I used to be so afraid of touching anything with technology—always a pen and paper type of person. This all changed for me when I was awarded UT Austin’s LAITS (Liberal Arts Information Technology Services) grant in 2010. I partnered with their technology team for my first online project; then I joined the team at COERLL (Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning). I brought forward my ideas for educational resources, and together we created them for the public. First, I saw a need for interactive listening comprehension exercises for beginning Chinese language learners. In teaching and learning the Chinese language, there are very few meaningful exercises for beginners, especially in listening. Publishers mainly produce inauthentic language recordings for textbooks. That kind of input is not very helpful. Also, listening is hard to teach in the classroom. It takes practice, so students must use outside class time for that. But where are these kinds of audio materials?
I thought of creating a website (Chinese Take-In), so that students could practice at home. The biggest advantage of technology when it comes to language teaching is that so much can take place outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, some of the technology can be very expensive and not very helpful.
We conceived of Chinese Take-In as an open educational resource, published online with a Creative Commons license. It was very well received by the public, and because the materials are open and available online, I’ve gotten feedback from people I don’t even know. Good feedback—how it has really helped them. I recently got an email from someone from the University of Zurich!
Because my students and the public responded so enthusiastically to Chinese Take-In, I began another online project called Pitch Perfect Pinyin, a beginning pronunciation website. Pronunciation is the very first step of learning because Chinese is a tonal language. It should be a part of any curriculum for beginners, but there are just no resources out there. There are some Pinyin websites, but nothing very extensive and nothing that includes interactive exercises. The commercial textbook our department adopted came with a CD. Together it cost a couple hundred dollars, but there were only a few isolated sounds for pronunciation practice. That’s it. Pitch Perfect Pinyin will have five types of exercises and 500 interactive items. There are also hundreds of simpler items where you just click, listen, click, listen.
I used to feel that technology was something I didn’t want to touch, but every student has a smart phone; many have tablets. We need to keep up with technology and work together with our students.
The Gateway to Chinese web portal, which includes Chinese Take-In, Pitch Perfect Pinyin, and other language resources, can be accessed at https://sites.la.utexas.edu/chinese/.