I never thought that I would need to learn another language - knowing only one was fine with me until I went to Asia. People there speak a minimum of three languages - their mother tongue, the national language, and English. When I first moved to Asia three years ago for business, I didn’t see the need for mastering Mandarin, but the need to learn it continued to grow each day I was there. It was fascinating listening to Asians making incomprehensible sounds that did not register any sort of understanding to my mono-language brain. During a company dinner, I sat with nine other colleagues of mine, all of them Asian - some Chinese, some Indian, some Malay. All of them spoke Mandarin, however, even the Indians and Malays. I was in Malaysia - the country with so many cultures, languages, and food.
After that dinner, I decided to take a Mandarin course. I enlisted the help of a teacher to cover the theory part of the language. After each lesson, my teacher ("lao shi" in Mandarin) always logged on to the website BBC - Languages - Real Chinese for some online interactive tutorials.
Soon after my classes, I started searching the web for more online tutorials that provided additional lessons, speech texts, video clips, and pronunciation guides, because believe me when I say that pronouncing Chinese words is very difficult, especially for someone with no background in Asian languages.
Because I am working, I can only go for classes once a week. The online tutorials have become my ‘home-tutor’ so to speak, because all I need to do is go to sites that provide audio lessons or allow downloading of tutorials and I can self-teach. I consider online language sites such as Chinese-Tools.com to be valuable learning aids, because they help me to pronounce words properly, improve comprehension, enhance memory, and provides exercises related to current chapters I am studying with my teacher.
Online tutorials have helped me to master the basics of the Mandarin language such as introducing myself, family members, days of the week, numbers, asking directions, and ordering meals. Simple conversation starters with my Chinese colleagues such as ‘ni hao’ and ‘xie xie nie’ have definitely broken the ice between us. I’ve noticed that my colleagues are warmer and more open when talking and dealing with me, a foreigner.
I believe online tutorials are a great way to learn anything. In the course of my internet search for good sites to learn Mandarin, I came across many other sites that teach people how to do other things such as making candles, cooking, sewing, and knitting - even how to ride a bike. It’s nothing less than marvelous how much you can learn through online tutorials.
As a working adult, online tutorials benefit me greatly. I can access them anytime, which means no fixed hours or fixed days like i had with my lessons with my teacher. Whenever I am free, or flying on a plane to a business meeting in another state, I can log on to the internet, go to my favorite sites, and practice. For me, the accessibility is the biggest advantage for online learning.
I am subscribed to an audio tutorial for learning Mandarin and I can practice saying Mandarin words over and over again until I remember them without annoying anyone. My teacher won’t do this ‘repeating exercise’ with me because it's too time consuming and mundane. But with the audio tool, I can press play again and again.
My online exercises are unique, interactive, and fun. Before each exercise begins, I am shown a clip of China, its people and its culture. Each video clip explains how a person interacts with another person. For example, if my online exercise (or challenge as they call it) is about asking directions, the clip features a person on the way to a famous landmark, asking people along the way for directions. This situational mechanism utilizing visual identification, together with the spoken words, is an excellent way to help someone learn a foreign language.
I can’t express how much learning through online tutorials has helped me. I’m not saying that learning through more traditional channels is not important or effective. At the end of the day, it is best to have as wide a variety of language experiences as possible, including a teacher to help you with the basics of reading, writing, and conversation. Combined with online tutoring, you can put yourself on a fast track to mastering a new language. Ke yi ma? (which means O.K.?)