Listening and speaking

The “Listening and speaking” category features media with Chinese audio and posts related to tones, transliteration systems, etc.
Since it is impossible to know for sure how to pronounce a character just by looking at it, there are a number of ways to represent the pronunciation. The most popular transliteration system now for non-native learners is 汉语 hànyǔ pīnyīn, or pinyin, for short, although zhuyin is common among heritage learners.

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]

Sep 232012
Back to school: Pronunciation

The Laokang apps have gained speaking tests since my original reviews of the Pinyin Test and Tone Test. This actually happened quite a while ago and I apologize to the developer for my slowness in reporting on the added feature. But they are a great way to end our back-to-school series of free or low-cost iOS apps. The speaking test in the Pinyin Test presents you with sets of three syllables, with no tone indications. You record yourself pronouncing each set of syllables with any tones that you want (the test is just of your pronunciation of the syllables). A complete test comprises 26 such sets. The speaking test in the Tone Test presents you with pairs of tones. You can say any two syllables with the given tones. It might be simplest to use “ma” in the way that the listening version of the Tone Test does. A complete … [read more]

Sep 032012
Back to school: iOS pinyin charts

It’s back-to-school time, so this is the first in a series of posts showcasing some favorite free or low-cost iOS apps for helping you learn Chinese. First of all, new students usually need a reference chart for pinyin, with audio. The best that I’ve seen is AllSet Learning Pinyin (free and add-free as of this writing). It’s easy to keep track of where you are in the chart, thanks to fixed headers and shading. It can display two romanization systems simultaneously (pinyin and IPA are included; zhuyin and others are $0.99-each add-ons). Since I reviewed it, the developers have added an option to play a syllable with each of the four tones consecutively. Allset Pinyin may be unique among pinyin charts in having the final i separated into two columns to reflect the different pronunciation of i after zh, sh, ch, z, s, c, and r. Unfortunately, Allset Learning Pinyin … [read more]

Jul 292012
OS 10.8 new and improved features: text-to-speech

Last Wednesday Apple released a new version of OS X (10.8, Mountain Lion) for the Mac, which includes several new and improved features for Chinese users. I say “for Chinese users,” rather than “for China” (the way Apple puts it), since these features benefit all users of Chinese, not just those who are Chinese. Our first topic is text-to-speech. Chinese text-to-speech was introduced in Mac OS 10.7 just about a year ago (see this post, where I predicted that this feature would get better). Now in 10.8, the two Mandarin voices Ting-Ting (China) and Ya-Ling (Taiwan) have been improved (there is also a Cantonese voice, Sin-Ji, that I have not tried). If you already downloaded the voices in 10.7, the improvements will come in a software update after you upgrade to 10.8. Note that if you did not install the Chinese voices under 10.7, you can get them by opening the System Preferences and … [read more]

May 062012
iOS app: trainchinese Pinyin Trainer

Pinyin Trainer from trainchinese tests your ability to distinguish pinyin initials, tones, and/or sequences of two tones. You can choose to be tested on any one of these or a combination of all three. There seems to be no option, however, for testing pinyin finals. So if you need work distinguishing gān from gāng, for example, this app won’t help. The format is multiple choice, ranging from 2-4 choices for each syllable; there is also an “artist mode” if you want to sketch tone marks. The app keeps a running tally of right/wrong responses. These are not just numbers, but rather a list of the words tested and what your response was. This is great for finding patterns of errors, for example, if you have trouble distinguishing x from sh, or second tones from third. On an iPad in landscape orientation (as in the image above), this list is constantly … [read more]