As a current student of Mandarin, I've been looking at the resources the web has to offer to help extend my classroom learning.  The result of my search has been a few sites that are using innovative strategies to help foreigners learn Mandarin and, hopefully, turn a profit in the not too distant future.  The Bivings Group has an extensive network of non-English speakers to cater to our foreign clientele and, as an internet-focused enterprise, are always looking for innovative, global solutions to help in our work and to better our human capital.

ChinglishThe first is an as yet unlaunched site called that has been getting some good reviews (and some bad).  The idea behind chinglish is to provide a combination translation and webmail application (with some other goodies thrown in) that will turn the most mundane and boring ff tasks (reading e-mail) into an opportunity to learn Mandarin.  I think the concept here is simple and powerful.  As someone who can spend hours on email every day, this has the potential to subtly turn a burdensome chore into a continuing learning lesson.  I'll report back when they open their doors.

ChinesepodThe other site I'd like to talk about is  I've been using their services for a few months now and am pleased with their direction.  The feature I find most useful is the daily podcasts of audio lessons, which are each either beginner, intermediate or advanced in nature.  Each podcast tackles a different situation, usually a real-world example of a conversation someone might have (asking for discounts at a store, haircuts, getting a date….).  They also offer the occasional video which follows roughly the same line of attack as their audio podcasts.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect, but one I'm not overly familiar with since I'm still focusing on oral vs. written Mandarin, is their dictionary and flash card sections.  Essentially, any word (character) you're having trouble committing to memory can be tagged and put into a personalized database.  You can then draw on this database to create online flashcards so you can practice.  As far as business models go, chinesepod also has a brick-and-mortar operation in Shanghai so this is an excellent example of how the internet can help draw in "real-world" customers from a free service (the flash-cards require a monthly fee arrangement however).  The site is rounded out with a community feature that features blogs, wikis, forums and a community RSS feed where you can add your blog to the Chinesepod site