This is us.  The one showing lots of shoulder (in her Chengdu, China Marine Ball ball gown!) is the EFM who writes this blog. The one wearing a tux (James) is the employee who moves her (and their two sons) around all over the world. The red link, below, is how you can get in touch with me...

The time in Chengdu, China

Chengdu: city of fabulous food and beautiful Buddhist monasteries!
Yes, Beijing's Forbidden City (pictured, above) is really pretty and all, but I like Chengdu much better than Beijing!

In Our Same Boat (with State)

  • Beyond the Cornfields
    Brand-new State Department family in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Love their two little girls (she just recently had a baby while being posted in Dhaka), horticulture, traveling and adventure!
  • Email From The Embassy
    State Department family formerly in Beijing, China, and recently posted to Amman, Jordan. A trailing spouse, she's also a writer, and frequently publishes articles with major news sources. A very experienced State family, this new post is something like overseas post number six or seven for them.
  • Just US
    A beautiful family of seven - they have arrived at their new post: Jerusalem! They just finished off an unaccompanied tour to Iraq and are very much looking forward to sightseeing around the middle east.
  • Our Life
    State Department family on their second post...Tijuana, Mexico. It's their first overseas assignment and they have two little boys. They love Tijuana so far and post pictures frequently! They also get to enjoy the best of both worlds for they can sneak over the border into San Diego when they want to!
  • The Dinoia Family
    State Department family formerly in California, now in DC for a DC tour. Next, the husband will do a one year unaccompanied tour. A very experienced State family (formerly in Iceland and Caracas) with a blog that has been around quite a while and has great archives. Jen has a sweet heart and a lot to give!
  • The Perlman Update
    State Department family formerly in Chennai, India, who then did a year-long unaccompanied tour in Iraq. They are now on a DC tour and after that will do another unaccompanied tour (Afghanistan). She totally tells it like it is and doesn't sugar-coat what life is really like. Witty, snarky, funny and down-to-earth. Look elsewhere if you want fake. Read if you want REAL.
  • Where in the World Am I?
    State Department family formerly in Bujumbura, Burundi and now in Hyderabad, India. They just had their first baby this summer - a beautiful little girl- (there's a separate blog about this) and she also eats gluten-free (with a separate blog, also).
One of the most intriguing things about Chengdu is that it is a seamless blend of ancient and modern... all together, side by side.

Can't Live Without (non-State)

  • Crass-Pollination: An ER blog
    The best ER nurse blog EVER!
  • Doctor Grumpy in the House
    The best doctor blog EVER!
  • In Which...
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of seven. Her darling daughters are, goshdarnit, probably too young to be hoped for as my future daughters-in-law.
  • The Crib Chick
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of five. Hopefully two (Any two! I'm not picky!) of which are my future daughters-in-law.
  • the underwear drawer
    An anesthesiologist who is possibly the most talented & entertaining writer ever. I've read her blog ever since she started medical school. No, don't know her in real life. Wish I did.
  • The Bloggess
    This blog is both hysterically funny and hilariously irreverent. I actually let my 17 year old son read it (who loves it as much as I do!), but wouldn't even CONSIDER letting my 12 year old son read it. Which is about all the description it needs!
The grounds of Chengdu monasteries can be very, very peaceful...even though they are smack dab in the heart of a city of millions of people.


Yes, there are Starbucks in Chengdu! All over the place, in fact. So much so, Starbucks even crafted mugs for Chengdu stores!
Texan bluebonnets. Because I learned during our very first posting (Houston) that there's nothing prettier in the spring than the meadows of Texas.
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LOL! We bought it (and use it mainly for vocab drills or vocab building). It should help Matthew with that. I use it to do that. But it annoys me too that it is marketed as a home school curriculum. Ours did come with a book of translations but I think that would still be cumbersome and not very realistic for a family that had no prior exposure.
Learning Chinese with Rosetta would be pretty tough unless you had other CD's and books to explain what was going on grammatically. "Chinese Link" is pretty good for a beginning textbook. The book and workbook together are about $60 on Amazon. It has weblinks for listening too and you can buy the CDs as well. I modify it to teach grammar.


I think this is an incredibly unfair review.

You show one picture. What you didn't include are the flashcards preceding and following the one you displayed. My guess is that previous screens had taught you quite emphatically what the word "teacher" is. All this slide is doing is showing you how to say "not." Am I right? I'm sure later screens drill this information until you get it. So instead of just learning how to say "not" you learn how to say it in relation to something you already recognize while reinforcing both concepts. Seems really smart to me.

I'm so tired of the negativity surrounding Rosetta Stone. Consistently, the poor reviews are from people who either take something completely out of context, like you do here, or who use it once or twice and chuck it. Even the best language course would suffer if put to the same test. Reviews like this are a dime a dozen because learning a language is long process and takes sustained effort. Most people find it easier to make snap judgments. Most people give up quickly.

You mention you home school. Would it make sense for me to observe one minute of your curricula and make an overarching judgment about your whole teaching method? No. But that's exactly what you've done here.

I think the best way to learn a language is to approach it with enthusiasm and an open mind, and a knowledge that it will take WORK on your part. Buy a dictionary and if you get stuck you can use that. Don't go through rosetta stone once and expect to be fluent and get it immediately. Repeat, build, repeat, make mistakes, try again, repeat, repeat.

If you approach Rosetta Stone the way you are doing-as a chore, as something to be endured, as sub-par, forcing your children to do it...yes I am certain you will not learn well.


Actually, rumor has it that some instructors in the Chinese department actually discourage the use of Rosetta Stone, because some of the vocabulary is outdated and/or inaccurate. I haven't actually asked anyone about it myself, just heard some scuttlebutt about it.

As someone who's studied language independently before, you really, really can't do it without a decent textbook, one that spells out what's going on grammatically. Memorizing all the vocabulary in the world won't help you if you can't put it together in a functional sentence, which seems like it would be exponentially harder to figure out using Rosetta Stone's format. Rosetta Stone could help out with the tones, but that's about it. Also, if it's not helping you learn characters, that's not good, either, since it leaves you functionally illiterate and unable to even read signs. I had friends who had this issue when I lived in Japan, and they had a tough time until they could build up a repertoire of even fifty or a hundred common characters (I've signed up on a website called Skritter that I've found pretty helpful for that, but there are others out there).

And on that note, I need to get my butt in gear and finish up a 小报告 for tomorrow. Anyone else counting the seconds until the three day weekend?


I loathe rosetta stone and find it an amazing cure for insomnia, but I will use it again just because short of classes at FSI there isn't much else out there that I can use at home to at least build some basic vocabulary. I did it faithfully for several moths prior to Germany, I can't say it helped much. Once i got past the initial lessons into the part where grammar becomes important it was pretty tough going. German's grammar is different enough to not be intuitive, it made my head want to explode.

When I ran into a word I couldn't figure out I would make use of goggle translate, of course German uses the same basic alphabet as English so that was pretty easy to do.


"I'm sure I'm going to get angry comments about how I just don't understand how wonderful Rosetta Stone is - how people bought it and used it and now scored a 3/3 in Farsi or whatever - and how I'm just a very bad person for being so mean."

ROTFLOL! And sure enough, you did!

We've used a bit of Rosetta Stone for the kids with Russian. . . but just a bit. R11 played around with it in French, because he really wanted to learn French.

We like the Pimsleur Audio lessons better for basic familiarization with a language and politeness words. (It's funny, they use the same script with the various languages, so the kids have the "teacher" dialogues memorized as much as the the languages.)

I'm personally of the opinion that although languages DO require significant independent study to really internalize, most people can not learn a language without a good teacher. Some people are an exception (insert anecdote of a genius who taught himself another language with simply a Bible...) But really? For most of us? Have a teacher to coach us, explain to us, prod us. . . really necessary.


Thanks for putting this on your blog! I have only heard about how awesome Rosetta Stone is but have never taken advantage of using it. I am glad to know that it is not going to "help" me learn the language the way I need to learn.

A Daring Adventure

Okay, folks, the gloves come off.

@Becky- Just because I'm in the mood to, I would like to emphasize that you are not only fluent in Mandarin but also certified to teach it. Which makes your comments have great weight in my mind. You emphasize that Rosetta Stone could not be a stand-alone program because it does not teach the grammar (how right you are- it teaches NO grammar) of the program, and you also state that it annoys you that it's marketed as a homeschool curriculum. I agree.

@Diplogeek- You and my husband and I totally have to meet. And now: a little story for you and for everyone.

Before we stared even with our Chinese tutor many months ago (last summer), we all were using Rosetta Stone, for it was all we had. The VERY FIRST DAY we met with our Mandarin tutor, we used a small phrase off of the SECOND SLIDE on Rosetta Stone, and she literally blanched. "Where did you hear that? Where did you learn that??" she freaked out at us. We told her- Rosetta Stone- and her eyes grew wide. In whispers, she explained that what we had just said was very sexist and very wrong and that we were never to say it again. Yes, that didn't make it into my blog post, because I was trying to be judicious. But you opened the door and I walked through it.

And yes, Diplogeek, we ARE counting the seconds until the three-day-weekend! Yahoo!!

@Shannon and anyone referring us to a Chinese dictionary: Paper Chinese dictionaries are just as frustrating as they are useless. Maybe we're just not smart enough, but looking something in pinyin up in a Chinese dictionary is impossible, because of all of the different tones. James has purchased a slew of very good/expensive software items (I might blog about that later) that have reverse-lookup character systems, and that is the only way we are able to look anything up in Chinese. Which is another reason why Rosetta Stone is frustrating to the point of tears with Chinese. Would it probably be different with something like French where you can look things up in a dictionary? Probably. But with Chinese, it's impossible to do so... at least for us it is.

@TulipGirl- Huh? You mean your children didn't learn Hebrew fluently by first grade through the judicious use of the Old Testament in its original language? (Neither did mine!) Which is why we all make such great friends. :)

@Melissa - Please don't think I'm saying to never use Rosetta Stone! It sounds like it may be tons better for some languages and not others. With Chinese, it's extraordinarily frustrating, unless someone is around who knows the language enough to help with the grammar and vocabulary. As I said, with Chinese, using a regular dictionary is no help, and Rosetta Stone's COMPLETE lack of grammar instruction makes it almost hopeless.

And now...

@Megan- We were paneled for China last May, I believe. It's October. We've been using Rosetta Stone since then. (See my story to Diplogeek, above.) Which means, in my mind, that we have used Rosetta Stone long enough for any review of mine to be accurately premised upon the personal, lengthy use of such program, whether or not you deem my opinions to be "fair."

You, however, have not used Rosetta Stone Chinese to try to learn Mandarin. I know this because you start your second paragraph with "My guess is..." and then theorize about Rosetta Stone Mandarin's sequential introduction of vocabulary. (Also: your "guess" is incorrect.)

Using your words, I will say the following: My guess is that, not only have you not used Rosetta Stone to try to learn Mandarin, but you also do not have children. Or, if you have children, my guess is that they are not school-aged, and you are not trying to use Rosetta Stone to teach them Mandarin.

I am guessing these things because you lack any understanding of how one deals with children who are trying to learn something difficult (such as Mandarin) long-term. They do not burst out of bed each morning, begging for their little brains to be stimulated. I, the teacher, judiciously choose what to have them complete and accomplish, and I, the teacher, see to it that my goals are met. To me, this is what I mean when I say that I "force" them to work with Rosetta Stone.

(The honest truth of the matter- and I will include this, in case it helps anyone else- is that my children literally TIME themselves while using Rosetta Stone. They meet my time goal (a certain amount of minutes on the program for that day), and the SECOND that time goal is met, they go FLYING away from the computer.)

Therefore, since we know that 1.) I have used Rosetta Stone Mandarin for five months and you have not laid eyes on that specific program, 2.) My entire family has used Rosetta Stone Mandarin for five months... and has compared it to a tutor... and has compared it to FSI... and has compared it to a high school program, and 3.) That there is a high likelihood that you have NOT used different curricula for more than a DECADE in order to teach your own, older children difficult scholastic skills, I think I can safely say which one of our reviews of Rosetta Stone Mandarin Chinese (yours or mine) is more informed and "fair."

I'll take mine...

I don't know a thing about "The Stone" (to quote David from E'FM), but yeeha, Kolbi! You go girl!!


As I noted on your facebook page, I found that it was fine for Spanish (only used it briefly though and I did take beginning Spanish back in Junior high, and I speak some French, and I used a grammar book along with rosetta so not sure if my experience counts or not; I wasn't starting from zero).

I actually think it might do a great job with languages like that. Spanish has lots of conjugation and so seeing verbs the way they are used in different sentences helps. As does having English cognates (and French ones in my case). Chinese does not conjugate. The verb has one form. It is all about word order and context and sentence patterns. And there are not cognates really, only transliterations (Gobaleiqi was Gorbachev I think on Rosetta). I found one great thing for me was to listen to how some Chinese speakers speak English with Chinese grammar [I want two book.]. Helped a ton.

Also most of us really need to know some linguistics to get our English trained tongues to pronounce things correctly in Chinese (unless you are young and lucky like my kids and your mouth isn't lazy yet). It helps to know if the sound is aspirated or unaspirated, where is your tongue at in your mouth when you make the sound, etc. All of that stuff is in the first 20 pages of a decent Chinese textbook and much easier to learn with a teacher. And you won't get it on Rosetta. The problem I see is when they take a program designed for indo-european languages and try to use the exact same template for a non indo-european language (especially for folks whose native language is an indo-european language). For what it is worth, I use the higher levels of Rosetta to work on my own vocab. I don't think it is totally useless. I just think it won't work well for someone who has no prior exposure to Chinese or has no one with prior exposure to guide them. Maybe if you already speak Janpanese or Korean well. But I don't know cause I don't speak either of those.

(Just for the record I am not certified to teach. I was about to do a program to certify to teach Chinese in the secondary schools when my husband got hired with State. We decided that our FS dream took precedence. Especially since we could take the kids to China and they could learn it there. Which is why we got sent to Mexico :) Taiwan coming up next though. Thank heavens cause my Spanish is not so great.)

Don't get too frustrated. Chinese is front loaded. In college, year one of Chinese was so hard but then it got really fun. Couple resources I love: Click the dictionary link and then you can enter English, pinyn, or browse radicals. I love it because it will give you ALL characters with that radical in them not just the characters for which that radical is the main radical. Super helpful that way. There is a print version too. It sounds like someone has already taught you how to use a Chinese dictionary. Good. This one makes it easier. It is set up like a character family tree. No matter which radical in the character you use to look it up, it will have it listed with either the English and pinyin or the reference of where to find it. No more lost time because you guessed the wrong radical. It also lists common character combinations (like laoshi) and has a good pinyin reference. Has someone taught you to type yet?

The other one I use is using their elementary level stuff for reading. High school and middle school I don't know, haven't looked at that curriculum. But I like Chinese link for grammar. What is Matthew using? (yeah I'm a geek.) I am not sure how will work for you since you don't speak it well yet. They have online stories and stuff though. I noticed that there are classes in Chinatown in DC as well. Good luck and hang in there! It is an awesome language if you can slog through the initial learning curve.


@Kolbi; I forgot to mention that if you look up a pinyin word in the dictionary, it lists all of the tones of that word together and a bunch of character combinations (words). It will help Matthew tons at school if he is allowed to use any dictionary he wants because once you know a word like 生日 (shengri) but can't quite remember the character, you can just look up sheng in the pinyin part and 生日 shengri will be listed. Saves me tons of time. It is a dictionary built for non native speakers. And because of the "family tree" set up I learn tons of related words every time I look something up. (Don't just buy it cause I said so though. Check out the website first and see if the way it works makes sense to one of you.)

@Megan, I think you have some good points and that Rosetta may work for some people for some languages. And for most people who have other methods of learning the language along with Rosetta. I think the homeschool problem is that I have always seen it advertised to homeschoolers as a stand alone miracle worker and I don't think that is accurate, esp. for Chinese. It is an great tool but should be part of a toolbox in my opinion. Personally, I'd tell home school families that really want to learn Chinese to get a good textbook, join a community class or get a tutor, and get some type of drilling software (Rosetta). And then dig in and don't give up cause it has a steep learning curve. Get past that though and you can learn on your own using textbooks, readers, Rosetta, etc. I really have no idea if Rosetta would work for someone coming in with no knowledge of a language. I agree with the commenter that said that you almost always need a teacher to learn a language unless you are a linguistic type person (or have become one through learning lots of languages). I really think the problem lies in the indo-european/non indo-european difference on the Chinese though. Maybe you can learn a Romantic language using Rosetta with zero previous exposure. Not qualified to comment on that one myself though.


Kolbi I read your post again and it looks like you aren't totally comfortable with the dictionary. Do you have someone who can work with you guys on it? If not, drop me a message and we'll find a time to skype and figure it out. Chinese can be so frustrating at first. Just want to make sure you have any help you need. I love this language. And I was pretty bad at it at the get go. I was not one of those linguist people. (I used to fall asleep listening to tapes of pronunciation practice and conversation practice. Like I said, steep initial learning curve for people like me.) Hang in there!


I don't think it's necessarily a crushing indictment of Rosetta Stone to say that it's not necessarily a viable tool for all people learning all languages. Learning styles vary wildly, for one thing, and some languages just lend themselves to Rosetta Stone's format where others don't. Chinese and Japanese, based on my experience with each, would be tough with that format. Other languages might work out better. And I do think it can be useful for things like pronunciation, but I don't think relying solely on any one tool is going to work when you're trying to learn a language, especially one with a writing system so different from ours. Everyone I've known who was really successful in learning a language to fluency or near-fluency did so utilizing a variety of things, ranging from textbooks to conversation partners to podcasts to computer programs. Different methods work better for different aspects of the language. I wouldn't use a podcast to learn how to write Chinese, just as I wouldn't use flashcards to practice my listening skills. The right tool for the right job, and all of that.

Do any of you guys have an iPhone or iPod Touch? If so, you can get Pleco, which is a great dictionary; it comes with stuff to show you stroke order, cross referencing, will search by pinyin, English or character input (using the handwriting input option on the iPod), lets you make flashcards... it's pretty sweet. It's not cheap ($35 for students, I think), but I use it constantly in class, and it's been a huge help.


As an FSO-hopeful and an Arabic learner, I agree with your statement that any language learning has to be accomplished through several different methods. For me, that means Rosetta Stone, dictionaries, phrasebooks, free online tutorials, programs, and Arabic-language videos or news broadcasts.

Rosetta Stone can be frustrating because, even if you get the jist of something, you don't know exactly what is being said. Case in point, I didn't know Arabic doesn't really have an indefinite article until I bought a phrasebook some time after I started RS.


I need to learn how to say things simply like Diplogeek does.

And thanks Diplogeek! I just downloaded the freeware on Pleco. And watched the youtube tutorial. Awesome! Love it. Another FS friend also recommended it and your additional recommendation convinced me to go check it out right away. I am going to see if they will do a homeschool discount but I think it is worth the full price. Maybe we'll just wait till my spouse is in language training again and is a student. Which version do you all use? The basic or professional? You may want to check it out Kolbi, it is pretty cool.

Kolbi, My friend also recommended qingwen as an ipod touch app. It is only $5 and should do what you all need for now (pinyin to english). If you want cheaper options and don't have an ipod touch or phone, is free and will work fine on your mac. And the paper dictionary is $20 on amazon. The ipod apps have speed though wow!

(Oh yeah and I wouldn't say I am fluent. Do well but fluency is kind of hard to nail down. I'd be fluent in some contexts, like discussing social ills and pollution, but hopeless in automechanics or medicine.)


I am really worried now because I was hoping to learn Hindi using Rosetta Stone. Has anyone had any experience learning Hindi with it. Good or bad, it would be good to know.



What surprises me here is the number of people who talk about Rosetta Stone being wonderful. I just passed the Japanese language test and am starting on Arabic while I wait for A-100, and the majority opinion on the Yahoo! group is "DON'T DON'T DON'T USE ROSETTA STONE!" I see that posted so often I didn't even consider buying it.

Since most of the posters are trying to learn a language to score points, I take this pretty seriously. It's very unfortunate that a poor program is marketed to homeschoolers as well.

When I was learning Japanese, I found a tutor to be extremely helpful. Japanese isn't as front-loaded as Chinese, and in Japanese the grammar is much harder than Chinese grammar, but when my language skills really started to take off was when I started learning the characters. All of a sudden I could use dictionaries, things came together, pronunciation got easier and words were easier to remember when I could visualize the characters...I know there is a big divide between those who focus on reading rather than speaking, but I'm a literary type and I came to love the beauty of the letters.

Most people don't learn this way, but I'm not much of a talker, and I like to read and write a lot (oh, you noticed?). I'm just mentioning this because you talk about your youngest son reading a lot. I fell in love with kanji (the Japanese version of the Chinese characters) when I started doing Shodo, or calligraphy. It's a great way to focus on a single character, and a good art project as well. :) It can be a fun way to break up an otherwise frustrating language lesson. Also, the rice paper is cool, and it's a great excuse to visit an art store. You can also grind your own ink if you so choose, which always made me feel like I was in some kind of time warp.

I would say, though, if a particular resource isn't helping -- go elsewhere. You may come back to that resource later and find it useful, but it's better to find what works and push that as much as possible. That's just my two cents, of course -- you're the speaker, you're the learner and ya gotta do what ya gotta do, and if that means trudging through Rosetta Stone, well, /shrug. 仕方ない (it can't be helped).


I am a talker obviously, always wished I could get characters intuitively like people like Missy. It's cool. I flunked my character class on study abroad in second year Chinese but my speaking class was so high that I was barely okay cause they combined the scores. When I asked my writing teacher about one of my test scores, he said "you don't want to know." I figured I was doing pretty well since I could understand just how abysmal he was saying my writing was. My husband on the other hand does really well reading and memorizing characters. Point is, you may be a better speaker at first or a better reader at first but the characters do help you understand the language better no matter what and both will come with time. Don't get frustrated if one or the other is easier or harder for you. People learn differently.

And despite my lack of character prowess, I also found calligraphy to be an awesome and fun part of learning the characters. I am a terrible memorizer and my calligraphy characters are pretty ugly but it made me appreciate them a lot. And it does open up the language. I am glad Missy suggested it to you. May not work for you guys but who knows? George Mason Confucius Institute has a calligraphy class too. (Though this semester has already started.)

And I am going to shut up now and officially be done commenting on this thread. I wish people would stop posting such cool stuff :)

Really do wish you guys the best Kolbi. I hope it works out for you. Commenting constantly is my way of giving you a hug and saying "Hang in there! It stinks sometimes but you guys can nail this." Cheering for ya!

Melissa V

Whoa - what a helpful post and comment thread. Thanks to all for posting your insights. Our second assignment (first one overseas) will be in Shanghai in Summer 2012. We were thinking about going the online Rosetta stone route until starting language study at FSI next fall, but I think it'll be better to take a class a couple times a week at the community college. We have a friend who took Chinese at NOVA in Annandale and it's really helped her.

A Daring Adventure

First of all, a HUGE thank you to everyone for your contributions. I am overwhelmed and amazed by the incredible information posted here. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that this post's comments would uncover such a treasure trove of information!

@ Melissa - CONGRATULATIONS on both your current domestic and your future (Shanghai) assignments! But I do want to say just a couple of things about the (free, State Department for employees) online Mandarin Rosetta Stone- I think it's a wonderful *supplement* to an otherwise solid Chinese educational experience. I do NOT think it's a stand alone curriculum, but it has its place as a supplement, in my opinion, which is why I have said that I'm grateful for free access to it online and why I have my boys use it every day.

@ Becky - Like I said on Facebook- thank you so much for all of your wisdom and advice! Actually, Matthew and I will be taking some calligraphy from the Confucius Institute at George Mason (only $50 for a whole semester of weekly classes!).

Also, Becky, I will try to put up a post about what hardware/software James has purchased and is using for FSI's Mandarin.

@ Missy- I LOVE what you said. I really identified with the idea that some, like you, enjoy/do better focusing more on the characters and some enjoy/do better with the verbal aspect of the language. That really opened my eyes to people's different learning styles as they relate to languages such as Chinese/Japanese/character-based languages. Thank you so much for that discussion.

@ Daniela - Like I said to Melissa, please don't be afraid to use Rosetta Stone's free offering online through State in order to try it for Hindi! From what I have understood through comments on my blog and on Facebook, I think different languages lend themselves to being more or less Rosetta Stone successful. It may well be that you have some success with Rosetta Stone Hindi. Also: it's free. Use it as a tool in the arsenal - and aren't you going to probably go to FSI if there's space for you? That will take care of Hindi for you, my dear. :)

Thanks again, everyone! I'm extremely honored to have such amazing input/insight from you all. :)


I'm the opposite of Becky- definitely more of a hanzi/kanji (character) person. The funny thing is that when I studied Japanese, I loved learning the characters, but they came way more slowly than they have with Chinese. Now they just seem to be taking up residence in my brain without nearly as much effort on my part as it took to learn kanji. I have no idea of why that is, but I'll take what I can get.

By contrast, I'm not nearly as good at speaking; I can prepare a minitalk and do pretty well, but extemporaneous stuff is way, way harder for me, for some reason. If I could go to post and pass notes back and forth under the visa window, I would. For one thing, there's no tones in writing! Anyway, I keep telling myself that it's a language with a very steep learning curve, it will get better, and I just have to keep plugging away. I kind of love all of the four character idioms, though; the compactness of Chinese, and how much you can say with relatively few words appeals to me.

Oh, and I think I have the basic dictionary for Pleco; I figured that if I really needed some of the more technical stuff, I could get it later, but my Chinese is way too rudimentary right now to need them.


I used the Rosetta Stone briefly when I tried to learn conversational Hebrew. I already knew how to read and write it - I just couldn't understand WHAT I was reading and writing.

Coming from someone who already knew the characters and who had a small vocabulary, I too found it difficult to use. After a few weeks in an Ulpan (an Israeli type FSI if you will), I scrapped the Rosetta Stone forever.

Great comments here Kolbi - I think you hit a great talking point with so many people learning languages!


Just wanted to post a recommendation for a book for learning Chinese characters. I am a visual learner with a love of stories, so I found Remembering Simplified Hanzi I by James Heisig to be a phenomenal method. He originally wrote books to learn Japanese Kanji. You can read about it here and download the introduction, which explains how it works:

In addition, I'd second the previous comment recommending Pimsleur over Rosetta Stone, although since you would have to pay for Pimsleur it is hardly an economical option. I'll repeat my recommendation for the FSI Chinese materials available at These are way out of date but can provide a good foundation in pronunciation and basic vocabulary. My husband and I both used Rosetta Stone, but we had already been living in China for quite a while and had a lot of basic vocabulary learned here and there. I liked it, but I do think that as an absolute beginner it is not all it is touted to be.


I should also mention that with the Heisig Hanzi book, I've deviated from his method in that I am learning the English keywords associated with each character AND the pinyin, which is not something his method includes.

Sara Roy

My husband self studied Mandarin for a year and a half. He used You can download the pod casts and get written material as well. He really liked it as a teacher.

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James loves me. And our sons. And his job. But not having his picture taken. In 2011 he finished up over a year and half of training, and in the fall of 2011 we got to our first overseas post - Chengdu, China!
Mao says hi! Because Chengdu is one of the only cities in China with a Mao statue.
Flowers are like friends. Each one is unique. Each one is beautiful. They brighten up everything around them. And you can never have too many. 

Become a Fan

2012 is the Year of the Dragon, y'all! Talk about the ultimate in good luck! This kinda party only comes around once every twelve years!
free counters
Colorful! (Inside a Chengdu ancient Buddhist monastery.)
Have I mentioned that I absolutely adore taking pictures? Here are some that I've taken recently:
A Daring Adventure's items Go to A Daring Adventure's photostream