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My friend David has recently shown me some of what he’s been working on with his site for learning Chinese, Popup Chinese. Popup Chinese has always had a great technical backbone, amazing talent in its instructors, and lots and lots of free MP3 lessons. That said, this last batch of upgrades is still pretty impressive.

learn chinese

The Writing Pad

This a cool writing application that has teaches how to write Chinese characters. The only thing I’ve ever seen like it is Skritter, also a neat tool. The writing pad enforces correct proportions in characters as you write them and also enforces stroke order. The strictness of the stroke order is a little bit frustrating for me, since stroke order isn’t entirely uniform amongst all writers and the stroke order conventions my teachers taught are slightly different than those in the Writing Pad. This issue would be irrelevant to any beginning students who aren’t already accustomed to writing a certain way, though. The app will teach you how to write correctly as well as any app I know of at this point.
The Writing Pad

HSK Stuff

You don’t hear much about the HSK here in Taiwan, but if you ever want proof of your Chinese skills so you can go to college in China or brag to a prospective employer, this is the test to take. There’s an impressive array of materials on Popup Chinese to help you get ready for it:

One-Click Access HSK Tests, HSK Flashcards and HSK Vocabulary Lists
http://popupchinese.com/hsk/flashcards
http://popupchinese.com/hsk/test
http://popupchinese.com/hsk/vocabulary

Spaced Repetition

I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of my suggestions months ago made it into the site! For anyone signed up, the site remembers which flashcards they’ve answered right and which ones they’ve missed on and calculates the ideal time to show them again for review. Even for students who are unfamiliar with spaced repetition, this is a huge plus.

Practice Speaking Lessons

I’ve heard about these types of lessons before. I guess if you’re living someplace where Chinese tutors are hard to find or expensive, this option might be worthwhile. People can get one-on-one feedback on their spoken Chinese with a premium subscription.
Practice Speaking Lessons

Pricing

The prices have come down quite a bit. For the first time it’s in the price range of something I would have bought as a student. At just under fifty bucks, the “basic plus” subscription is far, far more useful than textbook in existence at roughly the same cost. I sure wish they had this stuff around back when I was in school!

To be updated once people give me my pictures…

So, I did a “walkabout” for my birthday. Basically, it was a celebration of many of the wonderful things about living in Taiwan, and a chance to hang out with some good friends. The plan was to meet up at the 鍋貼 restaurant by Yongchun MRT and walk from there to the Jingmei nightmarket, hitting 7-11’s on the way for snacks, beer and whatever else it would take to sustain us for the several hour walk.
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What a day. I rolled out of bed at 10am, brushed my teeth, and sleepwalked over to Starbucks for a business meeting. It went pretty well.

Then, it was to the school, where I had to so some last minute editing for my Tuesday/Friday class’s first semester exam. For some reason or another, the internet connectivity was horribly spotty (and it’s on a LAN, not a WAN), but I got everything done.

The Bookstore

Next, it was off to the bookstore. I went to the new Caves Bookstore, near 圓山 MRT, and what a bounty they had for me! Over fifty books I had ordered for my students were there waiting for me, and I found a new series of readers that may have some potential for curriculum.

I’ve been very satisfied with the Oxford University Press Bookworms series, on the whole. However, their “starter” level books are terrible. They use the simple present tense for just about everything, and do so in unnatural ways. Chinese speakers have a tendency to do that anyway, and the last thing I want to do is reinforce the problem further. The problem is that the level one Bookworms are a bit difficult for low level students. I push my kids pretty hard, and it takes them about year before they’re able to read them. Not only that, but I have to give them some vocabulary sheets are support so that they can get through them at a reasonable speed (15-20 pages/hour).

Today, I saw a series that just may fill in some of this gap for beginning level students– OUP Dolphin Readers. The entire series is at a very low vocabulary level, and the books are full of good illustrations that make them much easier for students to understand. Levels 3 and 4 include multiple verb tenses, and at least from the browsing I did, the 1st and 2nd level Dolphin Readers managed to avoid the unnatural usage of the present tense that’s so common in other EFL books. They even offer headword lists online. The only problem is that the Dolphin Readers have a lot of writing activities inside them, and I’m really looking for something that can be re-used from class to class. Few parents would be happy paying for all those little readers.

The Election

On my way home from the bookstore, some middle aged Taiwanese guy commented on all my books, and we got to talking. It turns out he’s a History teacher at a university near where I live. He gave me an update on the election– it was an utter rout. I had thought that Ma would win, but I’d never imaged that he’d pull in 140% of Hsieh’s vote total after his party already won three quarters of the legislative seats a couple months ago. The people have spoken for the KMT and spoken loudly. It will be interesting to see what they do with their mandate.

Wayne called me up and told me a bunch of people were meeting up for a post election party, so I hurried home, dropped of my stuff and headed out. I had expected it would just be the usual suspects– Wayne, Franc, and Poagao. I was pleasantly surprised to see that David and Maoman made it there, too. The food was great, and I’m sure those guys will have a zillion pictures online tomorrow.

All in all, it was a pretty good day.

This is a demonstration of David‘s new Adsotrans plugin. Below is a copy of 85度C’s drink menu. Click on any Chinese words you can’t read to see a popup with both pinyin and an English translation. You can also edit translations. I’m interested in hearing how you like these popups compared to those previously on my blog. Unfortunately, while this plugin is installed, my old pop-ups will be broken. There’s one on my Chinese blog to see for comparison, though. Hover your mouse over the English words in this post.

冰咖啡

招牌冰咖啡
美式冰咖啡
冰巧克力牛奶
冰拿鐵
冰卡布奇諾
冰摩卡可可
冰焦糖瑪琪朵
冰法式榛果拿鐵
冰法式焦糖拿鐵

熱咖啡

招牌熱咖啡 美式熱咖啡
熱巧克力牛奶
熱拿鐵 
熱卡布奇諾
熱摩卡可可
熱焦糖瑪琪朵
熱法式榛果拿鐵
熱法式焦糖拿鐵

冰茶

烏龍煎茶
茉莉鮮綠茶
大吉嶺紅茶
蔓香梅果釀
多多綠茶
梅果綠茶
葡萄柚綠茶
韓式柚子茶
健康梅果醋
檸檬梅子
鮮桔茶

熱茶

烏龍煎茶
茉莉鮮綠茶
大吉嶺紅茶
梅果綠茶
韓式柚子茶
檸檬梅子
鮮桔茶

冰奶茶

英式奶茶
布丁奶茶
杏仁牛奶
鮮奶茶
阿華田

熱奶茶

英式奶茶
布丁奶茶
杏仁牛奶
鮮奶茶
阿華田

冰沙

芒果雪泥
卡布冰沙
拿鐵冰沙
摩卡冰沙
黑炫冰沙
香橙抹茶冰沙

What do you think of the adsotrans plugin? What would you change if you could?

Note: Todd’s got this drink menu up on his blog (where I found it). It’s straight text, and it’s not undergoing constant revisions!

I wasn’t kidding when I said I liked the new dictionary at labs.chinesepod.com. After getting used to using it all the time via the search bookmark I made last week, I started wondering why I still had the MDBG searchbar up on my page.

After I quick consultation with David (CPod’s CTO), I had my answer. There wasn’t a searchbar for CPod’s uber-adsotated dictionary with audio recordings. So I decided to be bold and make one. You can see it in context in the picture below, and it’s now a part of toshuo.com’s sidebar. I’ve already run this by David, and if anyone would like to copy and distribute the image or the code to make the searchbar, go ahead!

My searchbar for the new Chinese Pod dictionary

Here’s the code:

<!-- CPod Dictionary Search -->
<div id="cdict">

<form method="get" action="http://labs.chinesepod.com/" target="_blank">
<div style="border: 1px solid rgb(192, 192, 192); padding: 0px 3px 5px;
background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); width: 200px; text-align: center;">
<a href="http://labs.chinesepod.com/dictionary"target="_blank">
<img alt="Chinese Pod Chinese-English dictionary" src="labsdict.png"
title="Chinese Pod Chinese-English dictionary" border="0"/>
<input value="node/4" name="q" type="hidden"/>
<div style="clear: both;"></div>
The Dictionary<input name="search" size="26" value="" onclick="this.focus();
 this.value='';" type="text"/></div></form>

</div><!--End Dictionary-->

And here’s the image (which you’ll have to upload to your blog host):

I have no design skills! If anyone can improve upon the look of the searchbar, I’m sure people would appreciate it.

I’ve long been a fan of David Lancashire’s Chinese-English dictionary and anotation engine Adsotrans. I’ll admit I’ve had my share of frustrations with its previously poor support of traditional characters, but I’ve always loved the engine.

Since he David joined Chinese Pod, his various technical marvels have been springing up here and here throughout their service, and I love it! Their new dictionary is huge and growing at a good clip– rapidly closing in on the total size of ABC Chinese-English dictionary. More common entries also have example sentences, which are fully adsostated with pinyin pop-ups and accompanied by voice recordings.

Here’s my Firefox search bookmark for the CPod dictionary: http://labs.chinesepod.com/?q=node%2F4&search=%s

Those who have been checking my blog over the last few days have probably noticed a lot of down-time. I’m completely to blame.

This is a long, boring post. For those who don’t want to read it, here are the key points:

  • ANHost is fast.
  • Their tech support didn’t impress me.
  • My blog is a fairly complex and custom-made WP theme. Their system couldn’t handle it well.
  • Some less-customized blogs run extremely well on ANHost.
  • Dream Host is still the best choice for me.

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Last night, I went to Range’s (likemind). Truth be told I thought the name sounded like some creepy sort of cult, but I love meeting up with people and socializing, so I was really psyched about it. The location they picked was a bit far from me- in Banqiao, 13 stops down the subway line away from where I work. Also, they all wanted to meet up about half an hour before I got off work. Still, Range said it would go late, until at least 2am or so, so I thought it would be worth it.
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Tonight I went to a Harbin restaurant that Martin found a few weeks ago. The cool thing about this restaurant is that the laoban actually is from Harbin. Unlike the other Chinese restaurants I’ve been to in Taiwan, this one is pretty authentic. There were great lamb kabobs, quite a few potato dishes (labelled with the mainland name “土豆“, of course), several spicier dishes, and a huge selection of dumplings. It was about $250/person for the meal and it was pretty good! The restaurant is at 光復南路29051.
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Having spent the last three and a half years as and EFL teacher in Taiwan, and having seen an extremely wide variety of schools, I like to consider myself to knowledgeable about the English industry here. When I first arrived, I knew nothing. At my first job, I worked at a Sesame Street branch, and earned less than a sixth of what I had previously been making at home. I was paid $500NT per class hour with no raises in sight. In other words I did three paid hours per day at about $15USD, plus another hour of unpaid preparation work. Now, I’m making $1150NT (about $36USD), with more hours and a $50 raise every six months for as long as I stay. Admittedly, my prep-time has increased, but there are no two ways about it- I’m doing a heck of a lot better than I was a couple of years ago. continue reading…