Activate Your Mobile Chinese Language Learning

How can you continuously improve your Chinese skills with a full-time career and a busy travel schedule? This article identifies five key benefits you could realize from a mobile Chinese language learning platform.

You also may benefit from this article if you:

  • Want to maintain immersion after a move out of China
  • Find it difficult to arrive on time at your language class
  • Are easily bored with traditional language textbooks
  • Want to declutter and become a more efficient student
  • Aspire to create a location-independent lifestyle

Olle Linge has written on immersion at home on his Hacking Chinese blog, and John Pasden has explored online resources for learning Chinese on his Sinosplice blog. Both articles offer extensive guidance on how to leverage what’s already online to become a better Mandarin student. Websites such as italki and Langu connect you with freelance tutors worldwide to practice the language of your choice. But what if you already like your Mandarin teacher(s) or language partner(s) and want to continue those relationships wherever you go?

This article provides a simple approach to ACTIVATE an online Chinese language learning platform. All you need is a notebook computer with a web browser, an online chat utility (such as WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, or Skype), and a document to capture new words and phrases. You can get started today.

To be clear, I’m not against in-person Mandarin language classes (far from it, that was my study method of choice when I lived in China). After reading this article, however, you may decide to expand your language learning options and future-proof your Mandarin studies.

Here are five advantages to a mobile Chinese language learning platform:

1. Lower Your Time Cost

Don’t waste time in traffic. Connect for class wherever you are: in the comfort of your own home, without leaving your office, in your favorite cafe, even at home with mom!

Connect for free on WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, or Skype. Obviously, you’ll need decent internet speed to avoid signal drops, especially for video calls. Then you and your teacher can say goodbye to the last-minute rush across town for class.

“There are days when my tutors and I spend more than three hours on public transportation,” said Jamie Keyte, Founder of Manhattan Mandarin. “We love being able to work from the comfort of home as much as you do. And this way we maximize the efficiency and energy of our online sessions.”

I used to schedule extra-long classes to justify my commute (or my teacher’s commute) to/from class. Once I transitioned to an online class environment, I found that five 1-hour language classes are WAY more productive two 2.5-hour grinds. You’re fresh every time, and you don’t waste any minutes when the clock starts.

2. Improve Your Character Recognition

Online classes encourage Chinese character recognition. As you converse with your teacher, he/she can send useful words and phrases (real-time in chat window), so you see the characters as you hear and speak them.

If you don’t already use the Chinese Zhongwen Popup Dictionary (or similar browser plug-in) and a Chinese character input method (i.e. type the Pinyin, choose the characters) for messaging, please take this as your cue to start. You’ll be glad you did as you discover you recognize more and more characters in your daily life.

How to customize your own mobile Chinese language learning platform:
A. Open a document file into which you will copy and paste new words and phrases worth studying.
B. Open your web browser to access Chinese articles and online language resources.
C. Open an online chat session and ring your teacher.

3. Become More Flexible and Efficient

Go paperless! No more class notes scribbled on paper and stuffed away in drawers. Leverage your computer to capture, save, organize, and retrieve class material. It’s a good feeling to be able to jump windows, run a quick search, and pull up the exact stuff you need. Once you get comfortable with this approach, you may never go back to old school paper binders.

“Personalized learning is clearly the future,” says John Pasden, Founder of AllSet Learning. “If you want to improve your speaking, then 1-on-1 lessons (in person or online) are the way to go.”

4. Review New Material With Ease

Class is over, now what? Read through the stream of words and useful phrases from your teacher and copy the important ones into a document for review and activation.

You decide what to keep. For example, advanced students might save only Chinese characters. Beginner or intermediate students may want to save characters, plus Pinyin and an English translation.

Let’s say your teacher sent you the Chinese characters for a useful sentence, and you want to save the Pinyin with tones as well. First, you copy that Chinese sentence from your chat window and paste it into your review document. Then you paste the same characters into Google Translate, which shows you a correctly-toned Pinyin version. Copy this Pinyin and paste it below the Chinese in your review document (Google Translate isn’t known (yet) for the accuracy of its translations, so plan to add your own English translation while it’s still fresh in your mind).

Now you’ve got your own customized textbook, one hundred percent personalized to your needs! Download the Pleco app on your phone and add the flashcards feature so you can capture your must-have words and review them on the go.

5. Enjoy “Mobile Immersion”

Connect from anywhere with teachers, tutors, and language partners. Even when you travel or relocate, it won’t interrupt your Mandarin study progress.

Yes, you’ll need to manage time zone differences, but that’s a small price to pay for more frequent conversations with native speakers and continuous improvement over the long term.

Like many things in life, this online system is a work in progress. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section, so we can learn from each other!

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