This is a review of CantoneseClass101.com, a online resource for learning Cantonese, which I've been using myself for the last 6 months.
I'm going to take you inside the paid members area, with a video showing you the main features of the website, and then give you my honest assessment of the quality of the product, so you can decide whether it's right for you.
If you're thinking abut how to learn Cantonese, you've probably noticed that there is an acute lack of resources. Unlike Mandarin Chinese, where you're spoilt for choice with a dazzling array of books, podcasts, audio courses and websites, the “C” shelf in the language learning section of your local bookshop is sadly lacking in choice for aspiring Cantonese learners.
As a result, resources like CantoneseClass101.com get a lot of attention, as something of a big fish in a small pond. When I first started looking around for websites to help me learn, this was one that seemed to pop up wherever I looked. Their marketing dollars are clearly being well spent!
But is it any good? Is it a scam?
I paid up for a premium membership and got stuck in. This review is all about what I found.
If you don't have the time to read the whole review, then I'll summarise it here by saying that it's a good, engaging resource, especially for beginners and lower levels.
Their bite-sized approach to study materials makes it appropriate for busy people and those who struggle with motivation, but it is certainly not any kind of shortcut and you will still have to do the hard work yourself.
To help you with that hard work, I've put together my own guide for using the site as effectively as possible, and getting you speaking Cantonese quicker. More details at the end of the review.
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Note: If you want to learn to understand fast, spoken Cantonese, you'll love Cantonese Conversations, a passion project I've created for the Cantonese learning community!
CantoneseClass101.com is a website that houses a series of Cantonese lessons. It works on a freemium model, meaning that some material is available for free (sneakily offered to you as a “free lifetime subscription”), but most of the good stuff requires you to buy a subscription.
Some people are reluctant to pay for online products, but it’s certainly the way things are going. A lot of mainstream software (such as Word and Photoshop) is moving towards a subscription model, so it’s here to stay. There are different pricing options and, as usual, the longer your subscription the cheaper it gets. In my opinion, the pricing is reasonable. If you take the cost of a 1-year subscription as your baseline (whatever language learning resource you buy, you’d probably aim to get through it within a year if you’re serious about progressing), which is US$180, then the cost is a lot more than a book, but substantially less than other commercial products – Rosetta Stone ($500 for all levels) or Pimsleur ($345 for 30 lessons), for example.Here's a video showing you the inside of the website: http://youtu.be/M4MosbYAiFc
Here's a video showing you the inside of the website:
Learning is arranged in courses of 25 lessons each, arranged by proficiency level, ranging from complete beginner to advanced. Lessons are delivered in audio format, and are generally 12-15 minutes long. You can listen to them on the website itself or else downloaded it all as podcasts, which you can then put on your smartphone and take around with you.
There are three audio tracks available for each lesson:
Lessons are in the format of a conversation between two people (usually one English and one Cantonese speaker) and they always follow the same pattern:
On the website, there are a few powerful features accompanying each lesson, and, for me, are the most valuable part of the product. The dialogue is given in an interactive format: each line is clickable for audio, and you can switch the text between Chinese characters, jyutping and English translation. This works really well, and is ideal for breaking down the dialogues into smaller parts, listening and reading at the same time, and is great for improving your vocabulary and listening comprehension.
Another page gives you a list of vocabulary from the dialogue, which, again, is clickable so you can hear the audio (natural speed and slowed-down) and see how it’s written. What you can then do, is choose the vocabulary you want to learn and export it to a flashcard programme that’s built into the website. These flashcard decks are fully customizable and use a spaced repetition system to help you learn them.
All of the lesson material is available in downloadable worksheets. There’s nothing special about those, it’s just a physical version of the information given on the website. Nevertheless, people like to consume information in different ways, and if you like to have everything printed off and there in front of you, it’s good to have.
In addition to the lessons, there is a wide range of extra resources for beginners, which, for me, adds real value for people learning Cantonese for the first time. When you’re just starting out it’s a delicate stage where you really need a lot of solid information (basics of grammar, phonology, writing systems) and the last thing you want to do is waste time and stifle your progress by trying to piece it all together from various websites. Here, it’s all in one place:
A couple of other nice features include a quiz function, which gives you vocabulary and writing tests based on language from the lesson, and an online dictionary Cantonese-English and English-Cantonese dictionary (accessible from the search bar, which is handy) which is well-linked to the language from the lessons and lets you export words directly to flashcards.
Cantoneseclass101.com is a substantial, well-made resource for learning Cantonese. It’s been designed to be easy to consume (hence the podcast format) and so despite my issues with the teaching format, it’s going to work well for people who don’t know where to start, aren’t easily motivated, or just want to be walked through a learning programme. For this reason, more independent learners may find it limiting.
The tools on the website, especially the line-by-line dialogues and the built-in flashcard tool are excellent, and really make it possible to get stuck in and analyse the language. The course designers and materials writers are good and have designed quality content – it’s just a bit of a shame that the marketers behind the scenes have been given slightly too much freedom, as you’re left with the impression you’re getting sold to a fair bit.
However, this shouldn’t take away from the value of the Cantonese content itself. Remember that this is just one language learning resource. Like any other book, audio course, or even language school, don’t be under the impression that it’s any kind of silver bullet, or that simply buying this will be any guarantee of you learning Cantonese.
Many people will be tempted to just rely on the podcasts, because they’re there, easily digestible and entertaining, but you still need to spend just as much time (and probably more) with your head down, stuck into the lesson transcripts and vocabulary sections to really improve at a good rate.
You will also eventually need to find ways to start speaking before becoming fluent in Cantonese. It’s not just about the studying – you’ve got to get out into the real world too, something that is often forgotten. So, in conclusion, this is a good product with a lot that can help you.
What’s important is that you keep an independent, self-directed approach to your learning, and use this product as a resource to learn what you need, rather than letting it direct your learning for you.
To help you do this, I’ve written a guide that shows you how to make the most out of the features on the website. Through a lot of trial and error over 6 months of study, I figured out how best to use the dialogues and resources to improve my Cantonese much faster than simply following their lessons through one by one.
The guide is free – click here for more.
I hope this review has been informative and that you have a better idea of whether CantoneseClass101.com is right for you or not.
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