外国人如何学会用中文点餐?

This article is a translation of a Sinosplice article by John Pasden (潘吉), founder of AllSet Learning, translated to Chinese for the benefit of Chinese teachers. The original article is in English: How to Learn to Order Food in Chinese.

时间倒退到AllSet Learning 的创始人John Pasden曾住在杭州的日子。那时John经常和一群外国老师们出去。每次一起去中国餐厅吃饭的时候,John总会充当起“点餐员”的角色。一方面是由于John在中国呆得时间最长、中文说得最溜,但最主要的原因还是在于他能读懂中文菜单

John认为即使是一个接受全中文授课的外国人,也很难搞定一张全是中文的菜单。也就是说,一方面,菜单上都是中文,另一方面,对菜单上汉字的理解能力直接决定了将要下肚的东西。 这样的压力不是一般的中文小测试可以相提并论的。

汉语老师在课堂上教什么我们都知道。你可以把饭 (rice), 面(noodles), 肉 (meat)这些单词背得滚瓜烂熟, 但话说回来,有人真正注意过关于“蔬菜”的那一章节吗?没有!好了,现在到了该付出代价的时候了,因为很有可能你只能看懂每个菜名的一两个字。更悲剧的是,大部分菜名都是四个字。哈!(John的心得:千万不要自以为是地去点“xxx肉”!)

John的同事JP最近迷上了一个网站”Like a Local”,因为这个网站可以让他知道在中国餐厅“点什么菜”。John也给他推荐了这个网站:”How to Order Chinese Food”。这两个网站都比较有用,但若是想真正搞懂那些中文菜单,John有更好的方法。这些方法是他亲身实验过的,效果显著!

秘诀就在这了:

怎样学会用中文点餐

1.拿到菜单

去一个你最喜欢但只有全中文菜单的餐厅拿一份菜单。有些餐厅的菜单可能是在墙上的,这时就需要你的数码相机或手机了。他们可能不想给你,但如果你給他们一点钱(比如5元),那他们通常就会给你的(也许还会想这个人是不是疯了)。但如果你魅力十足,他们可能会把菜单借给你去街边的打印店复印一张。(小窍门:一份打印的菜单会为你减少很多后续的麻烦。)
40118881_f5208d5c3a_m
Smokehouse餐厅是John实施他菜单计划开始的地方

2.抄菜单

这一招是杀手锏,你一定会喜欢。首先要查出你所有你不认识的字词并且写下来。也许你可以找到菜单的电子文档,但坦白地说,这对你的帮助不大!抄写菜单是会比较痛苦并且要花一些时间,但这是最重要的一步!

3.学习菜单


这可不是要提倡死记硬背。做完第2步以后,你会对菜单上的菜名有些大致的了解。这一点会让你挺开心的,但这还没完。这时候你还没完全搞懂每道菜到底是什么,所以你要去问别人。但对那些中文沟通水平不够的人,那就直接去点菜吧。还有一种方法,就是去问服务员其他人吃的什么,并让服务员告诉你是菜单上的哪道菜,你再备注在自己的菜单复印件上。如果你够聪明,你就会挑顾客不是很多的餐厅,这样服务员就会更有耐心、更愿意去帮助一个奇怪的老外回答一些滑稽的关于菜单的问题。
40118880_9903ad6457_m
是时候开口去问那些有点烦人的菜单问题了!

4.翻译中文菜单


这一步看似没什么必要,可是却很有帮助!把整个中文菜单都翻译成英文是有点折磨人。感觉中文的菜名有时候完全不能直译。John的建议是:翻译字面意思,同时乐在其中。比如,“鱼香”的字面意思是“fish fragrant”(鱼的香味),一般菜单也是这样翻译的。可实际上并不是“鱼”,这样的翻译太烂了!因此,John遵循了“乐在其中”的原则,把它翻译为“fishilicious”。又比如“梅干菜”,英语中似乎没有一个对应的翻译。可当John一看到这道菜的时候就想到了一个描述性的菜名:“blackgrass”。这就是John的菜单,简单易学。(别忘了給中国餐厅也起一个英文名)。

5.分享菜单

这一步可有可无。把你的双语菜单打印出来,分享给餐厅。一般来说,他们会爱死你的!因为他们可以用它去赚外国人的钱。如果你只是像John一样在学校或者教育机构工作,那至少可以和同学们或同事们分享。初来乍到的外国人会对你感激不尽的!

以上就是所有秘诀了!如果你按照步骤好好去做,那么很有可能全中文的菜单将再也不是你的一个问题了!妙就妙在:只要你选了一个有普通家常菜的中国餐厅, 这样的事情只需做一遍。之后你就能猜出大部分中文菜名的含义,包括一些不常见的。猜不出的时候也没事,你可以点来尝尝,这会迅速弥补你的空白。

在美食的探索之路上祝大家好运!

Read more

Introducing the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki

We originally launched the Chinese Grammar Wiki in 2012. We honestly didn’t think it would be this long before we launched our next free resource, but it turns out fleshing out the Chinese Grammar Wiki was a ton of work (who would have guessed, right?). We are not at all finished adding to the Chinese Grammar Wiki, but it’s high time we released our second major wiki resource: the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki.

The need for the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki is very similar to the original need for the Chinese Grammar Wiki:

  • Consolidated Information: You can find most of this information out there on the internet now, if you take enough time to really look, but it’s scattered, and some of it is bad
  • Organized by Level: Although pronunciation takes a while to master, the various points that need to be covered are rarely presented in a leveled way, making clear what comes first and what comes later
  • Minimal Jargon: Information should be presented in plain English, with additional notes for the linguists that want them

Our clients in Shanghai need this info, and we’re pretty sure a lot of you learners out there will find it useful as well.

Here are the points we put extra time into for this release:

Pinyin-Chart-screenshot

Here are some other areas we’ll be fleshing out next:

  • more on tones
  • illustrations and diagrams
  • other more advanced issues

There’s actually a ton more we’ve got planned. Every pinyin initial, final, and syllable has its own page, and we have some serious interlinking going on. We’ll let you know when we make major updates, but sign up for our product newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out!

Read more

一个美国人眼里的中日文学习

This article is a translation of a Sinosplice article by John Pasden (潘吉), founder of AllSet Learning, translated to Chinese for the benefit of Chinese teachers. The original article is in English: Learning Curves: Chinese vs. Japanese.

AllSet Learning的创始人John Pasden曾多次被问到:汉语和日语,哪个更难学?为回答这个问题John做了如下的图表。这两个图表非常清楚地展现了两者的区别,但为避免可能会看不懂,他同时给出了一些文字说明。

汉语vs日语

John认为,汉语和日语的学习都很难,只是它们的难点各不相同。两者都需要学习令人抓狂的书写方式和大量的文化背景。单就这一点来看,它们难度相当。学习任何一门语言都需要记忆大量词汇。日语中有很多从英语发音中来的外来词,但这些词要像日本人一样运用自如却没那么简单,所以这一点也就不计入考虑。在John看来,两者难度比较的关键在于:发音和语法。

日语发音刚开始学习很简单。可能有些人发 “tsu”音时会有问题,或是很难发连续的元音,比如“mae.” 但是坦白地说,日语发音对母语是英语的人来说并不是一个很大的挑战。完全零基础的学习者可以用20分钟的时间记住几个句子出去和别人交流,别人也能听明白。但学习日语真正的难点是如何让自己的发音听起来像一个地道的日本人,要想使日语的音高重音和语调接近地道的日语水平是非常困难的。(John自己到现在也还没能真正实现这一点!)

当然,日语相比,汉语发音从刚开始学时就难得让人抓狂。即使句子里只有3个音节,中国人也很难明白这个学习者在说什么。John对此深有体会。但如果学习者一直保持努力练习,发音就会变得越来越简单。在后期的学习中,口音并不是一个很大的问题。因为汉语本身就有很多不同的地方口音,只要学习者能掌握好声调并且可以组成连贯的句子,那么打电话的时候时常就会被当做是一个中国人。

对于母语是英语的人来说,汉语语法刚开始挺简单的,甚至有些人觉得简单到 “没有语法”的地步。这当然不是真的,还是有一些很难的语法点需要掌握(例如“了”的用法,这可能在语法列表中占了很大篇幅来解释)。总体来说,汉语语法并不是太难,但如果学习者想非常精通这门语言,并且最终还要学习古文,那到需要下很大的功夫!

日语的语法起初学起来就像是奇怪的火星文。但只要有决心、肯努力,最终还是可以把它拿下的!一旦学习者跨过了语法、动词词性变化、被动语态这几道坎,は,が 和 keigo 这些词就不再是问题,到那时候学习的感觉就会比较从容 。但刚开始肯定会比较难。

最后声明一下,这篇文章并不是严谨的学术研究,只是John根据自己多年的语言学习经验有感而作。 欢迎大家发表评论并分享自己在这两门语言上的学习经历。

Read more

声调的“泥潭”与发音的“特效药”

This article is a translation of a Sinosplice article by John Pasden (潘吉), founder of AllSet Learning, translated to Chinese for the benefit of Chinese teachers. The original article is in English: Tone Purgatory and Accent Exorcism.

动画大师查克·琼斯(Chuck Jones )曾采用比喻的形式给年轻的艺术家们提出了一条忠告:在我们的思想里至少有10000副糟糕的作品。如果我们越早将它们展现出来,就能越早发掘出那些深藏在我们内心深处的好作品。

其实这并不是大师查克臆造的箴言。虽然这条箴言在乔伊纳德艺术学院和加州艺术学院的毕业生面试中引用的次数各不相同,但都会被常常提及。这一箴言曾一度广为流传。

AllSet Learning 的创始人John Pasden 本人很认同这一观点。并不是我们本身缺乏学习技能,而是应该先清除内在所有的“糟糕作品”。扔掉糟糕的东西远比在乱涂乱画中创造出全新的东西要简单的多,难道不是吗?我们完全可以想象这样一种情况:“糟糕的作品”在随着时间的推移被不断清除,其数量会变得越来越少、直至耗尽,而一个真正的“艺术家”即将蜕变而出。

这一观点同样也适用于中文学习者。不是学习者需要学习声调,而是在他们的思想深处有10000个蹩脚的声调需要“扔掉”,只有这样才能达到真正流利的程度。这才是解决老外“糟糕口音”的真正特效药。

学习者都会饱受纠正发音的折磨,直到你能真正“扔掉”这些糟糕的口音。因此把自己锁在房间里独自背书是远远不够的,学习者必须走出去和现实生活中的人们讲中文,并努力提高发音的准确度。坦然面对那些白眼和嘲笑声。每一个小小的努力都将会对自己提高中文发音起着重大的作用!

在摆脱那些糟糕的发音之前,学生好似陷入了声调的“泥潭”,并在种痛苦的状态下历练自己的意志,最终找到通往成功的道路。

每一个糟糕的发音都是一个口音“瑕疵”,学习者能做的就是通过练习中文发音,将其逐个击破。每当发音出错时确实会感到受挫,并因这种受挫感而倍受折磨,但胜利也即将来到。

pic

因此学习者可能正深陷在声调的“泥潭”中,这又有什么关系呢?他们可以自己掌握主动权去改善发音。他们已知道会发生什么,现在要做的就是走出门开始说中文吧!

Read more

学习声调的过程

This article is a translation of a Sinosplice article by John Pasden (潘吉), founder of AllSet Learning, translated to Chinese for the benefit of Chinese teachers. The original article is in English: The Process of Learning Tones.

1. Stupefied 混沌状态


最开始,当学生听到一个个不同的声调时,他们可以听出这些声调是不一样的,但是说出这些声调有什么不同或者重复声调似乎是不可能的。他们需要时间去克服这种最初阶段混沌麻木的状态,然后才能真正尝试练习不同的声调。

2. 3-Second Memory 3秒钟记忆


长期接触发音,学生可以听出声调的不同,甚至有些还能重复。但学生对声调的记忆时间只能持续3秒钟,如果之后学生听不到这些发音,以后也就不太可能再记起来了。

3. Individual Tone Success 成功发对单音节

在经过大量的努力和广泛接触声调后,学生将能在一个独立的语境中发出指定的声调。可喜可贺!这确实没那么简单。 在这一阶段,虽然学生很努力,但在实际对话中仍会犯大量的错误。除了最常见的单词或词组(例如“你好”“谢谢”),就算学生很专注也只能发对单个音节的发音。当听到新单词时,还是不能正确辨别声调。

4. Familiar Double Tone Success 成功发对常见的双音节


当学生找到方法可以成功发出首个双音节(如“谢谢”)之后,慢慢就能掌握常见单词语调降阶的规律。但是想在对话中正确发出这些词仍然是一个很大的挑战。学生的发音可能还是会受英语句子的语调影响。(请参考如下Sinosplice的发音练习文件以获得更多帮助。)我们公司创始人John Pasden的学习经验就是这一规律的典型案例。学生会发现自己发音困难的顺序跟下列很相似(从上到下依次是从易到难,同一行里的声调组合难度大致相似):

  1. 
1-1 <–最容易
  2. 4-4, 2-4
  3. 
2-2, 4-2, 1-4

  4. 2-3, 3-3, 1-3, 2-1
  5. 
3-4, 3-1, 1-2
  6. 
4-1, 4-3
  7. 
3-2 <–最难

5. Complete Double Tone Success 成功发对完整的双音节


当学生学会把所有单个声调组合成自己知道的词语以后,很快就可以轻而易举地把它应用在不太熟悉的单词中。渐渐地,这一过程会越来越容易。

6. Multiple Tone Success 成功发对多音节

不管你相不相信,连续的3个字有时会让人抓狂。即使学生的双音节已经发的很好了,但还需要更多有意识的练习。如果学生可以发对双音节,那么只要稍微下点功夫就可以任意组合,只需要简单地把多音节拆分成多个双音节。(例如:一个1-3-2 多音节的组合可以看成1-3和3-2音节的交叉组合)

恭喜你,学生的中文发音现阶段已经达到准确一致了,而且听起来很自然。现在学生已经掌握学习中文的秘诀啦!(当然了,即使已经达到这样水平了,仍然有很多方面需要继续努力。比如语调和叙述技巧…)

Read more

2014 Fall Intern: Cai Qingyang

intern-cai-qingyang

蔡清扬 (Phyllis Cai)是一个喜欢中国传统戏剧的江苏姑娘,也是我们来自NYU的一位实习生。由于我们公司的所有客户都是个性化服务,所以有很多个性化的素材需要搜集、整理。蔡清扬在实习期间,帮助我们搜集了很多有价值的素材、翻译了相关的英语资料。并且和不同的客户进行了模拟记者采访等中文对话的演练。是一位认真负责的实习生!

蔡清扬’s account:

对我而言,在Allset Learning 的实习应算是一个极难得的体验。作为一个对中文教学工作有足够的热情却缺乏工作经验的大二学生,我最初的选择更多是出于提高工作能力的考虑。 回顾在Allst Learning 实习的三个月,着实受益良多。
在这里,我主要的任务是帮助老师们编辑教学材料以及进行翻译工作,老师们给予我的建议大多直接有效。同时我也参与了为客户设计的口语练习活动,这些直接参与中文教学的机会都大大提高了我对中文教学工作的认识以及基本工作能力。
很感谢老师们在这三个月内的指导和照顾,我会永远怀念这个温馨的团队。

注:我们大部分的实习经历分享是用英语写的,因为AllSet Learning大部分的实习生都是外国人。

Read more

2014 Fall Intern: Jack

Jack Du (杜嘉东) is from Shaanxi, China, and was one of our first NYU Shanghai interns, and part of a small but elite group of AllSet Learning IT interns. The project Jack worked on is not yet public, but will be soon.

In Jack’s own words:

As I’m pursuing two majors, Computer Science and Interactive Media Arts, I am really passionate about coding and building cool projects. Developing games is one of my favorites. My experience at AllSet has been wonderful because I have been doing what I would like to do.

Since my schedule at school is quite full, John allows me to work on projects at school and meet him once a week. I really appreciate this flexibility so that I wouldn’t waste too much time on the commute. John always has great ideas and also motivates me to have more ideas. The tasks here are not just interesting, but helpful for my future career. I started using Git and learned regex here, both of which are of vital importance to a coder.

It was great working with you, Jack, and we look forward to watching the code you worked on blossom into something bigger and greater!

Read more

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!

Read more

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).

Read more

中文老师:请用你的中文名!

This article is a translation of a Sinosplice article by John Pasden (潘吉), founder of AllSet Learning, translated to Chinese for the benefit of Chinese teachers. 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!

Read more

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.

Read more

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…

Read more

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!

Read more

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!

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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!

Read more

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.

Read more

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!

Read more

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!

Read more

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:

PBR-Q6-screen01

  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:

PBR-VL-screen02

  • 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?”

PBR-Q7-screen01

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

Read more

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!

Read more

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!

Read more

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!

Read more

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.

(more…)

Read more