We have been tracking ChineseSavvy for a while. It is always a nice site for learning Chinese online, but we felt it was a bit hard to properly pitch ChineseSavvy because it has so many things in one place, until recently it is nicely revamped.
We email-interviewed and had a discussion with Emily Shen, founder of ChineseSavvy. Here is the story:
ChineseSavvy and its founder, Emily Shen
ChineseSavvy is founded by Emily Shen who majored English in Beijing Foreign Studies University and had dual Master degrees in Global Media and Communications from London School of Economics (2003) and University of Southern California (2004). Emily thinks she was lucky, at the age of 24 she became the chief editor of NetEase, a large Chinese portal, then Director of Content Development of ChinaRen and then SOHU, next the Director of Product Development of TOL24.com (TeachingOnline24Hours, today’s Koolearn.com), the online division of New Oriental Corp. In December 2006, Emily founded ChineseSavvy, the reason is simple, to promote web-based Chinese learning.
ChineseSavvy, as Emily described, when it was started was not so much about online education but transcultural communication in the form of global Chinese learning. The feature of helping the “communication” between Chinese and foreigners has been stressed in its platform design and the course development from the very beginning. ChineseSavvy builds a platform where Chinese can help those foreigners who want to learn Chinese online. “With today’s bandwidth and streaming media solutions, nearly all that is involved in learning a foreign language (listening, oral, reading, writing, exercise, etc) can be done online in the form of tutoring or self-study.” said Emily. With a small team of 6~7 people and help from native English speakers involved from the very beginning in the course design, language editing, web-design, and, marketing, Chinese has been successfully running for 1.5 year.
Learn Chinese, be savvy
ChineseSavvy provides a wide range of tools for free, such as Pinyin Editor, Pinyin Annotation, Chinese Speech generator, etc. The Chinese character writing is particularly useful, which combines handwriting recognition and character input. You can also get the picture of your drawing and share it online. The speech dictionary is also impressive, with 1000+ useful expressions in 9 foreign languages (English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Arabic) and Chinese (in audio, character, pinyin).
The recent major update is the launch of People’s Chinese Lessons (“人民语文课”), a course publishing and interactive learning system which also get some of the tools functioning nicely together. Everyone can be teacher and publish his/her own Chinese lesson in one of four media types (text, audio, video, image). He/She just needs to prepare the materials that he/she wants to share, and the accompanying audio, pinyin annotation, English translation, vocabulary, key sentences, interactive exercises… all those important aspects that are integral to a proper language lesson, are automatically created using our language technology and databases. The quality check will be done by the team before every lesson goes public. Student users can choose from over 1000 lessons under nearly 20 categories such as Current Affairs, Education, Entertainment, World and follow the exact subject that interests them and build them vocabulary and expressions on that. They can even download the whole lesson as PDF document (here is a sample).
The Consumer-2-Consumer (C2C) monetization model in Education 2.0
The new generation of netizen has been lived in the web 2.0 era, so we can expect that Education 2.0 will have a great future. Subscription to courses is a straight forward approach, but ChineseSavvy is trying to do it in a C2C model: Native Chinese speakers are encouraged to publish their own lessons. With a regular lesson priced at $1.99 each, the author will be paid up to $1.00 if a student purchases his lesson. It is not an easy, but gladly we have seen some active teachers such as yuci and zhangyao.
What’s Next: Building a better education-centric SNS
Emily said ChineseSavvy’s user community has two tiers, language buddies for general communication purpose and teacher-student relationship where a purchase is involved. They have done the hardest part (creating courses, enriching content, developing nice tools), in order to attract more users to use them building a better social network will be the next job keeps Emily’s team busy.