Feb 092013
 

Finally, someone has taken the tried-and-true format of Scrabble/Words with Friends and made a game for learners of Chinese. It’s called PinYinPal and was developed by Adeline Yeh Mah, who runs the website chinesecharacteraday.com.

Playing a turn in PinYinPal

Playing a turn in PinYinPal

The basic gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played Scrabble-like games; as you can see in the image above, I’ve just placed the tiles C, U, and N, which not only form the word cun, but in combination with the letters already on the board, also form the words lu and gan (tones don’t come into it). But this isn’t a simple knock-off;  the developer has done an admirable job adapting the game to Chinese. First of all, since pinyin syllables are mostly 2-5 letters long, it can be difficult to get enough “clearance” on the board. To solve this, each player has three “spacer” tiles that can be used to let you play a new word one square away from an existing word (see image).

Use of the "spacer" tile in PinYinPal

Use of the “spacer” tile in PinYinPal

I really like how the game is not all about pinyin. Once you play your word(s) in pinyin, you can earn extra points by recognizing a character for each word. For each of your pinyin words, you are offered a number of characters that could be transliterated that way. You get to choose one character whose meaning you think you know. Then you are presented with several meanings from which to choose the correct one. If you choose correctly within five seconds, you earn ten extra points; between six and thirty seconds will earn you five extra points. Incorrect answers will cost you two points (notice the timer in the second image below).

Choosing one of the possible characters for the word played

Choosing one of the possible characters for the word played

Multiple choice test of character recognition

Multiple choice test of character recognition

PinYinPal maintains a running list of the characters chosen (along with their pinyin and English definition) and an indication whether the player chose the right meaning or not. This lets you go back and review afterward, which adds to the educational value of the game.

Reviewing correct and incorrect characters

Reviewing correct and incorrect characters

If your Chinese isn’t very good, you can use the built-in Word Finder function, which will show you what words can be built with the letters that you have (you can also specify what letters are already on the board). The Word Finder also shows you possible characters for the words that you can make. Paying attention to these will help you with the character bonus round described above.

Getting some help from the Word Finder feature

Getting some help from the Word Finder feature

The app has other nifty little features, such as the option to display on the board next to each pinyin word a little bubble containing the character that was chosen for that word.

Showing the character chosen for each word

Showing the character chosen for each word

The app also includes a dictionary, which you can search by pinyin or English. The dictionary and the Word Finder provide audio for all the syllables, which is a nice touch.

PinYinPal is a pleasant educational diversion. Given the limited character set, more advanced students may not learn very much new from it, but it could be quite beneficial for beginning to intermediate students.

So far the game is iPad-only.

PinYinPal is available on the App Store.

Dec 282012
 
iPad apps: iGo Chinese

IQChinese is a series of apps for children; four progressive levels are currently offered. The core of each app is a story. This is supplemented with songs, quizzes, and writing practice. I looked at iGo Chinese vol. 4 for the purposes of this review. The app settings let you choose between simplified or traditional characters. From the starting screen, there are several options. Lesson/Story These are essentially the same thing. The story is 24 pages total. The lessons are this story divided into six lessons of four pages each. Each page is a still image with audio. The text of the dialogue is printed in boxes on the pages. The text always has characters with pinyin underneath. You can’t hide the text or even hide just the pinyin. But you’ll be glad the pinyin was there when you see what the quizzes are like. You can play the story (or … [read more]

Dec 172012
 
"Landscript" by Xu Bing

See the character 門 mén near the middle of this painting? See the 窗 chuāng on either side of it? These aren’t the only characters that form part of the image in this 2001 painting by Xu Bing (徐冰), which was a gift to the Harvard Art Museums. Here’s a slightly edited version of the description from the Harvard Art Museums’ website.  (I’ve added the Chinese characters and tone marks on the pinyin in the list of words). … this painting depicts a thatched-roof cottage set in a lush landscape. The cottage sits at the very center of the composition, nestled between a small lake in the foreground and a series of rolling hills in the background and flanked on either side by groves of trees. Grasses and short bamboo plants surround the lake, in which various insects swim. A small, tile-roofed building appears to the (viewer’s) left of the … [read more]

Nov 252012
 
iOS app: MyScript Memo

MyScript Memo seems at first like a simple app for taking handwritten notes, but the amazing thing is that it links into a handwriting-recognition service that works for Chinese (traditional or simplified)! Seriously, it recognized even my terrible hanzi! This is not like using the built-in handwriting input method. You write your whole note by hand and then convert the handwritten text to typed text afterward. And this is a free app (at this time anyway)! If you jot short notes in Chinese, you may find it convenient to do so in MyScript Memo, rather than other apps. You don’t need to change your input and you can write continuously, rather than writing single characters and then picking off the palette repeatedly, as with the built-in handwriting input. Of course, the handwriting recognition may not be perfect, but in my testing it was surprisingly good. Here’s an image of some text that … [read more]