An immersive homestay experience remains the best way to learn a language, but by building a strong foundation and studying Chinese before a trip, you will gain a greater appreciation for the Chinese language and culture during your adventure.
You found one! The Lotus Educational Foundation has been teaching foreign students Chinese language and culture since 2003. This site expands upon our student and alumni community and opens it to new students interested in the language. Welcome! Join the conversation in our comments sections, and please be sure to check out our highschool, college, and customized programs in China.
For learning about traditional Chinese culture in modern China, the blog site Useless Tree is unparalleled. The blog centers on the confluence of modern and traditional China in today’s Beijing. I highly recommend taking a peek.
In hopes to expand interest and build an even larger community, here are some other interesting and interactive portals. Although brutally ugly, the Chinese forums website provides extensive logs of questions pertaining to the study of Chinese. The community is very active, and your question no matter how simple or complex will get an answer. The ChinesePod Community Site provides guests and users with an extensive platform to pose questions about the language and share experiences and get answers from ChinesePod staff.
Baidu, China’s main search engine, also provides many resources for really getting in to Chinese culture. Although it is firmly located behind the firewall (do not go there expecting to find in depth comparative analysis of political events), Baidu Baike provides an in-depth encyclopedia of all topics Chinese, from ancient to modern. Often if a Wikipedia article fails you in China, Baike can pick up the slack. It is all in Chinese. Also Top Baidu gives the top searches in China with definitions and background. Good for getting up to date on pop-terms.
Curriki, an open source community for developing class curriculums, has a few resources for learning Chinese within the classroom. Take a look, and tell your Chinese teachers about them.
Dictionaries are key for continued study of a language. Beyond print copies, there are many electronic options, both online and in the mobile space. An iPod Touch, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, or Palm all serve as ideal platforms for mobile dictionaries. Here are some of the favorites of the Lotus staff.
Despite being self described as a “cool word space always ahead of the competition,” nciku (pronounced n-cíkù) is a great place for both beginner and advanced learners of Chinese. The site’s video notes section provides video explanations for Chinese words with similar meanings. Dictionary notes provides a way for the community to give explanations about tricky subjects and give back to the project.
Pleco is arguably the best mobile dictionary available. With apps for iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Palm, it is very usable and comes with a free set of basic dictionaries. It is further expandable with paid dictionaries for advanced users.
A Chinese based dictionary with extensive English to Chinese capabilities. Also has many community tools, but mainly in Chinese.
The dictionary and tools are powerful, but also primarily in Chinese.
Wenlin is a desktop dictionary for advanced users, available for PC and Mac. Although somewhat dated, Wenlin provides extensive background for individual characters, including their origins and seal script forms.
One of the best ways to support your Chinese outside of the class is through podcasts, and Popup Chinese provide some of the best language podcasts for beginners to advanced users. Most of the content is free, but they also offer a premium service.
Although the topics are not as interesting as Popup Chinese, ChinesePod has been around longer and offers more professional services, even one-on-one time over the Internet. Also more expensive.
Prohibitively expensive, Rosetta Stone approaches learning languages from a visual perspective. If you have used Rosetta for any other languages, you know the drill, as they use one model for all of their software.