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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Grasp Chinese Website Review

Hey guys, today I am busy at work, but I want to tell you about this website I just reviewed - Grasp Chinese - an online language-learning program. (Go to Grasp Chinese) I wasn't offered money to do this review and I did not receive a check for this review. This review is motivated by my desire for others to learn Chinese - not a paycheck. Here's what I wrote:

"Grasp Chinese is a fully online language-learning program. It shows great overall strength, can build a great foundation for learning spoken Chinese, and suffers no significant shortcomings. 

The first thing that becomes evident to the first-time visitor is the professional, yet inviting design of their webpage. The website is well designed, easy to navigate, and does not suffer from the embarrassing presence of “Chinglish,” which can be an unfortunate problem with Chinese-made sites which teach Chinese to foreigners. A fun and well-made video which graces the home page introduces the learner to their program. The program is based around an American being introduced to the Chinese language by his guide as he visits China for a business conference. 

Grasp Chinese has many strengths in its learning program. One is convenience. It is completely online and needs no downloads or installations. Its lessons are presented in PowerPoint style, so loading time is fast and the videos are easy to navigate. Another is its natural style of learning. The lessons presented are not textbook-style lessons, but are lessons taught through natural conversation. In my time in China, I had many conversations like the ones on this website. The way one truly grasps a language is through questions, and Grasp Chinese has found a way to incorporate natural questions into their lessons without it seeming forced. The lessons are all very short (4-6 minutes each) and teach a great deal. The subscriber is able to go back, forward, pause, slow down, speed up, and repeat - the lesson can truly be at the student’s pace. The student’s learning is reinforced through writing, listening, and recognizing flashcards (in some lessons). There is also a phrasebook for each lesson. Everything is available, easy to access, and well designed, which makes for a good learning environment. 

Grasp Chinese uses a quasi-immersion style of teaching, which is one of the best ways to learn a language. As someone who learned Chinese through full immersion, I learned a lot, but had many difficulties in the limited English environment. However, with Grasp Chinese, the subscriber has access to a completely bilingual teacher, which will help bring the gap that can often occurs in true immersive situations.

However, like every language-learning system, it has its shortcomings, one in particular: its focus on Pinyin and complete lack of Chinese characters. Although Pinyin is used in primary school for kids to learn how to pronounce their language, it is not used by anyone in China over the age of 10. It is great for reinforcing pronunciation, but the 汉字 are what is used in everyday life and are indispensable in reading.  It is understandable that introducing Chinese characters in an online medium is difficult, but it is a vital aspect of language and simply cannot be overlooked. This is probably the biggest hole in Grasp Chinese’s program. However, the Grasp Chinese are currently preparing lessons involving character learning, so this gap will soon be gone.

A strange characteristic of the program, although ultimately more natural and for the better, is its lesson organization. Because the American begins learning Chinese from the moment he arrives in the airport, he learns airport terminology before learning to introduce himself - something that sounds strange to the average language learner. However, it is part of the immersion-style learning. Another concern involves the pronunciation of the American in the dialogues. His Chinese pronunciation carries a strong American accent , which can be annoying and could possibly turn-off new users. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed using Grasp Chinese. For once, there is a language-learning program out there that is not boring! Grasp Chinese provides a great foundation for those learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. I hope the Grasp Chinese team will implement a few lessons of basic Chinese character learning. The first 10 lessons are free - a true gift to the beginning Mandarin learner and a full subscription to the site is only 14.99! It really is a great value for a language-learning program. I wish I had known about this site before I paid so much money for Rosetta Stone! Both programs have their strengths, of their course, but besides the lack of Chinese characters, has no significant shortcomings. I am sold."

It's a great program and I'd recommend it to beginning Chinese learners! I'll be back to my regular posts tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. Totallly agree. It's the best thing out there. I would add, I hope they develop a app for phones ... and I woudl LOVE it if there was a way to listen and review without access to the internet (i.e. my daily commute).


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