2014-15 Winter Intern: Michael
Michael Moore, a 3rd-year computer science major from Luther College, has had an extremely productive IT internship at AllSet Learning. Despite his unfamiliarity with PHP, he helped a lot with both the Chinese Grammar Wiki and the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki. He was also able to apply his Python programming skills to both audio manipulation scripts as well as Chinese textual analysis (NLP) scripts. And he even got to work on a video game! We were extremely impressed with all he was able to accomplish in such a short time.
At just one and half months, I think I’m one of AllSet Learning’s shortest term interns. The time has really flown and I wish I could stay longer. The small office environment provided me with a lot of practical experience that is not available in an academic setting, for both Mandarin and computer science.
I worked on several IT projects during my short time here, ranging from text processing to computer games. One of my biggest projects was helping set up the new Pronunciation Wiki, and in particular its pinyin chart. AllSet’s need to provide a consistent user experience pushed me to write programs that were not just usable, but a pleasure to use.
The most fun project I worked on was the “Chinese RL Lab,” a browser-based video game for learning Chinese. The graphics may be simple, but underneath I got to experiment with features such as data-driven programming, AI, and procedural generation. AllSet [will soon be making] the project open source, so I look forward to continuing to contribute.
I want to thank all the staff at AllSet learning, who were all very welcoming. John even invited me to Christmas Eve dinner at his home. Yu Cui, Weiwei, and Yang Renjun, who all made sure I stayed well-fed and taught me not to always greet with “nihao.” I’ll be sure to stop by whenever I’m in Shanghai!
Michael really did some amazing work, and we’re all greatly benefiting from his contributions. We can’t wait to release the “Chinese RL Lab” (this name will change), so stay tuned for news on that. (And Michael, don’t forget to keep contributing!)
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: Why Learning Chinese Is Hard.
有人说：“ 学汉语并不难”，这一观点AllSet Learning 的创始人John Pasden（潘吉）不太赞同。因为学汉语是他曾做过最难的事情之一。潘吉认为学习汉语是一件非常值得做的事情，但同时，也是一件很难的事。希望大家不要凭自己对难易程度的感觉去选择学习一门语言。有人就曾想当然地凭感觉选择学汉语，然后被汉语中复杂的声调吓坏了，避而远之。根据潘吉的切身经历，汉语的难度确实吓倒这样一批人。究竟学汉语的难点在哪呢？
首先，让我们来讨论一下这里说的“难”到底是什么意思。牛津字典的英语解释是：needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand.
所以，当我们谈到“难”的时候， 不能把它和 “耗时”混在一起。
“学习汉语是一个循序渐进的过程，可以先列出简单易行的事情——学一个汉字或一句话、听一首歌或看一部电影、跟人聊天或发个邮件等等。 这其中没有一件是很难的， 潘吉大部分赞同， 但并不赞同 “学习汉语一点也不难”这一观点 。他在学习汉语的过程中发现一开始是非常难的，尽管这种难度的高低是主观判断的。但实际上把“开头难”等同于“整件事都很难”的想法是比较片面的。
投入时间 vs 掌握技巧
当潘吉说学汉语很难的时候，并不是指汉语学习的各个方面都很难。对潘吉而言，学汉语真正难的部分是掌握声调。潘吉最痛苦的一段时期是到中国后开始学汉语的那一年半时间，没有一个中国人能听懂他在讲什么。囧！可他并不是一个轻言放弃的人，经过不懈努力，他最终掌握了汉语。潘吉的经验是： 在学习汉语的过程中，声调是最容易让人受挫的部分。为什么呢？刚开始学汉语的时候很难区分声调，这时你会感到很绝望。后来，你可以听出声调的不同了，但却不能自己复述出来，这时你又会感到很绝望。再后来，你可以比较准确地把几个不同的声调串在一起了，但组成句子时却一团乱，这时你还是会感到很绝望。看到了吗？要掌握声调是一个漫长且挫折不的过程。每个学习者几乎都曾有过这样的经历：“这些人怎么回事？ 我中文说得都没问题啊，我肯定每个词的发音都是对的，为什么他们还是听不懂呢？”这确实是会让每个学习者都很受挫的一种情况。
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。
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！
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:
- An awesome pinyin chart that works in any modern browser, and supports IPA and zhuyin as well
- Our 10-part Pinyin Quick Start Guide (with audio)
- The three main tone change rules you have to know
- Erhua: the syllables that end in “r” (when it’s optional and when it’s not)
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!
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。
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！）
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。
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。
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。
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
2. 3-Second Memory 3秒钟记忆
3. Individual Tone Success 成功发对单音节
4. Familiar Double Tone Success 成功发对常见的双音节
- 1-1 <–最容易
- 4-4, 2-4
- 2-2, 4-2, 1-4
- 2-3, 3-3, 1-3, 2-1
- 3-4, 3-1, 1-2
- 4-1, 4-3
- 3-2 <–最难
5. Complete Double Tone Success 成功发对完整的双音节
6. Multiple Tone Success 成功发对多音节
2014 Fall 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！
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。
2014 Fall Intern: Jack
Jack Du (杜佳东) 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!
2014 Fall 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.
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!
2014 Fall Intern: Salomé
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).
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.)
这篇博文是翻译，原文来自Sinosplice.com：Chinese Teachers: Use Your Chinese Names!
2014 Summer Intern: 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.
2014 Summer Intern: 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…
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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:
- How a learner can effectively use these Pronunciation Packs on her own
- How a teacher can use these Pronunciation Packs as pats of Chinese lessons
- 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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
2014 Spring 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!
2013 Fall Interns: Logan and Ashyln
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.
AllSet Pinyin 2.0
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:
Our Pinyin app, version 2.0, is out! It now works on iPhone and iPad, iOS 6 and iOS 7. Still free, still awesome. https://t.co/wll24MGZOh
— AllSet Learning (@allsetlearning) May 23, 2014
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!
Story Selection for Mandarin Companion
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!
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:
- The app is now both iOS6 and iOS7 compatible, and entirely RETINA (iPad 3+), and all new books support retina.
- The big change is lots of NEW BOOKS, both free and paid. Fee content has been updated to a new, retina style.
- We’ve added a nifty new parallax transition effect to the textbox as you swipe between pages.
- The app home has been refreshed a bit and made more consistent with the rest of the app.
New books include:
- 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?”
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!
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.
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 在:
- The learner is browsing the article on “Zai” following verbs
- The learner clicks on the keyword “在” in the box at the right, taking her to the keyword page for 在
- 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!
2013 Summer 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!