Despite living in China and spending a lot of time studying Chinese, I felt that my speaking ability lagged behind my listening and reading skills. The reason is simple. I spent far more time practicing listening and reading.
While I could have basic conversations – I didn’t have much cadence or confidence in my spoken Chinese. I was often in my head trying to figure out the tones and felt like I was always stumbling over my word choice. My decision to hold off on working on my spoken Chinese was partially a conscious decision as well. I put more emphasis on my listening skills because I felt like being able to understand what was said was more important than being able to speak well.
The other part of it was just a byproduct of my personality and habits. I’m very introverted. Even in English, I spend more time listening and reading compared to speaking. This personality trait transferred to my studying. I would listen to Chinesepod (my review) or read news articles on The Chairman’s Bao (my review) on my way to work and in my free time. Once a week, I would have an hour long conversational class with a tutor from Italki (my review).
The vast majority of my Chinese studying time wasn’t going towards learning how to speak – and it showed.
That’s when I decided to try Glossika.
What Glossika isn’t…
Before getting into what Glossika is, let’s first talk about what it is not.
Glossika isn’t for complete beginners. It’s not easy. It’s not necessarily fun and there’s no gamification with badges and points. It’s not going to teach you about Chinese culture. There’s no hand-holding. If you aren’t self-motivated, you’ll probably get bored and give up on it. It’s not particularly pretty. You’re not going to hear a lot of English explanations. You won’t get a list of vocab and grammar points.
Glossika is raw. It’s difficult. It’s fast. And for me, it was really helpful.
What is Glossika?
Glossika is basically just a bunch of sentences recorded by native speakers. That’s pretty much it. Like I said, it isn’t fancy or pretty.
For each level of the Fluency 123 course, there are 1000 sentences recorded, so altogether there are 3000 sentences You’ll practice these sentences over and over until you couldn’t forget them even if you wanted to.
Glossika uses transformation and substitution drills.
Transformation drills are just different ways to say the same thing. An example would be: “Can you help me with this?” and “Can you lend me a hand?”.
The substitution drills are pretty much the opposite of transformation drills. So, instead of saying the same thing in different ways, you’ll learn to say different things using the same structure. An example here would be, “Can you help me with these bags” and “Can you help me cook dinner?”.
There are also sentences that use both transformation and substitution. The end result is that you’re able to say a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. It becomes second nature as you train your muscle memory.
There’s also an ebook that comes with it. In the beginning of the ebook, they give you instructions on how to make the best use out of the materials. There’s also some brief information about pronunciation, vocabulary and a few other short articles. The vast majority of the ebook just shows you the English, Simplified Characters, Pinyin, and IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for each sentence. This is a helpful reference when you find yourself unsure of what is being said in the audio or which character is used.
GMS and GSR Files
There are two separate paths you can take to using Glossika to learn Chinese.
Glossika Mass Sentence (GMS)
This would be considered the more challenging of the two pathways. The GMS path is split into three versions.
- * A level – Sentences are repeated once in English and twice in Chinese.
* B level – Sentences are repeated once in English and once in Chinese.
* C level – Sentences are spoken once in Chinese.
While they give you a suggested way to go through the materials, including dictation and recording yourself. You’ll almost certainly end up adjusting the plan according to what works best for you. Some people like using the A-level material to start, others will prefer diving right into the C level files with no English.
Glossika Spaced Repetition (GSR)
This pathway is a bit easier and provides more guidance. Here the idea is that you listen to one file per day. Each file will review sentences you learned before as well as introducing new sentences. This will take around 20 minutes each day. Each sentence will be said once in English, once in Chinese and leave a pause for you to repeat.
So I’m just memorizing sentences? Is that really helpful?
I’m having trouble finding the original version now but chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin has a great quote about why he studies old chess games. It went something like,
I don’t study these games and their complex variations over-and-over again with the intention of remembering each move. I do this for the feeling of familiarity that I get when I’m in similar situations in my own games. I’ll see a position and certain moves will jump out at me due to having seen similar positions so many times before.”
It’s the same for learning Chinese. We aren’t trying to just learn sentences so that we can repeat them later on. That has an extremely limited use. Rather, we’re learning these sentence structures to build our muscle memory. This makes it so that we can easily put together the different pieces of the puzzle. This way we can quickly pair the correct adjective or phrase to other pieces. Because we’ve prepared and studied how these sentences are put together, we can quickly do the same ourselves with different sentences.
- * All of the sentences originally come from an English language book and were translated into Chinese. This can occasionally create unnatural language and omits common expressions that are unique to Chinese.
* Because the sentences come from an English book, all the names are English names. So, you’ll learn to say names like Alan or Alissa but not any Chinese names.
* While the Chinese version of Glossika is quite good, some other languages have had lots of errors. If you’re considering picking up a different language, you should be sure to spend some time on google to verify that it’s a quality product.
* The pace is very fast and sometimes there’s not enough time between sentences for you to repeat. Honestly, though, I’ll take this over other materials that often leave far too long for repetition and progress painfully slow.
* If you’re a complete beginner, something like ChineseFor.Us or Yoyo Chinese will be more useful.
* Fairly expensive for just a bunch of audio sentences.
- * There are lots of sentences. You’ll become extremely confident in being able to say the sentences that you learn with Glossika. You’ll also be able to quickly change the sentence structure. I found that my speaking rhythm and flow improved a ton from using Glossika.
* It’s fast-paced and challenging. You don’t have any time to zone out during the lessons. It keeps you on your toes. It’s incredibly efficient and uses minimal English.
* There’s no fluff or useless extras. A lot of resources try to do too many things and end up doing nothing particularly well.
* Glossika is great for independent learners.
* There are a ton of different languages. If English isn’t your native language or if you’d like to review another language while learning Chinese, you’ll be able to choose the versions you want.
* There are lots of courses for Chinese.
Price and courses
All of the Fluency 123 courses cost $94.99 for the ebook version and $113.99 for the book version. The other courses cost $37.99 for the ebook version and $47.49 for the book version. The prices vary for triangulation which will give you access to 2-4 languages.
Mandarin Chinese (Beijing)
Mandarin Chinese (Taiwan)
Chinese (Cantonese) – Fluency 123
Chinese (Hakka) – Fluency 123
Chinese (Taiwanese Hokkien) – Fluency 123
Chinese (Wenzhounese) – Fluency 123
Glossika Chinese isn’t necessarily the best tool, but it does work. If you go through the course, your spoken Chinese will definitely improve. What it lacks in flashiness it makes up for in substance. By training your muscle memory with these sentences, you’ll find that you can quickly combine and remove different peices to be able to express yourself much more clearly and naturally.
My spoken Chinese improved significantly from using Glossika. It helped me get out of my head and be able to say what I want to say. If you’ve reached an elementary level of Chinese or higher and want to improve your spoken Chinese, Glossika is a resource worth considering.
That said, nowadays I prefer a new product called Speechling. It offers much of what Glossika offers for free. If you pay for a Premium subscription, then you can get unlimited corrections on sentences you record.
Try out a sample GSR lesson below.