Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#26 What’s up in Taiwan Podcast

So recently I’ve been listening to a Podcast called What’s up in Taiwan

My boyfriend and I are big fans of Asia. We want to live elsewhere in the world if we can (especially Europe), but for now our focus is Asia.

We’ll both be leaving Japan in 2 months time – sad! After relaxing, recouping, and getting some more job skills in the US, we intend to move back to Asia, this time to Taiwan.

I found this podcast randomly when searching for “Taiwan” in the iTunes store, and it’s been incredibly insightful about some of the positives and negatives that foreigners experience while living in Taiwan.

The podcast interviews foreigners (ie: non-Taiwanese or Chinese) who either live in Taiwan, or travel there on occasion. The show does a good job of trying to get people from all sorts of different countries, and learning about the people themselves and listening to their accents or their experiences can be pretty interesting in and of itself.

The foreigners interviewed are usually in Taipei, though sometimes the show will interview folks living in more rural areas.

The show host grew up in Taiwan, then spent the majority of his teen/young adult life in the US. Thus he’s fluent in both English and Chinese, though the show is done entirely in English. If Chinese comes up, they explain what the word/phrase means. The host seems to have a lot fun with the podcast when he can and does impressions or silly gimmicks at times, especially at the beginning of an episode.

This podcast never really gets old, because all the people interviewed are different and unique, and sometimes you get to learn random extra things from their interests (like the stray dog/cat situation in Taipei, the New Age music scene, a bit about Taiwanese business practices, etc etc).

I highly recommend this show to anyone interested in visiting or moving to Taiwan, or interested in the expat experience in general.

Learn more about the world! Or at least this particular corner of the world, at http://whatsupintaiwan.blogspot.com

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#20 My Favorite Chinese Podcast – ChineseLearnOnline.com

First of all, let me tell you to the best of my knowledge, what’s mainly out there for Chinese.

As introduced in a previous post when I talked about Japanese Podcasts ( https://sporadichappiness.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/my-favorite-japanese-podcast-japanesepod101-com/), there’s ChineseClass101.com, which is a sister site to the original JapanesePod101.com which I love.  Though I wasn’t so crazy about the ChineseClass site because of its thematic approach, which can be too piece-meal for a beginning language learner, but can be ideal for an intermediate or advanced learner.

I originally started out with ChinesePod.com way back in 2007 when the podcast culture was just getting started.  Back then you could just download lessons directly from their site, or maybe it was through iTunes, I don’t remember exactly.  In the meantime they seem to have made it more like ChineseClass101.com in that you need to sign up and then log in to gain access.  I don’t really like this sort of approach.  I guess it makes sense though; after all, these people are working hard on putting together these lessons, so surely they want to turn a profit for their time and efforts.  I don’t blame them.  Since I’ve never used their website in their current form, I don’t know if they have any free samplings for newly signed up people, or how much (if any) of their site is free without purchasing some kind of subscription.  If you’re curious, try it for yourself.

One fine day, I’m not sure how, I stumbled upon a beauty of a site.

I don’t know how I had overlooked it before, as its earliest lessons are dated at late 2006.  In any case, I know it now, and I’m happy to share it with you all.

It’s called ChineseLearnOnline.com – not a very unique name, but its value is not in its flashiness or marketing ploys, but in the meat of its lessons.

ChineseLearnOnline.com has a lot of things going for it that I really like.

1) It is NOT thematic.  Instead, it is a progressive course, which means that they keep building on the language you know, and re-using and reviewing previously taught grammar and vocabulary.  You actually feel like you can string together a simple sentence from listening to a few lessons.

2) Instead of immediately explaining what something means, they will break down a new word and say its literal meaning, sometimes letting you guess what you think it is exactly.  Then they will tell you the English meaning.  They will also clearly say what tones comprise each word (an essential element to learning Chinese correctly).

3) Whenever old material comes up, instead of saying something like, “as we learned before that <Chinese word> means <English word>…” they’ll instead ask YOU, the listener, “What does <Chinese word> mean?”  As lessons go on, they even ask you in Chinese “<Chinese word>shi shenme yi si?”  And they’ll give you a moment to think of it.  This encourages active listening and active learning.  And then often once they’ve confirmed what a word means that came up in a previous lesson, they’ll say the sentence where that word appeared before, helping you to further entrench it into your memory.

4) The narrator is a Canadian guy with an extremely sauve and soothing voice.  He speaks slowly and clearly, and seems generally like a very chill guy.  I enjoy listening to his voice, and this is inestimably important when you listen to lesson after lesson after lesson of the same person speaking.  If you don’t enjoy their personality or their voice, it will be distracting and possibly a de-motivator to keep listening.

5) The company is based out of Taiwan, and uses Taiwanese people as the speakers for their dialogues.  Thus, most things are pronounced the way they would be in Taiwan, and sometimes when pronunciation or vocabulary differences are present between how something would be said in Taiwan vs. China, that is pointed out on the podcast.  I am incredibly grateful for this because many Chinese lessons seem based out of China, and I personally am most interested in Taiwan because I actually plan to move there some day.  I’ve read blogs and books about people who have been to China and many say it isn’t as bad as you think (though yes, the pollution is there, but it’s not killer).  However, I personally am a bit worried about personal rights issues and the less-than-reliable Chinese government.  I wouldn’t feel entirely safe living in China.  Taiwan though, with its separate democratic government, seems more on the level of Korea or Japan in that it’s a pretty safe, developed country.  At some point my boyfriend and I hope to move to Taiwan and get English teaching jobs.  We want to experience expat life in a new country (we’ve only ever lived in the US and Japan) and learn Chinese.  Plus with today’s focus on China as an economic power, having a working knowledge of Chinese might turn out to be a valuable asset in the future.

6) There are 7 levels (as of now), each containing 60 lessons.  That’s a LOT of lessons.  The end of level 7 seems to be dated 2009 so I’m not sure if new lessons will be produced at this point or not.  Regardless, there’s quite a few out there already and it will take a lot of time to get through what’s there, so let’s enjoy what exists!

7) THE LESSONS ARE ALL FREE.  I was kind of shocked when I found this out.

The only downside is you have to click on every single lesson page and download them individually.  There’s no bulk download or anything like that.  I think if you pay money you can get download them in bulk.  Also this website does have a premium subscription where you get access to more things like lesson transcripts and review files.

I don’t know if this website will keep their lesson mp3 files free and available for all time, so you might want to jump on this opportunity while you can.  I sure did.

I have no idea how much it costs to get a premium subscription, but it might be something to look into if you think it would be worthwhile to have more than just the main lessons available.

Personally I started a notebook where I wrote down all the lesson dialogues and any extra words that came up in explanations, in the romanized “pin yin” form which uses the alphabet letters and tonal marks.  I did that on the left hand side of my notebook.  On the right hand side of my notebook I looked up each character I didn’t know and wrote it in Chinese.  For those of you studying Chinese informally and not needing to know how to read or write, just learning it via the pin yin is a very effective way to learn a lot and get to speaking and communicating.  Also by creating my own study notebook this way, it involves me in a more active way and I actually learn and internalize the words and the characters more, as opposed to passively reading a pdf document and then promptly forgetting everything.  But of course, I’m not so much of a visual learner – I’m primarily a manual and audio learner, so for me listening and writing work really well to store Chinese in my muscle memory.  Towards this effort I also do my best to memorize each dialogue (albeit temporarily).

8) Lastly, they use as much Chinese as possible, to say things like “Welcome to Lesson # . . . ” or “See you next time” or “Let’s listen to today’s dialogue.”  Of course they don’t do this right away, and they devote whole lessons to teaching you these phrases before they start using them.  Their goal seems to be to use more and more Chinese in the introductions and explanations of the lessons as time goes on, and I fully support this goal.  I think they’re doing a good job of introducing things clearly and then using them consistently.

And there you have it!  It’s a wonderful podcast course and I seriously recommend it to anyone who is motivated enough to study on their own and serious enough to stick with it :-)  I personally like to listen to podcast lessons while going for walks outside, so I can get some exercise and have something to focus my near undivided attention on.

Happy studying!

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#16 My favorite Japanese Podcast – JapanesePod101.com


First off, I want to point out that JapanesePod101.com (which is the original site, and what I will focus on today) has a ton of sister sites that do lessons in the same way.

Most of them are located at <Language>Pod101.com, but some such as Korean and Chinese use a website address with the term “Class” instead of “Pod.”

They are provided by a company called Innovative Language Learning.  A full list of the languages available (and they have quite a selection!) can be found here:

Important things to note about this podcast provider:
-Some lessons are free, but most are not.
-They are thematic lessons, meaning each lesson is about a certain topic, and will introduce vocabulary and grammar as needed.  While they’re often organized into levels (absolute beginner, beginner, intermediate, etc), the lessons do not actually build that much on each other as far as I can tell.

You can usually download their free podcasts via iTunes.  The podcasts that are free are usually the first several lessons per level, as well as the latest lessons that they’ve released (available for free for a limited time).  To access the entirety of the lessons on the website, you will need a basic subscription (charged monthly).  If you want access to their review materials and other study tools, you’ll need to get a premium subscription (also charged monthly).

If you want to view the podcasts directly on their site, you need to sign in.  To sign in, you need to sign up first, which can be annoying.  BUT, listen up, because this is important.  When you sign up, you get a free 7 day trial of ALL the features on their site (as if it you had the high-class premium subscription).  This is a great opportunity not only to try out their site features and see if you want a subscription of your own; this is the time to MADLY SCRAMBLE to download as many lessons and lesson transcripts as you can while you have access to all their content for free.

My personal experience:
I loved JapanesePod101.com – I’d already taken many years of Japanese in college so I enjoyed having thematic lessons to learn new vocabulary and the occasional new grammatical structure.  I mainly used the Upper Intermediate lessons and the Advanced Audio Blog lessons.  I actually paid for a basic subscription for a few months when I was studying for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) Level 2.  I used to listen to podcasts every day during my lunch break from work.  I can’t vouch for any of their lower lessons since I never listened to them, but for their higher lessons, they have people doing quality voice acting for the dialogues, there are thoughtful and insightful teachers explaining the words and the grammar (mainly in Japanese), and they cover some interesting topics.  I found it worth my time and money, and thanks to the help of the site, I passed my proficiency test!

I briefly explored KoreanClass101.com and ChineseClass101.com.  I really enjoyed the culture lessons they had on these sites, since I knew basically nothing of these cultures, and every little thing they could tell me about was new and interesting to me.  However, being a beginner in both languages, I was often frustrated by their thematic approach.  I wanted basic grammar, basic expressions, basic vocabulary; I wanted to be able to build up my knowledge and learn how to string together a sentence, not just learn a handful of vocabulary each time.  So I gave up on these lessons and looked elsewhere for Chinese, and shelved my Korean learning for the foreseeable future.

Lucky for me though, there is a fantastic Chinese podcast site that I eventually found and am happy to share with you all, but that’s for another post!  Stay tuned.

Isn’t it wonderful the internet age we’re living in?

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