- Category: OpenLearning
- Published on Sunday, 25 March 2012 18:12
你好 [nǐhǎo]. I have taken on quite a challenging new task this week. I have begun the journey of learning Mandarin Chinese. I currently only speak English but have been reading a lot about the benefits of learning a second language. Two articles that came out in the last week from LifeHacker and the New York Times talk about this:
Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
Based on this information and the idea of being able to look at the world from a vastly different perspective lead me to the choice of which language to speak. After looking at this data I decided to start learning Mandarin Chinese since it has the largest group of people on the planet speaking it. This means there are all sorts of resources out there that I could have access to and people I could meet and collaborate with on projects. This will not be an easy task, but I have found so far that it really engages parts of my brain that I don't use often enough with my typical focus.
Another reason I have decided to take on this challenge is some of the great resources I have found to help me along. The first resource, Mango Languages, unfortunately is not free for everyone, but my local library has started using it and is providing free access to library members. Now onto the Open Learning resources I have found; it was fun to take on this new challenge and apply all the Open Learning resources I have found so far to this task. The first step was to identify the categories of resources that would be beneficial to this particular task, then going over my Open Learning Mindmap to fill these categories with specific resources. Next I used a combination of search queries and analyzing the resources I had found so far to find additional resources to add that were specific to the task of learning Mandarin Chinese. Here is a layout of what I found:
- Social Learning – connect with other people learning Mandarin as well as native speakers
- StudyMoreChinese - this is an excellent resource, it is a social network specifically for learning Mandarin
- Google+ - I have created a G+ circle of people sharing resources for learning Mandarin, I still need to find some native speakers to add to this circle and I can see Google+ video hangouts as being an excellent resource once I find some Mandarin speaking friends
- Mobile Apps
- trainchinese - Has a dictionary and lets you build your own deck of flashcards
- Learn Chinese with Li - This is a simple app with some limited words (paid version has a lot more - $3.99)
- Mandarin Madness - This is a fun game for learning simple Mandarin words. I have the free demo right now, but will probably spend the $0.99 to get the full game.
- Pleco - This is an amazing app. It is $40 for the full version, but the free version includes some amazing features that I have been trying out including a dictionary as well as speech recognition for English or Chinese (if you think speech recognition can be frustrating in your native language try it in a language where you are still learning how to pronounce the words properly) so it has been fun trying to practice saying the words I have learned and getting the software to recognize me. It also includes handwriting recognition for free so you can practice drawing the Chinese characters on your phone. Another pretty amazing feature is the OCR (optical character recognition), which allows you to use the phone camera to analyze Chinese characters in real time, the free version just locates the characters but the paid version will display the translations and definitions alongside. There is also a flashcard section in the software where you can import flashcards. The free version just shows random cards, while the paid version implements spaced repetition scoring to really help you learn. I am already getting a lot of use out of the free software, but this is one I may decide to spend the money for the full version depending on how my progress goes with all the other free resources I have found.
- Spaced Repetition – A very interesting and effective way of learning that I discovered this week that can be applied to a variety of different learning tasks. “Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect" ( Spaced Repetition Software )
- memrise - uses spaced repetition as well as fun “mems" to help form vivid sensory memories. I have really enjoyed using this resource!
- Mnemosyne - Open source spaced repetition software, I have looked over this, but haven't used it yet
- Anki - Another open source spaced repetition software project, I haven't tried this one myself yet either but it looks like it may currently be a better solution than Mnemosyne because of some of the social aspects and flashcard deck sharing they have implemented. They also have a web version
- Nciku - this is an excellent Chinese-English dictionary, it has audio for most of the words as well as plenty of example audio using the words in different contexts. It also has the feature of drawing Chinese characters right in your browser with your mouse and animations showing correct stroke order. They also have mobile apps for iPhone and Android for sale. I did try the Android one ($7.99), but I had problems with it crashing so I returned it.
- SingChineseSongs - Not a huge selection of songs here, but it does give a karaoke style screen with the chinese characters as well as pinyin (the official system of transcribing Chinese characters to Latin script for help with pronunciation). They also show the entire lyrics next to the karaoke window with mouseover definitions of each Chinese character.
- Grooveshark - Created a Mandarin playlist to expose myself to another aspect of Chinese culture. I am unable to pick out hardly any words yet, but it is good for getting used to the sound of the language and the songs I start to like will give me additional incentive for learning.
- BBC Chinese - I also can't make anything out here yet, except for a familiar character here and there, but there is a audio button right at the top of the page to listen to some bbc news in Mandarin. For now this is also for getting familiar with the sounds of the language and as I learn more it will be a good exercise to listen to the news and try and make sense of what they are talking about.
Now for a cool new project I heard about this week. Many of you have probably heard of TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Well I just learned about a new project called TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing which aims to “pair educators with talented animators to produce a new library of curiosity-igniting videos"
This week at Udacity I was challenged a bit more than usual in the CS101 class as we talked about improving the performance of our search engine. To do this we made use of hash tables. I have used them before but never implemented a hash function myself so this made this class more exciting this week. There was also a great article in Wired this week on Udacity
As mentioned last week, I am working on building my social learning network. I made some excellent progress in this area this week. First off, I finally deleted my Facebook account. I had tried to include facebook in my social learning network but found that there was too much distraction there between the advertisements and pointless conversations. I also really don't like how Facebook filters your feed based on which people you have been interacting with. I also had a lot of clutter in my Google+ circles since I had a lot of shared circles that I had added from other people. I removed all the shared circles from my main feed and created new circles specific to my current learning objectives. This way I can still go into those shared circles and hand pick individuals to add to my custom circles. This new strategy gives me a stream with a lot of valuable content actually relevant to what I'm trying to achieve rather than the abundance of unfocused information I was wading through before. I have already seen some benefits because of these adjustments. Instead of spending so much time getting distracted, I find it easier to stay on task. I am also starting to assign myself the task of answering a specific number of questions on Quora and OpenStudy each week to keep some momentum there for building a reputation and connecting with more people to further build my learning network.
As far as P2PU I haven't done much there this week. I started to play around with the lernanta code but got stuck with some errors in my dev environment. I have posted questions to the p2pu lernanta study group as well as the p2pu-dev mailing list, but am still waiting on a response. Regarding the task of finding a mentor for the DIY U, I posted there about my current difficulties with this task that I also discussed in last week's post and got a response about how a lot of individuals are having trouble with this task, so they might rewrite it “for folks who could benefit from a looser interpretation." While I still see the benefit in finding a specific individual who could be a mentor, there is also benefit in just building your learning network to a point where it is much easier to ask questions and get answers from a number of different “mentors," while at the same time sharing your own knowledge. I guess this would be more of a system of collaborative mentoring.
There isn't a ton of traffic coming to this site right now, so thank you to everyone who is taking the time to read these posts. As always, I welcome any input you have on the subject so please post a comment below or send me a message with the contact form on the site! 谢谢[xiè xiè]blog comments powered by Disqus