OK, if not actually DOA, then at least in critical condition.

A small blip on the Chinese Language Learning Web Site radar occurred over the weekend when China launched what appears to be an official site for providing lessons on Chinese language learning.

The press release that came out on Saturday says,

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China launched a Web site, www.linese.com, on Saturday offering free Chinese lessons and materials to promote the study and use of the language abroad.

The site includes audio-visual presentations, interactive exercises and advice for teachers of Mandarin Chinese, with photographs and descriptions of cultural icons such as the Great Wall, kung fu actor Jackie Chan and basketball star Yao Ming.

Many of the exercises touch on China’s mythical and imperial past, including practice sentences such as “how can you be a hero if you are unarmed” and “I find that Tibetans like worshipping heroes.”

China is keen to expand its cultural influence along with its growing economic power, and is also setting up a network of “Confucius Institutes” around the world to promote its culture.

The Web site is only in Chinese and English, but versions in Japanese and Korean are being developed, the official Xinhua news agency said.

More than 30 million people are now learning Chinese as a foreign language and more than 2,500 universities in 100 countries offer Chinese courses, the Ministry of Education says.

But the site itself appears for many to be a functional nightmare. The little bit of feedback I’ve seen elsewhere on the Web–and my own experience trying to access the site–indicates that the site is prone to crashes (I’ve gotten more, and more types, of error messages there than actual page loads). And when pages do load, at least when accessed from the Seattle area here, they are as slow as the proverbial cold molasses.

Example: I tried opening one page that contains an embedded video. I don’t know how long the video lasts, because after 20 minutes it was only to “Buffering 13%,” and then it froze, so I bailed on that.

Much of the site appears to be created with Sun’s Java Server Page (.jsp) technology, but other parts are done with Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (.asp) technology. I hope they’re not planning to make pages on those two platforms communicate with each other at some point. I know of billion dollar corporations who, faced with such prospects, decided it would be cheaper and more efficient in the long run to take a year or more and simply rewrite major application components in one or the other to keep them compatible.

Anyway, the main navigation menu boasts “Home | News | Audio Visual | Studying Chinese | Interactive Lessons | Teacher Training | Experiencing China | Blog | Forum | Community | About,” but a number of these don’t actually lead to anywhere (at least not when I click them).

This site clearly needs first to fix its bugs first–this strikes me as “Alpha” software: some “parts” in place, but nothing guaranteed to actually work yet, not even ready for Beta testing.

Second, they’re clearly going to need to distribute server access around the world. If the site is hosted in China, but most of their target audience is not (e.g. in The Americas, Europe, Africa, and so on), the people they want to reach most are going to have insufferably long waits for page loads, given how slow pages can be to load when served from China but viewed elsewhere around the world–even for sites that aren’t “broken.”

But wait, look at this! I finally got a complete page to load without errors!

It tooks several minutes, though.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty useless.

It’s practice reading, I guess: Four short English sentences with Chinese translations (or the other way around, depending on how you look at it) and the headline: “Li Na’s Star Rises at Wimbledon.”

It says, in English (Chinese version omitted):

Li Na, The 24-year-old former badminton player surprised people at home and abroad at Wimbledon. She became the first Chinese player to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, beating 10th-seeded Nicole Vaidisova 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 on July 3.

In a country with comparatively backward in tennis, Li Na brought us too many surprises and much pleasure. As to whether or not Li Na can surprise us with more marvelous performances in the matches ahead, let’s wait and see.

That’s it? I waited, what, five, seven minutes for that? Even with errors in English? (“In a country with comparatively backward in tennis…”.) And no vocabulary help, callouts, practice, reinforcement or anything?

OK, as to whether or not Li Na can surprise us with more marvelous matches ahead, fine, we’ll “wait and see.”

As to whether or not linese.com can surprise us with quick, error-free page loads and genuinely useful content for learning Chinese–at least speaking for myself–we won’t.