What we’ve been doing over here at Mandarin Blueprint focuses on giving people a jumpstart to their Chinese learning by making video courses that allow a lot of freedom for the user. It gives them the ability to learn anywhere, at their own pace, and with the materials to review what they’ve learned. What they also need (and what the two of us here at MB lack the human resources to do) is have objective pronunciation feedback from a native speaker. That’s why I was thrilled to discover that TutorMandarin exists. Each one of their Chinese online tutors is the perfect complement to The Mandarin Blueprint Method.
Scheduling The Class
The process of scheduling the class and then starting it was very smooth. They even have a button that turns green saying “start class” when the teacher is ready. I imagine from the teacher’s perspective that is quite convenient, and it’s very clear from the student’s perspective, after all, green means go!
After joining the class, I was immediately impressed by the set up on screen. There was the ability to type into the chat, clearly visible on the left side of the screen below the two equally sized video squares. The video itself wasn’t too small, so I could still easily see the instructor’s facial expressions (really essential for feeling connected to your instructor during the class).
In the middle was the main content section for the tutoring session, and this is where the instructor shared the text we would be going over in the class. They have proprietary material that covers all HSK levels and can also be associated with the “Common European Framework of Reference for Language.” So does that actual class go? Depends on you
Digging a Bit Deeper
If you were to uses a structure that follows the materials, it would go like this:
1. Introduce some questions and see if there are already opinions you can express about them using Mandarin. If so, you can spend some time on that, if not then no problem, move on to the next step…
2. Go over new words 生词. Having a few words being the main focus gives structure to the lesson and can allow you to narrow your attention to the mastery of those words in context.
3. Use these words in a sentence. In this section, the instructor will give you feedback about your pronunciation, as well as asking questions designed to determine if you’ve mastered the meaning (Note: I particularly liked this…simply saying “Do you understand?” is a sign of weak teacher).
4. See all the words you studied in a larger text. When learning a word, you can break it down into its component characters or build it up into a sentence, but you don’t want to stop there. Getting the words into a story structure is essential. Pretty much impossible in one sentence. When it enters the layer of the story, you are really going to get it.
5. Discuss the text based on a few talking point questions. Great way to end the class, solidifying the knowledge you just went over and making sure everything is clear
The Freedom to Learn Your Own Way
All of the above, while a smart way to handle it if you want the teacher to lead, is optional. If you’re going to have a long-form conversation with the instructor to take advantage of their language ability and teaching experience, they’re happy to oblige. Much better than just talking to a Chinese friend, because you are paying them to notice and correct the things your Chinese friends don’t have the expertise or patience to help you fix.
No matter how good your initial instruction is, it is essential to get the objective feedback of native tutors, and the system Tutor Mandarin has set up works wonders for that purpose. In any class, you want to have at least 50% speaking, and this is their company philosophy. Get YOU talking, and then personalize your course for the needs that are individual to your particular space on the journey. Highly recommended.