Popup Chinese

I’m really enjoying the lessons over at this site. They take a different approach from Chinese Pod and are geared toward a somewhat different audience. (If you’re preparing for the HSK exams, this is your place to go.) What’s most useful to me is the authentic sound and pace of the dialogues – even the elementary lessons are spoken at the actual speed at which you’ll hear people speak here, and loaded with kouyuhua. That means you have to strain to listen harder, and in doing so you become a better listener. Or at least I do.

I haven’t given up Chinese Pod, though. Their podcasts are unsurpassed for familiarizing yourself with essential phrases you’ll use again and again. Unfortunately, they shy away from grammar, while Popup Chinese embraces it. (Isn’t understanding grammar key to unlocking the mysteries of a new language?) So I find the two sites complement one another.

Too bad Chinese Pod’s lessons aren’t free anymore (not that I blame them for doing that). A few months ago I would have paid to subscribe, but right now I am being soooo careful with my money. I have a bank of about 60 pre-August 2008 CP lessons on my iPod, and soon I’ll have most of them memorized word for word. I even hear the voices of John and Jenny in my dreams.

Update: Forgot to mention this: Thanks to John over at Sinosplice I’ve started spending a couple of hours each day over at Skritter. If you’re working on improving your hanzi reading and/or writing skills, just go there now, sign up and start practicing. Once you sign up it starts customizing the lesson for you, repeating the characters you’ve had trouble with. Totally addictive. It’s a first: an addictive Web site that actually produces benefits. My reading ability shot up after just a few weeks. It helped me learn to spot the clues that differentiate certain characters that look annoyingly similar. It also drove home to me that memorizing characters by reading and looking at them isn’t enough. You have to write them. Priceless. Of course, they’ll probably ask for money soon, too, and I don’t blame them. Like Chinese Pod – and Popup Chinese – it’s worth paying for.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

good Chinese tools online are hard to find, but you’ve listed a couple of the particularly good ones. my only complaint with skritter is that there is no way to choose a more advanced level to work with (seriously, it starts with “one” and goes up to “love” and “me” which are all relatively easy).

I’m personally a BIG fan of Popup Chinese (and was previously also a big fan of adsotrans). ChinesePod is good, but they’ve stopped their advanced lessons (at least, they aren’t loading in my iTunes anymore). :(

December 13, 2008 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

Thanks for mentioning Skritter, Richard! I wouldn’t worry about us asking for money *too* soon, because we’ve got a lot of features yet to build.

@juhuacha: Those are just the demo vocabulary, there on the front page when you click “Try It.” If you sign up (which is free and takes 30 seconds), then you can select more advanced vocabulary lists. We’ll be adding a bunch more lists soon, but until then you can probably learn some new characters with the Integrated Chinese 2 list. Also, ChinesePod is still making advanced lessons–perhaps you can get them from the site instead of iTunes?

December 14, 2008 @ 12:28 am | Comment

Thanks for the review Richard, and it’s really nice to see you blogging again. We’re also quite fans of Skritter.

December 14, 2008 @ 3:30 pm | Comment

Very cool, Richard. I’m having some trouble with the volume on the site – I don’t think this is on my end, but who knows? Anyway, I’ve downloaded what I can download and am looking forward to giving the lessons a try.

I need to kick up my Chinese study – hard to do for me in the States, I’m just not motivated. But I’m signing up for a class at a local college that starts in February. I’ll miss the first three sessions, but hey, I’ll be in China during that time, so that ought to count for something.

December 18, 2008 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

Have you listened to any of the lessons? Brendan does a lot of the “teaching.” The one on the Titanic is a panic (No rhyme intended). Skritter for some bizarre reason is intermittently blocked in China. I’m using it with a proxy now, which unfortunately slows it down.

December 18, 2008 @ 5:08 pm | Comment

Not yet – I just downloaded them last night and like I said, the volume on the one that played while I was downloading was really low.

Skritter looks cool but I think I am going to focus on spoken Chinese for the foreseeable future. Just signed up for that class I mentioned (well, I applied to the school, actually – NOW I gotta go sign up for the class). I’m looking forward to it.

December 19, 2008 @ 4:00 am | Comment

Richard: Try using http://skrit.appspot.com instead — that shouldn’t be blocked in China (although it may give you a 404 after you enter your password to sign in, you can just return to skrit.appspot.com and you should be logged in). Should be faster than using a proxy.

I’m pretty bummed about being blocked in China, but we can’t set up a reverse proxy any time soon. Hope this does you for now.

December 19, 2008 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

Thanks Nick – that works fine.

December 19, 2008 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

Of all the things to block…learning Chinese characters?!? Maybe the Nanny is off her meds, as Richard indicated above.

December 20, 2008 @ 3:37 am | Comment

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