叫“张XX”。Carl在上英文课的时候让中国学生叫他张老师,因为对中国人来说,Carl的发音有点难。

这是不是很荒谬?恐怕中国学生都会觉得很奇怪吧?在英语课上叫他张老师,而不是Carl,这对学生学习英文没有一点帮助。

所以,中文老师们,请在课堂上使用你们的中文名字!

这篇博文是翻译,原文来自Sinosplice.com:Chinese Teachers: Use Your Chinese Names!

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2014 Summer Intern: Jazlyn

Jazlyn

Jazlyn Akaka is one of very few IT interns that we’ve had in the AllSet Learning office over the years, and she did an amazing job. One of the first things she did on the job was to clear up some office networking issues that had been plaguing us for months, and then she went on to be hugely valuable in her super-thorough testing of the AllSet Learning Online Store leading up to its launch.

There are tons of IT needs at AllSet Learning, so she also got to practice her Mandarin some valuable AllSet staff training in Chinese.

Let her tell you about it:

Working at AllSet Learning this past summer was such a great experience! Heading into my internship my hopes were to improve my Chinese and learn more about computer science. Not only did I learn more with respect to my major, computer science, but I was also in an environment conducive to improving my Chinese.

These past two months I mainly worked on alpha testing the AllSet Learning Online Store. At the tail end of my internship, one of my favorite tasks was giving Yu Cui different IT pointers using Chinese. I think this was one of my favorite assignments while I was at AllSet because it helped me to improve my Chinese, and it provided me with the opportunity to converse with someone about what I’ve been studying in college.

Thank you so much to the AllSet Learning team! You made my time in Shanghai so enjoyable, and I will not forget my experience working with you.

Thanks a lot for all your hard work, Jazlyn! We couldn’t have launched the Store nearly as quickly without you, and you’re always welcome here in Shanghai.

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2014 Summer Intern: Zach

Zach

Zach Herzog was one of the braver interns we’ve every had, because he took on a summer internship where he had to learn Chinese (he started the internship not speaking any), and he also had to complete his other duties with almost non-existent Chinese. He blew us away with what he learned in 6 short weeks, though!

Zach’s duties were largely marketing related, and aside from serving as a guinea pig to help show the effectiveness of our Pronunciation Packs, he also did market research, product research, wrote some blog posts, tested out some apps, and even gave his own recommendations for future Mandarin Companion story titles.

In Zach’s own words:

After studying abroad in the Spring of 2012, I discovered that I have a love for travel and a huge interest in learning about different cultures. As a business major, interning in China seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn about life in one of the world’s oldest and largest economies, as well as a culture totally different from life in the States.

I was so lucky to find AllSet Learning. As a small office, I was able to see so many different aspects of business. From marketing strategies to website design, I feel like I really learned some hard skills to take back as I finish my degree. John was a great mentor and taught me a ton about what it takes to run your own company. His love for China is contagious and he and his staff were so helpful in teaching me about the culture and helping me make the most of my time here. And while I had never spoken a word of Chinese before landing in Shanghai, I was surprised at how quickly I picked up the pronunciation from some of the exercises and products that AllSet has developed.

I also have to give a huge thanks to Weiwei, Yu Cui, and Yang Renjun for helping me adjust to life in Shanghai, and for teaching me so much about China (as well as exposing me to ever increasingly spicy foods!) My six weeks working here has been absolutely unforgettable. I am so thankful for the skills I gained, and I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone in the future!

Zach actually starred in two short videos which highlight the progress that can be made in just 6 weeks, regular practicing with our Pronunciation Packs under a teacher’s guidance. We’ll also be posting those soon.

Great work, Zach, and enviable attitude! Keep up that Chinese, and come practice with our staff anytime…

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The Benefits of Versioning

AllSet Learning has recently launched its own Online Store for digital products that help you learn Chinese. One of the key features of the store is its versioning system. If you use any kind of software (especially smartphone or tablet apps), you’re probably familiar with versions already. But the concept can be applied to more than just apps. It could be applied to ebooks, or even music. And it can certainly be applied to our digital products.

AllSet Learning Online Store

In a nutshell, the way it works is that any time a new version of a product is released, anyone who has purchased that product receives an email notification about the new version. Those paying customers can then download the new version for free.

There are several key benefits to this kind of versioning:

  1. You don’t have to check for new versions; you’re notified as they are released, and updating is as easy as logging in and clicking a download link.
  2. Paying customers benefit long-term from ongoing development of products. AllSet Learning is committed to continually improving its products, and as a customer, you should benefit from that.
  3. As an early adopter of new products, you can “get in on the ground floor” for a cheaper price. As products develop, their scope may expand, and their prices will increase accordingly. If you’re more risk-averse, you may be happier plunking down more money for a more mature product that already has good buzz, and that’s fine.
  4. When you give feedback on existing products, it’s often easy for us to make changes and issue an update.

We’re currently getting in touch with our customers and gathering feedback to issue a round of updates. New products are coming as well. We’re excited about growing our offerings, and we urge you to check out the AllSet Learning Online Store if you haven’t already!

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How to Use Pronunciation Packs

With the release of the AllSet Learning Online Store, we are now offering Pronunciation Packs to help elementary and intermediate learners of Chinese improve their pronunciation in critical areas. The key components of the Pronunciation Packs themselves are professional-quality MP3 audio files and PDF word lists. So how does one use these tools?

For a creative learner or teacher, the possibilities are limitless, but most of us would prefer a bit of guidance. That is why every pronunciation pack comes with an Instructions PDF outlining:

  1. How a learner can effectively use these Pronunciation Packs on her own
  2. How a teacher can use these Pronunciation Packs as pats of Chinese lessons
  3. A Chinese version of the instructions for the teacher

You can check out the current version (1.0) of the Instructions by downloading the PDF yourself:

Pronunciation-Pack-Instructions-download

Just keep in mind that all products in the store will be updated with new versions, and that includes these PDF instructions. They’ll keep getting better and more complete with each update. (The file linked to here will not be updated.)

Thank you, Chinese learners, for your support of the AllSet Learning Online Store, and we look forward to sharing new products and updates with you in the future!

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Introducing the Online Store

We’re proud to announce that the new AllSet Learning Online Store is now open for business! AllSet Learning has created iPad apps before, and even penned Chinese graded reader ebooks, but now you can also get great learning content directly from us as well.

AllSet Learning Online Store

Why a store?

Some of our users might be wondering why we made this move. For us, it’s been a totally natural transition.

From the start, AllSet Learning has served Chinese learners in Shanghai as its main business. Because each client’s needs are different and the core of our services is personalization, we’ve had to develop quite a few different types of materials to meet our clients’ needs if there’s not already an existing study resource to do the job. The Chinese Grammar Wiki started out this way as well. But pronunciation has always been a key focus of our personalized instruction, and pronunciation practice has been a key component in our clients’ lessons over the years. As clients use them and provide feedback, we’ve seen which ones get the best results, and then refined them accordingly. More than four years later, it definitely feels like it’s time to share these with a larger audience.

The great thing about offering our digital products directly through our own website is that we can literally release anything we want. We’ve got lots of ideas, but sharing what we’ve already been working on for years first is a no-brainer.

Also, by establishing our own store, we can assert certain principles we believe in. One key one is a dedication to quality, supported by versioning. Put simply, we believe our products can always be better, and we intend to keep improving them. Any time you buy a product from our store, you also receive all future, improved versions of that product for free. (We’ll be talking more about this idea in a future post.)

We hope that you find our current “Pronunciation Pack” offerings useful. We will also be releasing more products (and new versions), and if you’d like to be updated on those, please do sign up for our newsletter.

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Adventures in Chinese Haggling

Our summer intern Zach had zero Chinese when he started. That hasn’t stopped him from communicating! Here’s how he did with just “Dūo shăo qían?” (how much?) and “TaÌ guÌ le!” (too expensive!).

I started learning Chinese just 13 days ago. My vocabulary is still in the infancy (I can say “delicious” and occasionally ask for water) and my practice of tones sounds like a pitchy falsetto singer sliding around the octave. But with every new word I’ve learned, a little bit more of China has opened up for me. Ordering my own food in a restaurant has become a highlight of my day, although I do get offended when they bring me a fork instead of chopsticks.

This past weekend, I was ready to get out of Shanghai and try a bit of my local tongue outside of Shanghai. I can still only form about six coherent sentences (and one of them is “Nĭ hăo”) but in my mind, I was ready. With a train ticket to Suzhou in hand, my goal was to dive into the culture and see how much I could discover.

Realizing that haggling was a great way to get started, I prepared two phrases for my adventure: “Dūo shăo qían?” and “taÌ guÌ le!” I figured that I would ask the first question, and regardless of the response, I would answer with “too expensive.”
Walking around the souvenir shops of Ganjing Lu, I took careful attention to select the right item. With the temperature and humidity climbing well beyond my comfortable threshold from back home, I decided to purchase a fan. One particular tourist trap had a beautifully crafted selection. I picked one out that featured a picture of Confucius on one side and some hanzi writing on the other.

Nervousness settled into my chest as I realized I was about to have to talk to someone. My pronunciation is average at best. Beyond the few phrases I’ve learned, my vocabulary is almost non-existent. This could be really messy and really embarrassing, but if I didn’t give it a shot, I would never know for sure what would happen.

I waved at one of the women that was walking around and managing the store.

This was the big moment. I was about to enter the world of International price negotiation. I just had to ask one question, give one objection, and suggest a lower price. Then I was going to be the proud owner of a fan.

With a curious look on my brow, I asked, “Dūo shăo qían?”

The woman pulled a small spiral note pad out of her pocket. Cool! I thought. She understood me.

She wrote something on it and turned the pad to face me. It read 19.

Here I go!

“TaÌ guÌ le!” I said, with feigned outrage at the price. Now the real negotiating would begin.

Or at least this is where the negotiating was supposed to begin. Instead, she shrugged, put the note pad back in the pocket of her apron, and walked away.

IMG_2353

I think this raises an interesting point about international travel. Just because I’ve seen how a process works does not mean I know how the process works. In the end, traveling is all about meeting and working with people, and people everywhere are unpredictable.

But this also meant that as I boarded the train back to Shanghai, I had failed in my haggling mission. It was my first weekend outside of Shanghai since arriving in China, and my small limited vocabulary had gotten me nothing.

But as the train clipped along at 297km/hour, I realized the value of putting myself out there in his wildly foreign language. I turned around and noticed the woman sitting in the seat next to me had an empty water bottle wedged in the seat pocket of the chair ahead of her.

I smiled at her and pointed at the water bottle. “Dūo shăo qían?” I asked.

She looked at me and then at the water bottle. It was obvious she was confused. After saying something I didn’t understand, she silently stood up and moved to empty seat across the aisle from me and sat back down.

I did my best to keep to a straight face as I turned around and looked back out the window. Now, I was 0-2, but I was also really proud of myself. Learning a language is a hard process. It can be nerve-racking, but everybody says stupid things at first and makes awkward mistakes in the process. By hopping on trains to new places, trying to talk to new people, and looking foolish every step of the way, I’m learning a lot both as a global citizen and a language student. If shrugged shoulders and extra elbow room on a train are the worst thing that can happen, it is totally worth taking the chance to engage with people.

I look forward to learning more and testing out my skills on future adventures.

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2014 Spring Intern: Michelle

intern-michelle

Michelle Birkenfeldt was AllSet Learning’s first Danish intern, and she did a great job of using her Chinese skills to help with various academic tasks. Although naturally a shy person, she was here long enough to warm up to everyone and really practice a lot of Chinese. She started interning in October 2013, and continued all the way until May 2014 (with some well-deserved breaks for travel in China).

She had a lot to say, so we’ll let her do most of the talking:

I came to China as an addition to my bachelor degree in Denmark. I mainly came here to study Chinese language, business and culture at Donghua University, but I quickly found out I would need more than books to improve my Chinese as much as I wanted to. After pulling some contacts here in China I came in contact with a company that offered me a scholarship. That was when I was introduced to AllSet Learning. After working here my Chinese improved super fast thanks to the teachers in office who are always happy to talk and ask lots of questions. They were always happy and interested in knowing things about my country and me since I was the first Danish intern at this company. They were also willing to help me if I had any questions about schoolwork or other stuff.

During my 8 months internship at AllSet Learning I have done lots of different things! At first I helped correcting sentences on the Chinese Grammar Wiki and came up with new suggestions for changes. Other than that I also read different graded readers, came up with suggestions for changes, answered questions about graded readers, photoshopped images for the Grammar Wiki, checked words for mistakes in online dictionaries, looked through LOTS of dictionaries in order to find new grammar points for the Chinese Grammar Wiki, tested iPad apps, participated in teacher meetings, walked around Shanghai in order to take pictures for the Grammar Wiki, and so on.

There were always lots of tasks, so you could always be sure you had something to do, and most of the time they were also fun things. To sum it all up, it has been great working at AllSet Learning and I have met lots of new people though this place that have all been very nice and helpful. My Chinese improved a lot during my time here (definitely also because of the “only-Chinese” office rule), which was what I wanted to obtain through this internship. It has been great being a part of something that for sure one day in the future will become something very big!

You’re always welcome at the AllSet Learning office, Michelle!

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2013 Fall Interns: Logan and Ashyln

intern-logan

Logan Pauley and Ashyln Weber were two Centre College students that helped extensively with testing early versions of the graded reader stories which AllSet Learning created for Mandarin Companion. Their intermediate levels of Chinese and dedicated attitudes were a tremendous help. As a result, they were even thanked by name in the books they worked on at AllSet Learning.

In addition, they both also did some good work on the Chinese Grammar Wiki.

In Logan’s words:

Studying in China for the fall semester, my main goal was to improve my Mandarin skills. Immersion and constant discussion with experienced teachers, editing and testing Mandarin Companion graded readers, and doing translations and edits for the Grammar Wiki truly afforded me an opportunity to enhance and apply Mandarin in a tangible way. During the internship, I could really see improvement in not only my knowledge of Mandarin, but also my confidence in using it.

While my responsibilities in the office had a lasting impact, the atmosphere John. Yu Cui, Renjun, and Siping fostered made the internship what it was — lighthearted and fun, but productive. Some of my fondest memories of Shanghai include being made fun of / trying to defend myself while testing graded reader discussion questions (and, later, drowning my sorrows with a Mex & Co. burrito!)

Although my time at AllSet is over, I’m truly grateful for the opportunity and really hope to revisit the office someday! Thank you so much!

Thanks a lot, Logan and Ashyln! We know we’ll see you around these parts again.

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AllSet Pinyin 2.0

iTunesArtwork

AllSet Learning Pinyin 2.0 has been released, and is now available as a universal app with retina graphics which works on both the iPhone (tall and short) as well as the iPad. We’ve actually been working on this app for quite a while. Why did it take so long? This app was a total rewrite of the original, and now takes full advantage of the new “auto-layout” features which enable it to work flawlessly on iPhones and iPads.

So what’s new that you can actually see?

  • Updated “slide-out” menu
  • New design for settings, addons, and “about” info
  • Added elements of iOS7 design
  • Fixed the audio for the “cai” syllable (it sounded a little weird)
  • STILL NO ADS

Here are some shots of the new design (iPhone 5 screen size):

Note that the app also supports Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Thai, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese. Here are a few examples of that:

Since releasing our pinyin chart app in 2012, we’ve noticed a lot of other pinyin apps released, some even clerly “borrowing from” our own carefully considered design. Many of them even add in ads to try to monetize a free app, or cripple functionality in an effort to make users pay.

We’re dedicated to making a useful app for learning pinyin, and we believe adding ads to an app like this is just too annoying (especially for an iPhone version). We’ve got plans for making this app even more useful in the future, and we hope that our users will support our efforts and help spread the word!

One way is to retweet our announcement on Twitter:

Another is to share our Facebook post announcement.

And, of course, 5-star reviews in the App Store are extremely helpful in keeping us going.

Thanks for your support!

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Story Selection for Mandarin Companion

MandComp+AllSet

The AllSet Learning team handled the story writing for the hot new series of Chinese graded readers, Mandarin Companion. As a result, we also had to wrangle with some serious academic issues. One of the questions frequently asked about these new books is how we chose the stories. People find it odd that we chose to write adapted versions of western classics rather than just using Chinese stories. Well, there are good reasons for the choices (and there’s no ethnocentrism involved!)

Reason #1: Traditional Chinese Stories Are Difficult

Sorry, but it’s true. Traditional Chinese stories often involve ghosts, monsters, spells, emperors, war tactics, and all kinds of really cool themes. The only problem is that each of these brings with it some pretty complicated vocabulary. To make matters worse, a lot of these words are written with rare characters. When you’re writing a graded reader (especially at Level 1, the 300-character level), impractical vocabulary is a no-no, but the use of obscure characters is absolutely taboo.

One potential workaround is to “adapt” the Chinese stories themselves. “Simplify” them. This seems like a good idea at first, but serious simplification is always needed, and that usually requires some pretty serious compromises. Character identities and whole plot points might need to be drastically altered. While the average reader may be fairly forgiving in this department, the average Chinese person may be less tolerant. To many Chinese, such changes amount to making the story wrong, to slandering sacred Chinese culture. Obviously, that’s not our intent, but significant changes to Chinese classic stories can upset people for cultural reasons.

So when you add up vocabulary/character challenges and cultural barriers to story modifications, our conclusion is that you’re better off avoiding the traditional Chinese material for the lowest levels. We wish it wasn’t so!

Reason #2: Western Classics Are Easy

It’s not that the stories themselves are inherently simpler, it’s that classics like The Secret Garden already have a long tradition of translations, simplifications, and adaptations. As westerners, we’re used to it. It doesn’t bother us (even when they’re really wacky, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). When we tell prospective readers that we have Chinese versions (fully adapted to the Chinese context, with all Chinese characters and Chinese settings) of classic western stories like The Secret Garden and Rip Van Winkle, the reaction is usually, “cool!” It often deepens reader interest, sometimes to the point of interest becoming how we adapted this particular story to the Chinese context. That’s a reaction you can’t get from your audience when you use unfamiliar Chinese stories, and we’ve found that our Chinese would-be-allies tend to be somewhat skeptical about westerners tinkering with the inner workings of Chinese classics.

We’re fine with all this, really. It just means that…

Conclusion: Western Classics Are a Better Starting Point

It’s not that we think it’s a bad idea to ever do Chinese classics. We want to. It’s just that for the lowest level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Rather than cramming more obscure characters down our readers’ throats, we’d prefer that they just got started reading earlier. That means the simplest possible content conducive to compelling stories for Level 1, and the content that works best at those levels.

Mandarin Companion does have plans for simplified Chinese classics as well as original content (sci-fi, anyone?) at higher levels. We’ll be happy to help them make that happen!

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Chinese Picture Book Reader 1.3

The Chinese Picture Book Reader version 1.3 has finally hit the app store! This version addresses what we’ve been hearing the most: the app needs more content. So it’s got it, both free and paid. Here’s what’s new in this version of the app:

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  1. The app is now both iOS6 and iOS7 compatible, and entirely RETINA (iPad 3+), and all new books support retina.
  2. The big change is lots of NEW BOOKS, both free and paid. Fee content has been updated to a new, retina style.
  3. We’ve added a nifty new parallax transition effect to the textbox as you swipe between pages.
  4. The app home has been refreshed a bit and made more consistent with the rest of the app.

New books include:

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  • Life in the Countryside, a narrated photo set featuring the work of China-based photographer Sean Hanratty
  • College Kid Interview #4: “What Chinese city do you like most?”
  • College Kid Interview #5: “Who is your hero?”
  • College Kid Interview #6: “In the past 10 years, what do you think has been the biggest change in China?”
  • College Kid Interview #7: “What do you think is the best way to pursue someone you like?”
  • College Kid Interview #8: “If you want to live pretty well in Shanghai, how much do you think your salary should be?”

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If you enjoyed any of the “college kid interview” series content before, you’ll definitely appreciate this update. There are now more voices, photos, and real handwriting, all in a new high-res design.

We hope you like the updates. More to come!

Get Chinese Picture Book Reader for iPad

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Word Boxes on the Chinese Grammar Wiki

In our endless endeavor to make the Chinese Grammar Wiki useful and accessible, we’ve added yet another feature: word boxes. Word boxes? That’s right, on all of our keyword pages we have added a box that automatically links up to other websites that can help you get a deeper understanding of the vocabulary and usage of each individual word. Websites like MDBG are great for understanding the definitions of words, while Jukuu and Weibo can show you the words in real sentences. These are more resources to help you on your way to Chinese fluency, and we are glad to help you find them.

Word Box on the Chinese Grammar Wiki

Word Box on the Chinese Grammar Wiki

The word boxes do not necessarily have specific ties to any individual grammar point. Instead, the word boxes link to different kinds of websites: dictionaries, explanations, and example sentences. This way, if you are unsure as to the actual function of a word, you can look it up and clear up the confusion before you study the concept. Additionally, the example sentences are a great way to see the word and its related phrases in action. If the examples on the Grammar wiki aren’t sufficient, the examples sentences from other websites will help show you the correct usage and their contexts.

Here’s an example of how a learner might use the word boxes for :

  1. The learner is browsing the article on “Zai” following verbs
  2. The learner clicks on the keyword “在” in the box at the right, taking her to the keyword page for 在
  3. The learner clicks on the links in the word box at the right, getting lots of extra examples using 在

The Grammar wiki will still be the go-to resource for Chinese grammar, but we are happy to link to other websites that offer excellent additional information that we’re not in the best position to provide. The information on all of these websites complements the information that we provide on the Grammar Wiki, providing a fuller, deeper understanding of how the words fit into Chinese grammar. We can provide the explanations for the constructions and then we show learners where they can read and practice the constructions that they’ve just learned.

The new word boxes create a network with the Chinese Grammar Wiki spreading out and connecting to other Chinese learning websites. This way, your Chinese learning experience will be more complete, and your comprehension of the grammar concepts will be better for it. Check out the new word boxes and let us know on Facebook or Twitter (@ChineseGrammar) what you think of them!

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2013 Summer Intern: Ben

Intern-Ben

American Ben Slye was recommended to AllSet Learning by previous intern Parry, and turned out to be a great fit. Through a variety of duties, Ben proved that he was an industrious addition to the AllSet Learning team for the summer. (Our teachers in the office also thoroughly enjoyed joking around with him as they helped him improve his Chinese.)

Ben’s projects included graded reader research, graded reader testing, app testing, taking Chinese “training lessons” with AllSet Learning teachers, assisting with blog post writing, and editing and enhancing the Chinese Grammar Wiki.

Ben had this to share about his internship experience:

My time at AllSet has just flown by. I thought a summer would feel longer than this, but the people in the office always made it fun. Between making me do translations for the Grammar Wiki to giving feedback on any new materials, I was always surrounded by Chinese, which was just the way I wanted it! Most of my time here was spent fine-tuning the Grammar Wiki, making it more connected and more accessible. I was also able to participate in some of the teacher training programs, giving a student’s perspective on the way that they taught. I loved seeing those meetings and how a consulting business like AllSet conducted them.

Of course, having native Chinese speakers to work with really helped my speaking ability. Just being able to talk to them every day, making jokes or asking about their weekends, it was always possible to practice Chinese. Plus I was talking to teachers, so they knew how to get me to learn better! Every time I tried they would be able to correct me or give me some new vocab, so there was always more to learn. I filled pages of my notebook with new words, and I always made sure to use any new grammar they taught me (although not necessarily correctly). They would keep correcting me, and I can see a definite improvement since starting here.

Although my stint at AllSet is over, I am so grateful for the opportunity, and so happy to have met the wonderful people that I have in Shanghai. It’s been great!

Thank you for everything, Ben! You were truly a powerhouse when it came to Grammar Wiki editing, and we all loved having you around full-time. The office definitely felt emptier when your internship ended. (Good thing you left your precious notebook behind so we have something to remember you by….)

P.S. Yes, of course we got his precious notebook back to him!

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2013 Summer Intern: Brandon

Intern-Brandon

Texan Brandon Sanzhez was this past summer’s CET intern. While at AllSet Learning over the summer, Brandon worked on a range of projects, including audio editing for the Chinese Picture Book Reader, social media promotion, graded reader testing, app testing, taking Chinese “training lessons” with AllSet Learning teachers, and Chinese Grammar Wiki editing.

Brandon brought a sense of humor and positive attitude to all he did, and everyone in the office enjoyed having him around. (Too bad he had those pesky Chinese classes in the mornings…)

Brandon’s take on the experience:

I came to Shanghai with hopes of learning Chinese culture and language, but didn’t really know what to expect. John’s compassionate and motivating personality provided comfort and encouragement in a very unfamiliar environment. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous flying halfway around the world to intern, but AllSet provided a stimulating and friendly work environment that soothed my nerves.

I absolutely loved the variety of tasks I was given throughout my internship at AllSet Learning. One week I could be working with audio software to analyze Chinese tones; the next, I am offering suggestions for AllSet’s future products and submitting UI design ideas for upcoming apps. My ideas were met with enthusiasm, and I truly felt like a part of the AllSet Learning team.

My two months in China zoomed by, and I enjoyed every moment of it. AllSet Learning was an invaluable aspect of my experience in Shanghai, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such kind, open, and passionate individuals.

We appreciate all you did, Brandon. Keep up with your Chinese studies, and we’ll be happy to buy you another coffee on your next visit to Shanghai!

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Lots of New Content Coming to the Chinese Picture Book Reader

The AllSet Learning team has been hard at work for some time now on the next round of new content for the Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app. A blog post on Sinosplice helped provide some ideas, and summer intern Mei helped with the graphic redesign of the “College Kid Interview” series, which now supports high-res “retina” iPads.

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Keywords on the Chinese Grammar Wiki

Keywords   Chinese Grammar Wiki

When studying Chinese, it’s always good to have a few keywords that can unlock a host of grammar structures. Lucky for you, we have them, on our new Keywords page on the Chinese Grammar Wiki! By linking up the words to the grammar points that they are related to, we’ve made it so that you can see what sorts of constructions they’re a part of. Keywords can also be found in the Grammar Box at the top of the articles, just in case you wanted to see other related constructions for that word.

This page is particularly useful if you know that a phrase contains a certain word, but you don’t know what other kinds of situations it belongs in (or what the structure means in the first place!). If this is the case, all you need to do is find the word in the list and it will take you right to that page. Another option is using the search bar. We have pages in both pinyin and hanzi, so you can search for either one. Then the wiki will take you to a disambiguation page, allowing you to choose the right topic. It’s just another way to make the Wiki easy to navigate and makes finding grammar that you want to study simple.

Another way the Keywords page is useful is if you want to study the many uses of a particular word (I’m looking at you “了”). If this is the case, all you need to do is type in the word, and you will find a list of all the constructions that use that word. In the case of “了” you might be there a while, but by the end of it you would know all about its various uses. (Sidenote: We’ve also added a special “Uses of le” page, because it’s a point that really deserves special attention.) Finding keywords is a great way to kickstart your memory and learn a lot of different ways to express yourself with just one piece of vocabulary. Don’t pass up this opportunity.

If you are confused about a specific use of a word, or if you want an overview of all of its uses, the new Keywords page will meet that need. Here are a few keywords to get you started:

Find the full list of Keywords on the Chinese Grammar Wiki.

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2013 Summer Intern: Mei

Intern-Mei

This summer we really enjoyed working with our first ever design intern, Mei (May) Tong. Still a design student in Toronto, Mei came all the way to steamy Shanghai this summer for work experience. We had plenty of design work saved up that we were happy to work with her on!

Mei is originally from China, but has been living in Canada for most of her life. As a company always working to bridge cultures, we appreciated the dual-culture perspective she provided.

Mei’s description of her internship with AllSet Learning:

I returned to Shanghai to learn about China’s taste in design and the role of a graphic designer in Chinese companies. AllSet Learning was an ideal company to experience this, due to the mixture of American and native Chinese employees. I was able to get feedback on my designs from everyone, which helped me grasp what worked and what didn’t.

In the short time I interned at the company, I was able to design a logo and some iPad app content. The logo took a considerable amount of time as we explored many, many options such as color, placement, type, and size. After finalizing the logo, I moved on to re-designing the look and feel of the Chinese College Kids content for the Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app.

Apart from the designs, the office was a great environment to work in due to the always entertaining and unusual conversations that happen to come up. It was also great to be able to work on the designs in the office with John so that he can participate in the process and give me his opinions along the way. The people at AllSet were always friendly and helpful, which made it a fun place to work. I was able to practice my Chinese during our talks at lunch, where I learned that I have an accent (probably from living in Canada). That was the first time I had heard this, making me realize that I still have a lot to learn.

Thanks for joining us this summer and creating with us, Mei! We look forward to seeing what you do in your career as a graphic designer.

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Chinese Picture Book Reader 1.2 Released

Chinese Picture Book Reader

You may have been wondering when new content will be added to the AllSet Learning Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app. Actually, recently, we have been too! It was always our plan to add more and more content to the app, but in this case, a technical curveball was thrown our way. This is a short story about how technical issues related to apps can have pretty unfun consequences for small companies like us, who would just like to produce more good content for our apps, if we had the choice.

You see, originally, the Picture Book Reader app offered in-app purchases (iAP) through Urban Airship. So when you buy an additional picture book through our app, the iTunes App Store first verified the payment, and then the app authorized the download to your iPad of the iAP picture book content. Originally, this iAP content was stored on Urban Airship’s servers, and all the authorization/verification/whatever technical communications took place through Urban Airship’s API. It was all a relatively complicated process, but it was made complicated by Apple, and Urban Airship actually did a pretty decent job of making it a smidge easier for developers.

But then Apple decided to get into the iAP-hosting game. And once Apple gets into the game, Urban Airship knows it is going to lose a huge chunk of its market share. So Urban Airship did the sensible thing and decided to bow out of the iAP hosting service and focus on its other business. The only problem was that Apple “got into the game” without providing full documentation or support for the poor developers that had to figure out Apple’s complicated iAP hosting process. This means instead of following a detailed spec, developers are doing lots and lots of internet searches and programming by trial and error. Really not fun.

For us, this was a pretty big deal. It meant that our developer had to completely rewrite the most complicated parts of the app’s code, and make it work with Apple’s barely-documented iAP service. We had to make sure that all users that had ever purchased iAP content through the Chinese Picture Book Reader app would still have easy access to it (ideally in a totally seamless transition), and that meant lots and lots of testing.

Fortunately, we did it, and with a whole 10 days to spare before Urban Airship totally sunset its iAP hosting service on July 1st. All that testing seems to have paid off, and the app is working just fine, in-app purchases and all, but if you experience any problems, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at apps@allsetlearning.com.

In this latest update we also made the in-app help screens less annoying, and updated the app’s icon.

Coming in the next few releases:

  • Bug fixes related to tricky text switches and matching audio
  • Total retina support for the whole app (it’s about time!)
  • New content (both free and paid)

Thank you to all our supporters out there! More is coming soon, and we really appreciate your patience so far. And if you don’t have it yet, go download the app.

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2013 Spring Intern: Erick

Erick with the iPadErick Garcia, a senior in the Nanjing Chinese Flagship Program, has recently completed the longest and most productive AllSet Learning internship to date! Erick helped standardize and upgrade the ever-growing Chinese Grammar Wiki, and was also able to use his excellent Chinese skills to start work on the forthcoming Advanced (C1) grammar points.

Besides the Chinese Grammar Wiki, Erick helped with iOS app testing (both the Pinyin and the Picture Book Reader apps), and was even able to help lead our efforts to localize the Pinyin app in multiple languages. Erick also reviewed new iPad apps and other potential study materials, took demo classes to provide feedback on new teachers, and helped develop some of AllSet Learning’s new products. He was an important part of the team over the past four month.

Erick’s description of his time at AllSet:

I have been a reader of Sinosplice for a few years now, so I was familiar with AllSet Learning almost from the beginning of the company. I have always been passionate about Chinese, language learning, and technology, three things that are at the core of AllSet Learning. I was glad to have the opportunity to intern while participating in the Chinese Flagship Program.

In short, you can say that I learned a lot. I learned a lot about how wikis work with the Chinese Grammar Wiki, learned about social media marketing, learned how to properly beta-test apps while testing the Pinyin app and the Picture Book Reader, learned about interviewing potential teachers and reviewing resumes, and learned how to train other interns and write up training materials.

I was able to use my Political Science training in statistics to help analyze customer data and suggest possible data visualizations, and able to use my Chinese knowledge while laying the foundations for the advanced section of the Chinese Grammar Wiki. I was able to take a few test lessons, and I did my best to push my Chinese abilities. I was able to contribute by suggesting ideas for apps, and give suggestions and ideas for future projects.

I definitely learned and relearned a lot of Chinese grammar, and appreciated being able to speak Chinese all the time.

My wife and I enjoyed living in Shanghai. We think it’s a fun city, and it’s more fast paced than Nanjing. We loved living here and we have had many opportunities to meet interesting people and of course, eat lots of fantastic food!

We really appreciate everything you’ve done, Erick. You’ve always got friends at AllSet Learning!

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AllSet Learning Pinyin 1.7.3

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Since version 1.7, the AllSet Learning Pinyin iPad app has had a few additional stability tweaks which have already gone live on the App Store. Specifically, some users were having trouble purchasing the addons within the app; the app would crash when they tried. (Let us tell you, it broke our hearts to know that people were trying to support us financially and the app was having none of it!)

The good news is that the in-app purchase code has been rewritten, greatly improving stability and fixing that particular issue. There have been other general stability improvements as well, and we hope it makes your learning smoother.

Once again, if there’s any way we can make this app even better to support you in your studies of Mandarin Chinese, please let us know at apps@allsetlearning. Thank you!

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John Pasden Speaks at Beijing University

On April 20th John Pasden gave a talk with students of Peking University’s Guanghua MBA program. It was a lively discussion, at one point resulting in a professor busting out a fiddle and doing a little jig (hey, we couldn’t make this stuff up).

The talk revolved around targeting a niche, designing a product for said niche, differentiating a service product from other products in the same space, and the challenges of marketing a niche service. The students had incisive questions and interesting suggestions for John about AllSet.

AllSet-BeiDa

Fortunately AllSet Learning’s Shanghai clientele has been enjoying its consulting services and has been giving us some great word of mouth in Shanghai’s expat community. Thank you, AllSet Learning clients, for your support!

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AllSet Learning Pinyin 1.7 Released

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The AllSet Learning Pinyin iPad app has just recently gotten a significant upgrade (to v1.7) and been released on the App Store. Certain models of iPads were reporting less-than-stellar performance for quick pan and zoom operations. In short, the app was a little crashy for some people! We’re happy to report that the offending code has been optimized, and now you can pan and zoom on the new app without crashing, at speeds that you couldn’t possibly need to pan and zoom at. Ah, stability!

In addition, we’ve started localizing the app. In order to support the non-English-speaking countries that most passionately download AllSet Learning Pinyin, we’ve delved into our download stats, and determined that the following languages were most in need of representation by our app:

  1. Brazilian Portuguese
  2. Spanish
  3. Thai
  4. Japanese

So now AllSet Learning Pinyin’s App Store description has been translated for all four of these languages, and the app itself will be fully localized for these languages in the next release as well. For now, the app itself has already been localized for simplified Chinese (zh-cn) and traditional Chinese (zh-tw). This means that anyone that has their iPad language set to Chinese should see an all-Chinese interface when they open the AllSet Learning Pinyin iPad app.

We’re really happy to see more and more Chinese learners download our app day after day. If there’s any way we can make this app even better to support you in your studies of Mandarin Chinese, please let us know at apps@allsetlearning. Thank you!

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