Case Study: a Mandarin video lesson

Long story short: This video rates SLOPPY. The company obviously does not think very highly of learners.


First of all, the claim is that you’re going to “learn” greetings. So many bad products say you’re going to “learn” something, and then proceed like this:

X means pencil.

Y means pen.

Z means paper.

You get the picture. By watching a list of English equivalents, you “learn” something. Question: why does anyone think this is learning language? What experience have you had in your lifetime do you have that tells you that a list of terms with English equivalents equals learning language? Are there any Second Language Acquisition scholars that are advocating this “memorize a glossary method?” The answer is no; this is not learning. It’s listing. Hearing a list is not learning; it’s hearing a list.

But JP, what about studying a list? That’s learning, right?

Yes, I suppose studying a list qualifies as learning. Congratulations. Go crazy. However, you should know that there are several less pathetic, more effective ways of studying; the best ways activate your language learning instinct. Studying a list might fit your idea of “efficient,” but here’s a shocker: you are not a Model T factory. That assembly-line efficiency model you enjoy likening your brain to? That’s not actually how human brains work..

Your brain’s language instinct is much faster and less boring than that “efficient” model you got married to for some reason; remember, it made you a native speaker of your native language by the time you were five years old. You shouldn’t fight me on this one.

Old Glory

If you are not American, you may not understand how sensitive Americans are about our flag. Seriously; estimate in your own mind what the maximum reasonable amount of sensitivity a reasonable person can be about their flag, and then triple it, and that’s a fraction of how sensitive we are.

We have rules about our flag; we don’t let it touch the ground, we don’t throw it in the garbage. It hurts us so much to watch someone burn our flag, that many of Americans have supported outlawing burning it. We have spent our childhoods saluting our flag every day of our public education, literally pledging our allegiance. We stand and face it when we sing the national anthem, which is an anthem ABOUT our flag. When we morn, we fly the flag lower. We we fold the flag for storage, we have a solemn ceremony.

You know how sensitive our Muslim friends are about their holy book? Americans are that kind of sensitive about our flag. Maybe we won’t riot about, but we’ve thought about it. You should not be surprised that Americans use the word “desecration” to talk about our flag.

First of all, speakers of other countries are commenting that they are annoyed that the American flag was shown to represent English, so those people are all alienated.

But Americans who look at the flag on the upper left corner of this video see something else: 10 stripes instead of 13. The top stripe is white. They cropped it? They couldn’t have used a smaller image, or shrunk one? Why on Earth…

So let’s review. The video’s targeted to English speakers; English is the L1. The Americans are alienated because the flag is cropped. The non Americans are alienated by using the American flag, and not something more politically neutral. Congratulations, Dialect 101, you’ve alienated the vast majority of the speakers of your L1. You are culturally incompetent. Sloppy.

Let her go.

What is the point of zero-energy presentation in language learning products? Why do people keep making a conscious decision to be totally un-engaging? That poor presenter looks like she’s on camera with a gun at her back. Let her go, for goodness sakes.

Oh yah, academics.

Let’s assume that not using Chinese characters was a decision they made, I can understand that. Why on earth are some of the tone marks missing? Why would you go to publish such glaring mistakes? Because you want the academic folks to dismiss their product as too sloppy to be relied on?

Finally, just… as a personal note; those phrases that you “learned” by watching that glossary are not high frequency expressions; not culturally appropriate. They are great translations of some Spanish greetings, but they are less common in Chinese life than their English equivalents are. Seriously, how many days go by in your life between the times you greet someone with “Good evening”?

I’ve never, never heard a Chinese person ask another “nǐ hǎo ma?” but it is possible to say that, yes, congratulations. Here’s another question though; how do you teach a greeting without teaching the response, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S A QUESTION?


The Button

The tag line is “; the easiest way to learn languages.” Sorry, I don’t even think this is a way to learn languages, let alone the easiest. Insulting.


In this video: they spell the French numbers phonetically, because THAT’S going to help you pronounce those words. They later abandon the practice for standard French spelling in subsequent videos. What does that tell you about their teaching philosophy?

One thought on “Case Study: a Mandarin video lesson

  1. Pingback: My 2014 Language Challenge: KOREAN! | you don't have to read v2.0

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