Chinese Language Learning Software

Not so long ago I was sitting next to an American executive at 35,000 feet. He was intently studying the Lonely Planet’s Mandarin Phrasebook. It was his first visit to China. He had traveled the world and got an enormous kick by mastering a few stock phrases and words of foreign languages. 'I have several phrases wherever I go. 'Good Day,' 'How are you?' 'Thank-you very much.' 'It’s a pleasure to meet you. It’s rather basic I know, but it’s amazing how these snippets help you to get along.'

There's no shortage of Chinese-language textbooks on the market. A whole industry has grown over the years in China to cater to all kinds of disparate learners. Online Chinese language training courses are also popular. Multi-national executives in particular, are paying a premium for fast, effective training that will equip them with the linguistic competence necessary to engage, and impress their Chinese business associates.

A growing number of interactive Chinese language software systems combine real-life images and the voices of native Chinese Mandarin (putonghua) speakers in 'real time.' These software systems also incorporate photos, spoken phrases and written words, and the language is linked to real-life objects, actions and ideas.

These language software applications bring a new dimension to second language acquisition. They allow for considerable flexibility to suit individual needs and focus on language social interactions which are relevant to you. Now Mandarin (www.nowmandarin.com), based in Beijing, is one of many interactive language programs. Podcast programs such as www.chinapod.com (Shanghai) is also tailored made for the individual, but are more versatile in that you plug them into your MP3 and learn while exercising at the gym or waiting for a bus.

There's an obvious seduction of language computer software that can offer a fast and effective medium to learning a language and redefine the language textbooks. Regardless of whatever medium you choose, your intentions should be clear from the outset: to develop and foster a more participatory role in learning language and not be a mere spectator. Interaction is the key, but should by no means be confined to your computer terminal. I should add, without stating the obvious, for those who are working and living in China, the largest interactive Chinese language classroom is just outside your window.

Nothing like a moment of epiphany to spark your progress in learning a language, when, for instance, you realize you have made an error or that you assumed that words, expressions and ideas in one language have equivalences in another. Some time ago, I wrote a situational Chinese language text with a fictional character called René. He was a foreigner language student studying in Beijing and also working part-time as an intern in a joint-venture market research company. René encountered a number of difficulties in communicating with Chinese and made all kinds of errors along the way. He had breakthroughs when he realized that he expressed himself incorrectly, or that a common expression in English had a very different medium of expression in Chinese.

The knowledge and learning from these language epiphanies is the work of everyday. It doesn’t end in the classroom. Even when you’re off-duty, you’re on-duty. It's relative and cumulative so dive in and discover!

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