There is a huge selection of language learning software out there on the market these days, and if you’re looking to learn Chinese it can be very difficult to pick one out. Rocket Chinese is just one of the 12 language offerings from the Rocket Languages series, a computer-based self teaching course that has been around for over a decade.
Rocket Chinese is a very well balanced course with two tiers of advancement, each containing over a hundred hours of audio and lessons. So how does this course stack up to the other offerings out there on the market? What teaching methods does it employ? I have taken the 2017 version for a spin and this review of the Rocket Chinese system will hopefully answer these questions and more.
Rocket Chinese is a very well balanced and multi-faceted course that contains several different teaching and learning styles. I consider Rocket Chinese to be a bit more “traditional” of a learning program, especially when compared to the unconventional “immersion” style of courses like Rosetta Stone.
Rocket Chinese offers several different modules that help to teach and reinforce the different aspects of Chinese that you’re learning. These include:
- Interactive Audio Lessons – These make up the main bulk of the course. These are individual lessons that involve conversations in Chinese. The audio recordings offer pauses for the user to repeat words in Chinese, helping draw the student in and take an active part in these sessions.
- Language And Culture Lessons – These lessons help you understand some nitty gritty aspects of Chinese grammar and language, which is especially important as Chinese is a bit more challenging to English users as compared to the romance languages. There are also culture lessons that help put the langauge into context.
- Advanced Learning – This section is an excellent way to keep yourself motivated. It has articles and lessons on learning strategies as well as tips to help you in your journey to fluency.
- Survival Kit – These lessons are excellent for people who want to use Chinese “right away” in the real world. They offer lessons on different categories that you might find useful for travel and business.
- Flash Cards – This is pretty much what it sounds like. This is a good tool to help memorize vocabulary and phrases, even if it’s a bit mundane.
- Progress Tracking – Colorful icons, a points system, and a leaderboard help keep you motivated to continue the course.
- Quizzes – Check your progres with quizzes that go over what you’ve learned in the program.
- Forums – Connect with other members of the Rocket Language system and get help if you have questions.
Interactive Audio Lessons
The Interactive Audio lessons make up the “meat” of Rocket Chinese. These are small segmented lessons that range from about 15 to 30 minutes a piece. They follow what the Rocket Languages courses call “segmented learning”, where they try not to give the student more than he or she can handle at once. Said differently, these are bite sized chunks of Chinese that should make the entire process easy and smooth. They all have different themes, such as “Greeting a friend” and “Ordering dinner”, and use these settings in order to teach basic words as well as words that fit the theme.
These lessons pause at points for the student to repeat certain words and phrases. These keep the listener engaged, and also help begin the basics of proper pronunciation.
I found the audio lessons to be very clear and easy to understand. Chinese is very different from English, and I had no point of recognition or any other connections to Chinese. For students like me, it may take a few times through each lesson to really get a handle on it.
Throughout the lessons there are English explanations as to how the grammatical structure of Chinese works and how it differs from English. This is extremely helpful, as it can be very confusing to just jump in not knowing anything. This is an advantage of the more “traditional” teaching style that the Rocket Languages series promotes.
You can download the audio files and take them with you on the go in .mp3 format. However, the new 2017 mobile app add on for the Rocket Languages series enables you to access these audio lessons on the go. This makes it easier than ever to keep up with the language consistently–something that’s very important with learning a new language.
Audio Recognition: Hear it! Say it!
These portions of the lessons are interactive listening and speaking games that test your pronunciation and vocabulary skills. These reinforce the new words and phrases that you learned in the audio portion of the lessons. The audio recognition is usually pretty good–it forced me to really get into it rather than just be lazy about the different sounds. Occasionally the audio microphone was finicky, but overall these portions are useful to help get you super involved in actually speaking. This can be hard when you’re learning solo, and Rocket Languages definitely tries to help fill in that gap.
Language and Culture / Survival Kit
These are a separate group of lessons that focus on very specific things such as the grammatical and tone structure of Chinese. Chinese is a “musical” language, and the tone structure is a bit hard for English speakers to grasp. These lessons help to solidify that knowledge with some explanation. The cultural lessons help to place Chinese language in context, and provide some really interesting facts and trivia.
The Survival Kit is a great tool for people who need to quickly use Chinese for specific circumstances on the go such as when traveling. The Survival Kit is actually sold separately as well, but automatically comes with the Rocket Chinese course. So, it’s like a course within a course! Very cool.
The all new mobile app for 2017 is a great way to take your lessons on the go with you. As we mentioned earlier in this review, the key to learning a new language is to stay consistent. With our busy lives these days, not everyone has time to sit down in front of a computer and do the lessons every day. The mobile app lets you listen in your car, the bus, the train, or wherever! Even if you can’t do the speaking parts, at least you can listen and maintain consistency.
Tracking Your Progress
The Rocket Chinese course makes it very easy to keep track of your progress through all the lessons. Each activity is paired with an icon, and when you finish the activity the icon changes from grey to a color that displays how well you did on the individual segments. It can become addictive to get all “green” icons, and this is a great motivator.
In addition to the icons, there is a daily points goal that you can change depending on how much time you want to spend per day. This helps to ensure that you know you’re taking active steps towards a goal.
In addition to the points meter is a “leaderboard” that shows the different students who are using the Rocket Language courses. I’m not a very competitive person so this leaderboard didn’t mean much to me, but just like the high score lists on arcade games, this might be a fun and powerful motivator for some people.
Advanced Learning Section
This is a very cool addition to the Rocket Languages courses that I really like; the Advanced Learning Section is a treasure trove of motivational information designed to help you take full advantage of the Rocket Languages courses by giving you information on learning strategies and more. These tools provide an extra “leg up” when you might get frustrated. They might also help you to uncover different and new strategies that will enhance your learning.
This section is pretty much what it says: these electronic flash cards are helpful in terms of solidifying memorization of new words and phrases. This had replaced the old “Mega Cards” game from previous Rocket Languages versions. I personally think the flash cards section is a bit mundane and boring, however it is a good tool to help reinforce vocabulary, and some people might actually find it fun and very useful. Some people definitely need a bit of extra reinforcement for memorization (I know I do!).
Online Community Forum
There is a community forum available for Rocket Languages students. You can use this as a place to connect with other students in the course, ask questions, and make friends. Although the forum is a bit quiet, when I posted a question I got a response right away. So people are there. In defense of Rocket Languages, forums can be tricky to get going – it really takes a dedicated community base to get one off the ground. It’s a very good addition to the course, but it just needs a bit more traffic.
You can easily take Rocket Chinese for a spin using the free trial. This is a great way to see if the program is right for you.
Customer Support And Guarantee
Rocket Chinese has excellent customer support – the Rocket Languages team is always quick to answer any time I have a question or concern. They even chime in when I’m not contacting them directly – when I posted a question about the course on the forum, an official representative from Rocket Languages came in to answer my question.
The money back guarantee that the Rocket Languages series provides also helps to ensure that you never have to worry about buyers remorse. If you decide the course is not right for you for any reason, you can get a full refund.
If you want to start learning Chinese, then I really think that Rocket Chinese is an excellent course. I’ve reviewed several different courses and Rocket Languages consistently provides the best “bang for your buck” in the industry. I have been using and reviewing their software for over a decade and they have consistently improved their courses over time, showing a dedication to providing a quality product. Even The Guardian and the New York Times had great things to say about the courses provided.
The course isn’t 100% perfect, and it has a few little problems here and there, but every course is going to have its bugs and things that people may or may not like about it. Also, if you truly want to be fluent in Chinese you will have to go beyond the course and find other ways to immerse yourself in Chinese, such as with magazines and movies, and perhaps finding a native speaker. But for an introduction and basic foundation, this course is excellent and I highly recommend it!