We live in a multi-lingual world, and if you want to maximize your ability to communicate for business and pleasure, you need to be able to reach people.
While many might have dismissed computers as just toys for playing games and overly complicated calculators, they have proven to be so much more. Thanks to the internet, you can learn about pretty much anything with just a few simple keystrokes. Yet, some things are more difficult to pick-up than others. That’s where language programs, like Rocket Chinese, come in. They offer a way to conveniently and thoroughly learn a language from the comfort of your desk chair. If you’ve ever wanted to master Mandarin or any other language, these programs can help you do it.
Rocket Chinese is one of the few high-end programs that offer courses in Mandarin, a language that is quickly becoming one of the main languages of business. Unlike the Romance languages, English, or German, Mandarin can be very difficult to learn, even more when self-teaching. There’s a whole new alphabet to learn, new grammar to understand, and even new sounds for Westerners to learn how to make with their voice.
Using a program like Rocket Chinese can help make that learning curve a little easier to surmount. With in-depth lessons, synchronicity across your devices, and an online community for support, learning a language “on your own” has never been easier. Let’s take a look under the hood, as it were, of the Rocket Chinese system so you can see what it offers for yourself.
A Bit About Rocket Chinese and Who Makes It
Before we dive into what makes the Rocket Chinese so special, we should talk about how we got here. We’ll look at the history of learning languages using computers, and how these new programs take advantage of our technological advancements. Check it out below!
History of Computer Language Learning Programs
An advancement in computer technology in the early 1990s made language learning software much easier to use. No, we’re not talking about the internet, but rather the popularization of the CD-ROM drive. Before CD-ROM, programs were divided up to little more than single-megabyte chunks over a number of floppy disks, sometimes dozens of them.
A single CD-ROM, however, is equivalent to about 487 floppy disks. This meant that there was finally room on this storage medium for enough information to start learning a language. As computers grew better able to handle audio and video files, the way in which people used their computers to learn, not just language but everything, began to change. The CD-ROM was the most important advancement for computer language learning programs, but the internet was a big help as well.
At first, the internet’s main way of helping this area of learning was simply by bringing disparate people and information together in an easily accessible way. You could now read newspapers and even some books in other languages in a free and easy way. A person learning the language could also seek out native-speakers in chat rooms or newsgroups (the precursor to online forums) for practice and correction.
As bandwidths grew and the web got easier to use, the very lessons themselves could be found through internet searches. You can watch news, television shows, or even movies in other languages on video streaming sites. This access to media along with a program like Rocket Chinese has made learning a language on your own easier than ever to do.
History of Rocket Languages
In 2004 Mark Ling and Jason Oxenham wanted to learn new languages but found that the software on the market didn’t meet their needs. Over the next year, they developed the first two Rocket Languages programs, teaching French and Spanish.
One of the first innovations they put forth was adding digital audio files and print media files online, so that students could use the programs and lessons remotely. Just 15 years later, they now offer more than a dozen different language programs ranging from Rocket Arabic to Rocket Sign Language.
Rocket Chinese, which teaches the Mandarin language, is just one of many programs offered by this company. Yet, not only are the expanding their catalog of courses, they are always upgrading and updating the courses they already offer. You can take advanced courses in the languages of your choice to help you on your path to fluency.
Who Is the Rocket Chinese System Perfect for?
There is nothing quite like learning a language from a person who is both fluent like a native and also trained for instruction. Yet, for lots of different reasons, that is not always an option. Whether you get nervous speaking in groups (and language classes require speaking to your whole class) or want more individualized instruction, Rocket Chinese can help.
You can practice speaking the language on your own and by yourself, without being worried about embarrassment if you struggle. You can set your own pace through the courses, and even repeat them until you’ve mastered them. Rocket Chinese is great for people who either want to supplement in-person instruction or avoid it altogether. Not only that, with the online forums, you can both find support and offer it to others, so you don’t feel like you’re going through it all alone. It’s the best of both worlds.
Rocket Chinese is also great for people who think they want to learn a language but aren’t sure that they can truly commit the time to do it. You can work at your own pace, stealing time for lessons whenever you can. If too long goes by between lessons, you can review the previous lessons easily. The great thing about Rocket Chinese is that there is no time limit.
You can go through the lessons as quickly or slowly as you like. That is a benefit that in-person instruction definitely doesn’t offer. It takes discipline to effectively teach yourself a new subject, especially a language. If that’s something you need to work on, even more than your pronunciation, Rocket Chinese gives you the space to do that in a way many of its competitors do not.
Features and Benefits of the Rocket Chinese Learning System
Now that we have a better idea of how learning languages using computer-aided assistance got where it is today, we can focus on Rocket Chinese. We’ll discuss how this system differs from other, more well-known systems. Also, we’ll highlight some of the benefits that will help you learn the language on-the-go and with little stress.
1. In-Depth Lessons That You Actually Own
The modern business model for everything from Microsoft Office to language learning programs is software-as-a-service. This means instead of buying a program on a CD-ROM or digital download, you pay a monthly fee for access to it. It’s great for business, but not so great for consumers, especially those who want to learn a language when they get sparingly little free time.
With Rocket Chinese, you can get your modules on physical media, meaning you will have access to those forever. Yet, on top of the physical media copy, you also get lifetime access to the modules online. Even if life gets crazy and you spend two or three years away, you can log in any time and pick up right where you left off.
They also have different lessons for different time-allotments. If you can only spare a few minutes, they have short pronunciation exercises you can perform, 30-minute interactive audio conversations, and full lessons that take about an hour. All of these you can do whenever and however often you want.
2. Conversation Practice
The only true way to learn a language is to actually speak it aloud. Rocket Chinese knows this, and it offers its students a number of ways to get that sort of practice. The audio lessons they provide are interactive and ask you to repeat after the instructors. It’s repetitive work, but that is by design. Repeating yourself over and over is the way that you are able to train your mind and tongue to speak these new(-to-you) words.
Of course, your pronunciation may be off and a pre-recorded track can’t tell you that. This is why they have the Play It! Feature which allows you to record yourself speaking the words, listen back to it, and compare it to the correct pronunciation. You can also take part in the example conversations, a rote way of learning the proper responses to common phrases and queries. Also, these exercises use “a mathematically measured algorithm” to help improve recall and retention. You’ll still have to practice, but they claim not as much as you would with other learning software.
3. A Focus on Grammar Mechanics
Rocket Chinese boasts 25 “advanced learning techniques” to help their students develop their speaking and comprehensions skills quickly and easily. Many of Rocket Chinese’s competitors focus on teaching common phrases that can be spoken and understood quickly.
However, if you memorize rote phrases without understanding how they are put together, you could come off sounding like a fool to a potential client or business partner. That is why they focus not just on teaching useful phrases and words, but also the grammar mechanics of Mandarin. It’s not enough to know what words to say, but you should also know why the words fit together as they do.
Along with these grammar lessons, there are nearly 30 writing video lessons. Not only do you learn to write the characters by practicing script, but you also reinforce the lessons about sentence structure and grammar. They also have materials that discuss how the culture affects the language, so you don’t have to worry about being offensive. Grammar mechanics can be tough to get through, especially if you already speak the language and know them intuitively. Yet, Rocket Chinese makes them fun and underscores their importance in reaching fluency.
4. Connectivity and Social Learning
Rocket Languages was one of the first such companies to put their lessons online for their students, and Rocket Chinese is no exception. You can access these lessons on multiple devices, all synchronized to what you did last. Let’s say you started your day working a Rocket Chinese lesson your tablet, but then had to rush off to work before you finished. You could pick up your lesson right where you left off from your phone when you eventually take your lunchbreak.
This helps take away some of the excuses you can make for yourself to skip lessons because you just didn’t have the time to sit in front of the PC. Of course, there are other reasons to get discouraged when teaching yourself a language, and that’s where the forums come in.
The whole point of learning a language is to communicate with people. As easy and comforting it can be to learn a language on your own, you will eventually need to talk to other people. Yet, if time, demographics, or geography prevents you from getting some real-world practice, you can turn to Rocket Chinese’s online forums. There you have access to fellow students, native speakers, and professional instructors at all hours of the day.
These forums aren’t full of people chatting about nothing all day like most online forums. (Though they do have some boards for general conversation and chitchat.) These forums are focused on helping students and linking them up with others. You can then chat via the forum or more personally. Either way, you end up with others supporting your language learning journey.
What People Are Saying About the Rocket Chinese System
As there aren’t many programs that teach Mandarin, Rocket Chinese is seen as one of, if not the, best on the market. On their website, they list close to 3000 reviews, and more than 90 percent have rated them four stars or higher. On Amazon, there are considerably fewer reviews, but 80 percent of those rated this product with five stars. People love that they have lifetime access to the lessons, and they also appreciate how the lessons aren’t just audio-only.
Some of the reviews note that the program is challenging, and that to learn the language they really had to work at it. Yet, Mandarin is a challenging language for Western adults to learn, especially on their own. If you’re going to do it, Rocket Chinese is the best tool you can find to get you there.
There are few negative reviews of this product out there, but they do exist. One from 2017 reported that the apps were buggy and kept crashing. However, there is not enough corroboration from other users to rule out that the problem was on the reviewer’s devices rather than with the software itself. Another one from 2012, called the software “primitive,” but in the seven years since Rocket Languages have invested time and money into beefing up their lessons.
They continually listen to users and claim that they take that feedback into consideration for their periodic updates. Other complaints highlight the expensive pricing (especially since Rocket Chinese features 20 modules at the time of this writing). While the high cost can be seen as a downside, you will have access to the modules (and any updates to them) for the life of the company.
Alternatives to the Rocket Chinese to Consider
While Rocket Chinese seems to be the industry leader when it comes to teaching yourself Mandarin, you may not be sold on the product. If that’s the case, there aren’t a lot of options to choose from instead. Below we’ve gathered up the best we can find, which you can look into more for yourself.
Taking its name from the historic archaeological find that allowed historians to translate ancient Egyptian into ancient Greek, thereby opening that history to us. It’s an appropriate name for a company who teaches people other languages. You can purchase the software, but Rosetta Stone is moving towards a software-as-a-service model.
While the quality of their lessons are on-par with Rocket Chinese, they have released an innovative and useful mobile app. They’ve added artificial intelligence to the app so that you can take an image for a live, instantaneous translation. If you are okay with subscription services or don’t want to worry about lifetime access to updates or online services, this might be the software for you.
Perhaps it’s not the Rocket Chinese software that you don’t like, but the rote, repetitive methods of learning the language? If this is the case, consider Loqu8 which boasts a unique “augmented learning” approach to picking up the language. One of these features is “LiveScan” which pronounces, translates, and defines any Mandarin word or character your mouse hovers over on the screen.
You can also use a similar feature to highlight an entire document for a full translation. You can then copy this to a word processor, so you can refer back to it easily. It’s a new approach to learning a language, and if you’ve struggled with other programs this might be the one to try.
Maybe you are just old-fashioned, and despite the obvious advantages of a multi-media language learning program, you just want to listen to it. There are countless CDs, digital albums, and even free streaming choices for learning languages. However, you don’t what you’re getting when you use them. The Instant Immersion set of audio CDs is the highest-rated one we could find for sale on Amazon.com.
Still, only 64 percent of reviewers give it four stars or higher. Nonetheless, it is a lengthy and trustworthy source for learning Mandarin with your ears alone. Along with language, there are brief discussions about the culture and food you might encounter in China. If you insist on going audio-only this eight-disc set is as good a place as any to start.
The Rocket Chinese system is a wonderful choice for developing your language skills, working at your own pace, and not worrying about subscription fees.
If you want to learn Mandarin Chinese at your own pace from the comfort of your own home, there aren’t many options to choose from. Luckily, Rocket Chinese is one of the best possible programs you can use to learn this amazing, complex, and beautiful language. With lifetime access to the lessons, forums, and other learning tools, you can learn at your own pace.
Also, you will be able to log back in to refresh your skills whenever you need to. With enough practice, both using the program and out in the real-world, you can soon be fluent in a language you likely thought you’d never be able to pick up on your own. Thanks to programs like Rocket Chinese, this great blue marble on which we all live gets a little smaller.
What do you think? Is the Rocket Chinese system the kind of language software you’d like to use? Let us know, along with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you’ve enjoyed it.
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