April 17, 2013 | Mandarin

Trying Out Fluenz Mandarin 3

Which is different in some ways from Fluenz 1+2.

I admit it: I have the language-learning adult version of senioritis. Just a little bit. It is growing harder to buckle down on Chinese and I am kind of daydreaming about what comes next.

These Irish and Yiddish Books Have Been Arriving and Distracting Me

These Irish and Yiddish Books Have Been Arriving and Distracting Me

In terms of total months, I spent far longer on Mandarin than on any other language during the course of this project, but that’s partly because so much of that time was taken up with other work (on launching the directory of reviews here, for example) that slowed me down.

Lately I have been working through Fluenz 3. It differs from Fluenz Mandarin 1+2 in two key ways that I can see so far.

First and most significantly, the instructor in the third-level videos is a native speaker of Chinese; in 1+2 the instructor was not. Second and much less significantly, the program now appears to be following traditional pinyin conventions rather than messing with diacritics as described in this entry.

I think it’s 100 percent the right choice to use a native speaker. There were things I enjoyed about Sonia, the narrator in Fluenz 1+2, that I kind of miss, and I definitely learned from her, but I don’t see how a non-native speaker can be the right choice for an electronic product.

That doesn’t mean I think non-native speakers shouldn’t teach classes. Of course they should! We need them. Speaking a language natively does not automatically qualify you to teach it. Non-native speakers serve an important role in introducing language learners to an unfamiliar language culture.

Besides, on a practical level: we have to staff a country full of foreign-language classrooms. You simply can’t find enough native speakers with teaching credentials and skills to do that.

But with an electronic product, you need to find only one person who combines instructional skills and language facility. So I think you should do it. As I said, the Fluenz 3 narrator is a native speaker, and I can hear the difference in her accent.

On a practical note, video is a tricky thing in a self-study product. Fluenz uses multiple types of intructional segments, but there are three separate videos in every lesson. That’s a lot.

In general, I’m not a huge fan of video. It serves a purpose, but video makes me feel trapped in its timing and rhythms, whereas with other types of materials, you have more choice about pace. 

Plus it is very, very hard to find someone universally (or universally enough) appealing to viewers to make the product work. I think Fluenz’s narrator-teachers are good or I wouldn’t still be watching. But there aren’t that many strangers I would normally spend this much time with, and despite the charm of the Fluenz teachers, I don’t always find it easy to sit still.

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