As you might expect, the Laokang® Tone Test 老康®考你声调 is an iOS app that tests your recognition of the tones of spoken Chinese. Each complete test consists of 20 questions in random order. For each question, you hear a two-syllable word, so the maximum score is 40.
You just tap a diagram for each syllable to indicate which tone you heard; the circle in the middle of the diagram for the second syllable is for a “neutral” (aka “fifth” or “light”) tone. You can change your responses simply by tapping different tones on the diagrams. Once you’re ready to commit, you tap the green checkmark to proceed to the next pair of syllables. You are not given detailed feedback immediately, but a running tally of correct answers is displayed at the upper right of the screen. Your final score, with a detailed breakdown and an answer key, is given at the end of the test.
You can listen to each prompt multiple times (tap the curved arrow at the lower right), but your score is raised or lowered by particularly fast or slow responses, so you may not want to take too long. There is a timer at the upper left that resets to zero for each question.
The most interesting feature of the Tone Test is that the two-syllable word is always “mama”. This keeps the test completely focused on tone recognition. If actual words were used, you could rely on vocabulary knowledge to figure that “ping’an” is likely to be only one thing. Using just the one syllable makes the test appropriate and fair for learners at any level.
Also noteworthy is the fact that this app describes the third tone as a “low” tone, not as a dramatically falling-then-rising tone. This is reflected in the very shallow v-shape in the diagrams. There is scholarly literature on the subject and how it relates to the teaching of Chinese, but some places to start are the discussions on Sinosplice and Hacking Chinese.
Educational value is boosted by the fact that your feedback after the test includes a breakdown of what percentage of each tone you got correct. So if you only got 50% of second tones correct, you’ll know you need to work on those.
Before starting, you can choose to have the syllables spoken at normal speed or slow speed.
Quite apart from the functionality, I really appreciate the clear, detailed, bilingual documentation of the app. Even though the Tone Test is so simple and intuitively designed that you probably won’t need instructions, I’m often disappointed with how many apps lack good documentation.
Right now the Tone Test is sized for the iPhone/iPod Touch. You can double the size on the iPad with no loss in functionality.
The Laokang® Tone Test is a well thought out, nicely designed app that should give students of Chinese a good sense of their ability to distinguish tones out of context.
Stay tuned for a look at the full Laokang® Tone Trainer app in a future post.