I’m stoke that Duolingo has released their free online Mandarin Chinese course! I’ve been waiting with baited breath for years!
This course ought to do a very good job helping people understand functional Chinese grammar to perhaps an A2 or maybe even a B1 level (see this wiki page for an explanation of A1 through C2 language acquisition levels). This course will help build listening comprehension skills, since about 98% percent of learning a language is being able to understand how thoughts are expressed in it.
One of the reasons I’m so excited about this release is that the Duolingo process of translation exercises coupled with sound for words and sentences, demonstrates how ideas are expressed. Understanding the unique way words are ordered, grammar is arranged, and the down-to-earth practical meaning of sentences and phrases is the first, most important portion of acquiring a language. The first goal in learning a language is to be able to marry what one hears to its’ meaning. As the saying Stephen R. Covey popularized goes, Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is extremely true for learning a language.
One of my major roadblocks for a long time was thinking that if I knew enough words, and was able to understand those words in peoples speech, then I’d be able to understand what people were trying to say. How wrong I was! Past the single and double word phase of language acquisition, learning to comprehend the meaning of phrases and sentences, not just their component words, is key. I think Duolingo does a good job of hastening this skill set, since its’ exercises force a person to NOTICE and THINK about form and meaning with sentences, visually and aurally.
Happy Mandarin practicing!