There are a couple of fairly new Chinese learning sites I’ve been spending some time on recently. One of them is essentially still in beta, and the designer invited me to try it out. Since it’s not completely ready to go, I’ll talk about the other: Chinese Blast. Chinese Blast is a collaborative learning site unlike any other I’ve seen for learning Chinese. It’s almost like a web 2.0 version of some of the old Anime sub-title projects the really geeky people at UC Boulder used to do… and I like it!
Much like YouTube, everything on the site is added by users. Users can start projects based on original Chinese media, and then the community of Chinese Blast users will transcribe it characters (if they aren’t present) and pinyin and then translate it into English. The projects vary greatly, both in length and in difficulty. Some are little more than a single frame of a comic strip.
Others are podcasts.
There are a couple of other things to point out about Chinese Blast. One is, it has a neat conversion tool that lets you view the text of any page in simplified or traditional Chinese. Nearly all the other Chinese learning sites out there are simplified only. Another thing about the site that I like quite a bit is the license. Originally, it had an extremely harsh license. However, after I brought it to the attention of “Dr. Insano”, the designer of the site, he changed it to a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.5 License. That means like Chinese Pod, Chinese Blast allows users to make derivative or extension works on their own sites. Very, very, cool.
Chinese Blast is a great, great tool if you already have some foundation in Chinese. While beginners are best off with Chinese Pod, intermediate and advanced learners can also benefit from exposure to the authentic materials on Chinese Blast. I think that listening to podcasts or watching videos, guessing what the more difficult parts mean, seeing the transcriptions, and listening again and again until you can understand the language is a great way to get results.
The original license was pretty draconian and as a former open-source programmer myself, I was dismayed when I saw a poster on Chinese-Forums refer to it as “open-source”. Basically, it said that Chinese Blast owned everything everyone submitted and that no one else could use any of the material… ironic, considering nearly all the material is copyrighted by television or print media companies to begin with. The irony deepened when Dr. Insano replied to me that he hadn’t intended that sort of license, but had, for the purpose of protecting himself legally, modelled his license from that of YouTube’s. While Chinese Blast now has a great license, YouTube maintains that they will assert their “intellectual property rights” against any who make derivative works of YouTube material, which is nearly all illegally copied to begin with.