Rocket Chinese Review

You want to learn Chinese, right? …and you want it to be simple, fast and free!

So, what have you done? You went to Google and did a search for “Free Chinese Course.” Or perhaps you picked up a book and had a go at the language that way. Maybe you even joined a Chinese class.

I did all of those things, and much more! …I moved to Beijing! I thought that when I got there I would just “pick up” the language. I didn’t. I also didn’t learn much from the “free” courses I found on the Web, nor from the books I purchased.

Why? Am I stupid? I mean, how could I do all of this and not learn anything? Well, as it turns out, I’m not stupid at all, and I’m not bad at learning languages. I was just learning the wrong way.

…and this had consequences!

This is me at the Great Wall the day after I arrived in Beijing.

  • I was frustrated
  • I felt stupid
  • I lost motivation.
  • Eventually, I stopped studying all together.

So, what caused all this suffering and frustration?

  • I had programs that weren’t designed for me
  • I had no human support
  • I had few quality resources
  • I had no step-by-step system to guide me

This doesn’t work, not with the Chinese language. So, what does work? I’ll tell you exactly what works…

  • A program that has quality resources
  • A program that can be personalized
  • A program that offers help from real people
  • A program that guides us to success one step at a time

Does Rocket Chinese deliver the goods? I gave it a try. First I’ll give you the highlights. Then I’ll give you a full walkthrough of the software.

Launch Your Learning with Rocket Chinese


What’s the big deal with Rocket Chinese? Head on over and have a look for yourself!

  • 800,000 satisfied customers!
  • Amazing value–lifetime membership for one fee! (I haven’t seen this anywhere else)
  • Live Help from a Chinese Native Speaker
  • Personalized Learning With My Motivation Feature
  • Perfectly Designed Step-By-Step Learning
  • Highly Interactive–With Both Audio and Video!
  • Beautifully Designed–Reminds Me of Apple Products
  • It’s Joining a Community, Not Just Buying Software
  • Free 6-day Trial–Snatch up a free trial now

 

Software Walkthrough

Okay, as you can see, I like the software, but anyone can write a bunch of bullet Points, so now I’m going to walk you through the software step-by-step to show you exactly what it’s like. Of course, as I said, you can grab your own free trial and check it out for yourself, so you really don’t need to read through this whole review. Maybe just skim it and check out the highlights and pictures.

Also, if you’re wondering who you’re talking to, just watch this short video (I’m the one laughing and holding the camera).



…And here is a video showing the Rocket Chinese program in action.

<a href="http://www.linkedtube.com/pSkc79T316s1d8a2baa4282fc53b36d7db131e5599e.htm">LinkedTube</a>
The Rocket Chinese Learning Resources

Part 1: Interactive Audio Courses

The bread and butter of the Rocket Chinese program are the “Interactive Audio Courses.” Are they any good? Yeah, they’re cool. Here’s a screenshot of the Audio controls.

There’s some cool stuff here, like the two different audio clips. One is labeled “Listen to the Full Audio.” The other is labeled “Listen to the Conversation.”

The second clip is just the dialogue being spoken. This is great because you don’t need to sift through 20 to 30 minutes of course instruction when you just want to practice the dialogue. Nicely done, Rocket team!

The other option, Listen to the Full Audio, is the interactive part of the audio course. Here’s how it works.

I pushed play and heard an introduction and some explanation from a British guy. Then a native Chinese speaker came on and modeled the pronunciation of the target phrase, saying “Ni Hao,” slowly and clearly. Then there was a pause. This pause was built in to give me time to repeat the phrase. So, I did.

I said, “Ni hao” out loud. I had enough time to say it several times. Then the native Chinese speaker came back on and repeated the phrase again, slowly and clearly. Then there was another pause, at which time I repeated “Ni hao” a few more times. After that, the native Chinese speaker came on again, this time saying “Ni hao” at real conversational speed. I followed, doing my best to speak at conversational speed.

After this back and forth, the British guy came back and began explaining how Chinese tones worked. Each time he described a tone, the native Chinese speaker came on and modeled the pronunciation. I followed along, doing my best to pronounce the tones correctly.

After that, we went over each word in the phrase (if you’re wondering, “Ni” means “you” and “hao” means “okay”). I learned each vocabulary word of the phrase in the same way I described above, by listening and repeating. Then the British guy came back and explained when it was appropriate to use the phrase, which, basically, is all the time.

Learning to say “Ni hao,” of course, was not the entire lesson. It was just the first sentence of the chapter’s dialogue. I learned the rest of the dialogue in the same manner that I outlined above.

Extra Features

In addition to the interactive dialogues, I found some really great extras that were in the “Interactive Dialogue” tab.

  • Downloadable MP3’s: Another thing to notice is the Download Audio Icon. All of the Interactive Audio lessons can be downloaded and put on an MP3 player. This was a great feature for me. I downloaded each audio file and studied them while commuting to and from work. TIP: Get into the habit of being organized right from the start. I was in a hurry most of the time, so I just threw clip after clip onto my MP3 player. In the end, I spent more time searching for files that should have been organized into folders than if I would have taken the time to organize them properly in the first place.
  • Written Dialogues: Each Interactive Audio lesson comes with written dialogues that you can read along with while listening. They are written in English, Pinyin, and Chinese characters. The screenshot to the left shows what they look like. Note: They are much bigger in the real course (I shrunk the screenshot to fit it into this post.

I found that I learned much better when I read along with the dialogues as I listened to the Chinese speaker enunciate the words. Then when it was my turn to speak I would close my eyes and give it a go myself (closing my eyes forced me to memorize the dialogues instead of just reading them).

Also worth noting is the “Print Page” icon. As I mentioned earlier, I like to study during my morning and afternoon commutes. I took advantage of both the downloadable MP3 files and the printed dialogues to do this.

  • Extra Vocabulary: Each Audio lesson comes, of course, with a list of vocabulary words that you need to know in order to complete the lesson. That’s standard. What I really loved, though, was the Extra Vocabulary section.

This section gave additional related and relevant vocabulary words. For example, as you can see in the “greetings” dialogue over to the left, we learned to say  the phrase “Ni haoma,” or “how are you.” Now, if you look in the Extra Vocabulary section in the screenshot below, you’ll see the phrase “Good morning,” a different but relevant phrase, as it is another common greeting.

In addition, if you look at the dialogue again, you see that we learned the word “good.” In the Extra Vocabulary section, notice that the phrase “not good is included.” This phrase isn’t related to greetings, necessarily, but it is related by function and usage.

This is great! I mean, it just makes perfect sense that when you learn to express the word “good” that, at the same time, you also learn to say the phrase “not good.” I was very impressed that whoever developed this program really thought about how users could get the most out of it every step of the way.

My Thoughts

So, what did I think about the Interactive Dialogues after trying them out? I really like them. The interaction between the British guy and the Chinese woman was really well done. The British guy was like a guide. He would come and tell me what we were going to do and how I should do it.

Then the Native-speaking Chinese woman would come on and work through the dialogues with me. During the process, I really felt like I was interacting with my teachers, even though the lesson was pre-recorded. This type of interaction really makes Rocket Chinese, in my opinion, different from other language learning software programs, which oftentimes just provide recordings of dialogues. They lack the “teaching” aspect that I found in this program.

I also thought the extras, like having two audio feeds and including extra relevant vocabulary words was really nice. They show that the course was very well planned out and put together, not just thrown together and marketed, like some of the other language programs on the market. Bye the way, the link connected to the star above goes to the Rocket Chinese main page. If you want the free trial page, just Click Here.

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Part 2: Language and Culture

The second part of each lesson is called language and culture. Here is a screen shot of page’s header…

As you can see, there are 5 tabs, Language, Culture, Writing, Quiz, and Notes. We will be looking at the the first three (I’ll talk about the other 2 when I discuss personalization and Step-by-step learning).

The Language Tab:

There is so much in this tab that I can’t even begin to explain it all. I will show you one thing, though, just to give you an idea of what this feature gives you. This is a screenshot of part of a lesson that describes Chinese sentence structure.

As you can see, it uses a good combination of visuals, written explanation and audio material (notice the blue play button.) I think this is great. In fact, when I study with something like this, something digital that incorporates the use of audio, video, and written materials, as well as being interactive, I can’t help but wonder how long textbooks, in the traditional sense, are going to be around. Not much longer, in my opinion. Anyway, while this is technically the grammar section, it’s got a lot more than just grammar structures.

Like what you see? Get your FREE trial now!

 

It also gives a ton of information about how to use the language in the real world. For example, in the “Greetings” chapter, we learned how to, of course, greet people. In the “Language” section of this chapter I found tons of information about the formalities of greeting people in China. So, you learn not just how to speak the language, but also how to use it properly in real-life situations. The amount of work put into this section is incredible, and it’s a place where you will most definitely want to spend some time if you sign up for this course.

The Culture Tab:

The culture section is exactly what you’d expect it to be, a section that gives fun and interesting cultural information that is relevant to the particular chapter it is located in. While I think this section is very cool, it’s also a place where I didn’t spend much time, partly because I was just busy, and I saw this section as more of a “fun” section and partly because I was living in Beijing, so I was getting “cultural lessons” every time I stepped out of my apartment. In any case, it’s a nice addition for anyone who is interested in learning more about China than just the language. Again there is a tone of information her, so I’ll just leave out the screen shots. As I’ve said a few times, if you want to see it, just grab a free trial and check it out.

The Writing Tab:

The writing tab is another area where Rocket Chinese sets the bar quite high. I was very, very impressed by it. Again, I not going to go on too much. …just go and Grab a Free Trial (to be honest, I can’t believe that you’ve made it this far down the page).

Anyway, since you’re still with me, I’ll show you what the writing section looks like. It’s very simple to explain–It’s lots of videos that show you exactly how to write Chinese characters. Here you go…

I know, that looks like a still shot, but it’s really a video that I paused and took a screenshot of. As you can see, you get a picture of the completed character, its english translation, and step-by-step video instructions detailing the correct stroke order and direction. It’s absolutely amazing…why are you still reading this? Go get your 6 days of free lessons!

Does it offer personalization?

Yeah, absolutely. I found something really cool in this course, something that I didn’t find in any other course. It’s a section called “Advanced Learning Techniques.” This part of the course has tools, not to teach you Chinese, but to teach you how to learn. It’s a part of the program that I got into before taking the Chinese course, and you should too, if you use this program.

Your Unique Learning Style

The best feature is the “Your Unique Learning Style” section. In this section, I took a short personality test. This test told me something that I kind of already knew, but that I had never really paid attention to. It told me that I was a strong “visual learner.”

I say that I kind of knew this already because I know, for example, that if you tell me your name I’ll forget it 2 minutes later, no matter how badly I want to remember it. But if I read a business card with your name and logo on it, I’ll remember you forever. So, I knew that seeing things helped me to remember them, but I had never really put 2 and 2 together and realized that I should develop a language learning strategy based around visual objects.

Look good? Get your own copy now!

This test helped me to do that, and that is why I began focusing so much on the printed dialogues as I was also listening to the audio, which helped me learn much quicker when compared to focusing, primarily, on the audio component, as I have done in the past.

Later on, I also wound up making some flashcards. I made them in sets. For example, I made a “fruit set.” I actually took index cards and drew pieces of fruit on one side and the Chinese names on the other. This may seem silly, but, now, after using these cards, when I visualize an apple, the word “pinguo” jumps right into my head.

…the bottom line

using the “Your Unique Learning Style” helped me develop a personal learning strategy that was perfect for me, and that helped me learn much faster (and with far less frustration).

My Vocab

Another feature that you can personalize is the “My Vocab” feature. Sometimes when I study a vocabulary word it will stick in my head right away. Other times, I can’t remember a word no matter how many times I study it. This is where the “My Vocab” feature comes in handy. Instead of getting a huge list of generic words to memorize, you get to create your own interactive list.

This is how I used it. I started with an empty “box.” Then, as I practiced the dialogues using the audio course, I would come across words that I didn’t know (usually all of them). When this happened, I would double click them and they would be added to my “My Vocab” list.

This would add not just the word, but also an audio clip of the word being enunciated. I could also add a translation of the word, and whatever notes I wanted. After working through the dialogue one time, I would have a list of words that I needed to study. Here is a screenshot to show you how I used it.

As you can see, I have two words in my list, mǎi and wǒmen. On the left side, you can see that there are audio play buttons. If you click on those, you will hear the entire sentence the word is used in, not just the word. Moving right, you see the vocabulary word in pinyin, the English translation, and, finally, the notes section. If you look at my notes, you can get an idea of how I used this section.

My first note says, is this “book” or “buy.” The sentence in the dialogue said “I would like to book two tickets.” The chinese translation used the word mǎi for “book.” I wanted to ask the forum if the direct translation of “mǎi” was the verb “book.” Or, was the translation “buy.” I wanted to know because, obviously, I would not want to say, “I’d like to book a shirt.” i’d want to say, “I’d like to buy a shirt” (in case your wondering, the direct translation of mǎi is “buy,” not “book”).

The other note says, “Looks like women.” The word wǒmen in Chinese means “we.” Sometimes, though, it’s easier to remember words if we associate them with something, somehow. In this case, it helped me to make the connection between wǒmen (we) and women. Why? Because when I think of “women” I think of my girlfriend…then “me and my girlfriend…which is “we.” I know, that’s strange, and probably just confuses you, but, as you study, you will find that you also have strange little association that help you to remember vocabulary words.

Yeah, it’s as good as you’ve heard. Start speaking Chinese right now!

 

The My Vocab feature is great to work with when you’re in the software, but I kind of became addicted to making the flash cards I mentioned earlier, so what I ended up doing a lot of the time was using the My Vocab feature to track progress and keep notes. Then I would go to a coffee shop and make my cards there. At that time, I would also memorioze the new words and review old ones (I find the rather dull task of memorizing much easier if I combine it with something I enjoy, like sitting in a coffee shop).

Once I had a good grasp of the new words, I would head back into the software and practice speaking using the Audio Course. I would listen to the dialogue and then repeat it (without reading). Some vocabulary words would be easy to recall. These I would (quite happily) take out of my “My Vocab” list. Those stubborn words that I had trouble recalling would stay there and I would tackle them again later. I repeated this process over and over again, which kept my vocabulary list short, organized, and useful, not long and overwhelming.

My Notes

A feature called “My Notes” seems pretty simple, and it is, but I found it to be very helpful. When studying the interactive audio lessons, questions that I wanted to present to the forum (more on the forum later) oftentimes popped into my head, usually stuff about usage—the more you learn, the more questions you seem to come up with.

Anyway, I didn’t want to stop what I was doing and go to the forum right away, so what I would do is just click on the “notes” tab. I would write down the question I had and then move on. What the “My Notes” feature would then do is “stick” my note to the lesson I was working on when I wrote it. This made it easy for me to go back, sometimes days later, read my note, see where I was working when I wrote it and then remember exactly what I was thinking at the time. Here is a screenshot to show you what I mean.

As you can see, I wrote the note “ask about the use of hen.” When I was studying, I had a question, but I didn’t want to stop what I was doing and go ask for help. So, instead, I just made a note, so I could go back and deal with it later. The great thing about the note is that, if you look at the screenshot, it is hyper-linked to the exact place I was at when I wrote it. This saves a ton of time because you don’t have to go back and try to find the place you were at when the question came up–half the time I can’t even remember until I click the link and visit the spot, which refreshes my memory.

Interaction With Real People

When you get Rocket Chinese, you get lifetime access to the Rocket Chinese Community. This is a member’s only forum where you can go and ask questions about Chinese grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, or anything else you like. You can talk with teachers, native Chinese speakers, and fellow students. Here is a screenshot of the main page

I wasted a lot of time here. I was fun, but I wasted a lot of time just chatting. On a practical level, I found it to be very useful when I had questions. If I asked a question, for example, about a grammar point in Stage 2, section 4, “Out on the Town,” everyone would know exactly what I was talking about, which meant that I could get quick, easy answers to all of the questions I had. It’s an active place, too. As you can see, there were 917 people logged in at the same time as me (into the program, not necessarily in the forum itself.

Sometimes I got help from other students, and sometimes it was from Lin Ping, the Chinese-speaking moderator there. I don’t know if that’s really her name (it’s on the marketing materials, so I kind of doubt it). Anyway, whoever it is, they were very helpful.

Also, as I got into the course more, I got to help a lot of people. This was not only fun (and good for my ego), but it was also a great way to review previous chapters that I had studied—teaching is a great way to learn!

Step-by-Step Learning

Although this is one of the last things I’m going to mention, it is one of the most important, at least to me. Why? Because I’ve tried other ways. I moved to China! I bought books. I memorized words. I tried free courses. …and I failed with all of them.

The reason I failed is because I had no structure. I thought I could just pound the language into my head. I was wrong. I needed step-by-step learning. This is how the Rocket Chinese program provides that.

It is laid out in stages, each stage being made up of a series lessons that you learn in order. What you see in the screenshot below is “Stage 1,” which is made up of three lessons, 1 Greeting, Meeting, Food and Drink; 2. Travel; and 3. Making Plans.

Each lesson, of course, builds upon what you learned in the previous lesson. I’ll give you an example, referring to the lesson above where I learned the phrase “Ni hao.”

In this lesson, the focus was on learning the targeted phrase, “Ni hao.” While learning the targeted phrase, however, I was also taught how to pronounce Chinese tones, which are the building blocks of Chinese pronunciation. The lessons were so well integrated, however, that it didn’t really occur to me that I was learning something besides how to say the target phrase.

It did occur to me later, though, when I realized that I was beginning to pronounce Chinese words correctly without really thinking about it. I was building on what I had learned in a natural and fluent way. It was great. Everything was integrated so well that I just pushed forward without really noticing the steps up that I was taking.

Some structural components, of course, are more obvious, like the quizzes. These quizzes are located in both of the program’s main components, the Interactive Audio section and the Language and Culture section (I didn’t mention them earlier because I wanted to mention them here).

Each one of these lessons is relatively short and manageable, in terms of learning, and each individual lesson comes with it’s own quiz. So, you listen, you learn, you repeat, you study a bit, you repeat the process, and then, when you are ready, you take the quizzes. If you do well, you move on. If you don’t do well, then you study a bit more and then try again.

Final Thoughts

Well, if you’ve actually read all the way down the page, I think it’s pretty obvious that I like this program. And for good reason. It has everything you need to learn Chinese quickly and easily. It is a program that…

  • has quality resources
  • can be personalized
  • offers help from real people
  • guides you to success one step at a time

You really can’t go wrong with it, so, for the last time, head on over and give it a try for free. Or, if you want to check out the info on their sales page, Click Here. Bye for now, and best of luck with your Chinese language learning experience!

Ryan Wiley
Founder
The Live in Asia Blog

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