Review: Rocket Languages Chinese Online Program

Program History & Introduction

Established in early 2004, Rocket Language now offers over 12 online language-learning programs, including Spanish, German, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, etc. Rocket Chinese Language Program is rated as one of the best among its competitors. The core idea of teaching system is based on ideas of three psychologists and linguistics: George A. Miller, Dr. Stephen Krashen and Neil Fleming.

George Miller, one of the founders of psycholinguistics, had a famous theory of language learning and psychological cognition. He thought that people learn a new language faster by “chunk” big contents into small easy pieces. To break down the complicated Chinese language, Rocket Chinese Language Program “chunks” it into different real-life situation topics, such as “Greetings”, “Plan a Trip”, “Restaurants”. Each topic is focused on a short functional conversation. With various study tools and audio assistance, the program offers a fun and efficient learning experience.

Dr. Stephen Krashen is known by his theory of second language acquisition. He thinks that the best way to learn second language is to naturally interact with native speakers using the language and ask for honest feedback from them. Rocket Chinese Language Program is developed by Lin Ping (native Chinese speaker) and Dave (native English speaker). It is definitely one of the strengths of the program and gives learners more confidence about the accuracy of pronunciation, culture and grammar interpretation.

Neil Fleming’s “VARK Model” supported the primary set up of the online language-testing program. Fleming discovered that people learn from four ways: Visually, Aurally, Reading/Writing and Kinesthetically. Rocket Chinese Language Program set up the testing system according to an expanded version of the “VARK Model”. After each interactive audio and culture lesson, learners could self-assess their level by going through various tests: “Hear it! Say it!” “Write it!” “Know it!” “Play It!” “Quiz” and “Extra Testing!”. Each testing section focuses on different language skills to help learners consolidate knowledge. But listening skill is the common focus of all testing programs. Learners will repeat, write or answer multiple-choice questions after listening phrases or conversations.

Webpage Features

The learner’s webpage has a nice and clear set up. From the left and top tool bar, learners could easily access everything needed. Need to find a specific lesson? The lesson navigation bar on the top will be very helpful. The left bar sets up quick access to 6 learning assistance tools: “My Dashboard” “My Badges” “My Forum” “My Toolbox” “Rocket News” and “Take a Tour”.

“My Dashboard” tracks personal study plans and course achievements. It the greeting page when users log in. “My Badges” is a tool to encourage learners pursue their goals. After complete each lesson and test, learners gain certain points as reward. Different badge is given after the cumulative points achieved a certain level. “My Forum” is a great idea to provide learners a stage to discuss various topics. Occasionally the instructor Lin Ping will interact with learners through the forum, too. Unfortunately, the forum resource is currently underused. Most posts and answers are one year and older. “Rocket News” releases new features and tools of the program. The diligent program developers post good news about the program frequently. “Take a Tour” contains a quick video guide about the program. More helps about specific functions could be found in “Demo” videos and “Live Customer Support”.

“My Toolbox” is another highlighter feature of the program. The box contains 4 tools: “Phrase Finder” “My Vocab” “Advanced Learning Technics” and “My Notes”. “Phrase Finder” works as a customized dictionary. All core phrases and sentences from the lessons could be searched in the finder. Search results show the lesson number, audio track, Pinyin, Chinese Hanzi, and English. However, the finder tool only works best if search by English or Chinese Hanzi. It won’t work if search by Pinyin. “My Vocab” builds personalized vocabulary pool to help users review. “Advanced Learning Technics” provides abundant tips and advice articles for Chinese study, such as study planning, tricks and psychological support. “My Notes” allows users to quick access notes taken for all lessons.

Teaching Methods

The Rocket Chinese Language Program course package includes 7 unites (12-13 lessons per unit) and a comprehensive conversation review unit. Each unit is divided into 3 sections: Interactive Audio, Language & Culture, and Writing Lessons. 10 Survival Kits are provided for specific topics such as “Tones”, “Food”, and “Numbers/Days”. Survival Kits are a bonus included in Premium program, which is best for beginners to intermediate. For advanced learners, a Premium Plus Survival Kits would also be included in the advanced combo.

(1) Interactive Audio Lessons

Interactive Audio lessons are interactive and easy to follow. Interactive lessons are developed under the core ideas of “Listening, Repeating, Comparing, Learning, and Having Fun”. As a native Chinese speaker, Lin Ping takes care of most Chinese pronunciations. On the other hand, Dave plays as the English interpreter. Dave is also a Chinese language specialist, and he has rich experience and exposure with Chinese culture. And of course, Dave’s Chinese is flawless, too. Dave and Lin Ping cooperate well to give learners very detailed and instant English interpretations of Chinese words and phrases. Personally I feel this method is better than immersion. It’s hard for learners to follow the conversation unless their confusions are solved before moving on.

Lin Ping and Dave each take a side during conversations. They speak alternatively to help learners focus. Each audio lesson is 27 minutes long on average. And there are multiple tracks available for conversation break down (complete lesson, role-play Dave track, role-play Lin Ping track, Rocket review track). Full tracks are downloadable. However, it works better on webpages because learners could record their repeating and instantly compare the record with original audio track.

The webpage of the lesson is nicely and clearly lined-up. It’s very easy to find each section by the bolded titles. Conversation transcript written in Chinese, Pinyin (Romanized character) and English is provided for each conversation. There is a “My Note” section for each lesson and test. Learners may type in anything they think is important. And the note of all lessons could be accessed in “My Toolbox”. A potential problem is that learners cannot type Chinese characters if no additional language tool is installed in their computer.

After learning each lesson, learners could go to the “Test” tab to evaluate and enhance their study results. The testing system is developed from Neil Fleming’s “VARK Model”. There are 6 tests available: “Hear it! Say it!” “Write it!” “Know it!” “Play It!” “Quiz” and “Extra Testing!”. Each test focuses on enhancing one language skill. After complete each task, learners could rate the learning results by levels. After completing a section, it is colored by the corresponding rating level. Learners could take the test as many times as needed, and mark each result with newest rating. When all words/sentences are rated, lowest level words will always come out first during second round. Thus the weaknesses could get more practice until balanced with others.

“Hear it! Say it!” focuses on listing and speaking skills. The test goes through each word, phrase and sentences to help learners get more practice. During the test, the audio plays the Chinese words/phrases/sentences first. Learners are asked to repeat what they have just heard and record their repeating. Then the correct answer is revealed in Pinyin, Chinese and English after clicking the “reveal” button. “Write it!” intends to test the Pinyin writing skills. Learners are asked to type what they have heard in Pinyin. “Know it!” is designed to test how well learners could manage the language. It gives English translations and asks learners to speak the corresponding Chinese phrases or sentences. “Play It!” is a role-play game. Learners are required to play either “Lin” or “Dave” to finish the conversation with the help of Pinyin script and English translation. The test set up 6 difficulty levels: “Easies, Easy, Medium, Hard, Hardest, Native”. Learners could keep challenging harder levels after tried easier ones.

There are also two comprehensive tests available. “Quiz” provides multiple-choice questions to test listening skills. “Extra Testing!” is a new test feature released in May 2014. The section includes 2 major topics: “Write in in Hanzi” and “Play it in Hanzi”. “Write in in Hanzi” is similar to “Write it!” tests, except that the section requires learners to type real Hanzi instead of Pinyin. There is a virtual keyboard to assist typing Chinese. It’s a good way to recognize Chinese characters and match them with their pronunciation and meaning. However, the handwriting skill is not really enhanced. “Play it in Hanzi” is another role-play conversation game with Hanzi script.

(2) Language & Culture

Similar with Interactive Audio lessons, each Language & Culture lesson has 2 sections: lesson and test. The lessons focus on grammar and culture tips, including detailed explanations about vocabulary grammars, tones, ordering sentences, and a brief Chinese culture hint. The testing system has the same standard set up as audio lessons.

(3) Writing Lessons

Writing lessons are a bit challenging for both developers and users. Chinese characters (Hanzi) are very different than western languages. They looks more like a “picture” other than a “word” in the sense of English. Each character has a unique looking, and some of them could be very complicated. Rocket Chinese Language Program uses pictures and videos to help illustrate how to write each character. In addition, the program also gives a brief history of the character. China has a long and rich civilization history. It is true that Chinese characters are originated from pictures. But the characters keep changing over times. Most characters looks completely different during different dynasties. The history tip about Chinese character helps learners to understand the meanings and inspire further interests about Chinese culture. Unfortunately, Rocket Chinese Language Program doesn’t provide a testing system for writing lessons.

Advantages/Disadvantages/Unique Features

Overall, Rocket Chinese Language Program is great to help beginner start from ground zero. The webpage design has very clear structures and is user-friendly. If you meet any troubles, the “Demo” icon could solve most technical problems instantly. Still confused? Go to the “Live Customer Support” during office hours and chat with a staff! In addition, Rocket Language launched both IOS and Android App in earlier 2014. The IOS App has full access to all course materials, including audio track, interpretation texts and conversation transcript.

The Course package contains abundant materials, and most materials are very practical and up to date. The program is more focused on oral Mandarin, so the language is less formal.

Another unique feature is the Chinese cultural lessons. To speak like a native, choice of proper grammars and phrases should always be matched with occasions. Culture tips and hints provide a useful interpretation of cultural norms besides plain language. It also adds more fun to the language learning experience.

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