About a week ago, I tweeted about a new app for learning pinyin from AllSet Learning. AllSet Learning Pinyin is essentially a classic chart with initials down the left and finals across the top. The whole chart does not fit within the iPad screen; you swipe to scroll up, down, and across. You can also use standard gestures to zoom in and out. Subtle shading divides the chart into zones that make it easier to see where you are. All in all, it’s very readable, with a clean, san serif font and generous spacing.
Tone marks are printed on each syllable; you can choose from any one of the four tones with the tap of a button. This not only affects the display, but determines the pronunciation of the syllable when you tap to hear it (playing audio can be disabled in the settings). One thing that I would like to see is the ability to play all the pronunciations of syllable (i.e. with each tone) in a row, without having to change the tones one at a time. Also, there is no option for the neutral (“fifth”) tone.
One thing that may be a pro or a con, depending on your viewpoint, is the fact that you can hear any syllable in any of the four tones, even when it seems that no real word exists with a particular pronunciation.
What really sets this app apart is the option to display two phonetic representations at once. In addition to pinyin, the app comes with the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). Zhuyin (bopomofo) and Wade-Giles are available as inexpensive add-ons. You can choose to display any two systems with either one on top (larger). This feature makes the app useful even for those who are past the beginner stage of learning Chinese. For example, heritage students in the US who learned zhuyin as children often need to learn pinyin for college classes. People doing historical research may need to go between Wade-Giles and pinyin. The IPA should be useful for linguists with little or no background in Chinese.
Note that the app is not only free, but ad-free. AllSet Learning Pinyin is available on the App Store .