Feb 092013
iPad game: PinyinPal

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 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 … [read more]

May 262012
iOS game: trainchinese Chinese Writer gets new feature

Chinese Writer by trainchinese is an app that makes learning to write hanzi with proper stroke order into a game. I first reviewed it in April 2011 and it keeps getting better (see here and here). To recap how the game works, characters drop from the top of the screen with gradually increasing swiftness; you tap each one and then try to write it properly as quickly as possible. You get bonuses for writing quickly; wrong strokes are penalized. Failure to complete the character in time costs you a “life.” Lose five lives and the game is over. In earlier versions, you traced over the character, which tested your knowledge of stroke order, but not your recall of the character. You could do very well without actually knowing the words, so long as you knew the rules of stroke order and had fast fingers. This update adds the option to … [read more]

Feb 202012
iOS game Chinese Writer updated

The iOS educational game, trainchinese Chinese Writer, was updated last November (compare my original review and follow-up review). The update brought a major new feature: the ability to import characters from wordlists that users already have in other trainchinese products, the trainchinese Dictionary & Flash cards iOS app and/or I can’t say how well this particular feature works since it requires a paid subscription. If any readers plan to purchase a trainchinese subscription, you could use one of the links to on this page, which will earn me a free month’s subscription. The other way to get get custom character lists is to create them within the trainchinese Chinese Writer game. You can create and save multiple custom character lists. As mentioned in the follow-up review, you add characters to a list by searching the inventory of characters included in the game. You can, however, enter a number of characters in the search box and get all the results … [read more]

Dec 172011
Free iOS game: TileSpeak Mahjong

TileSpeak Mahjong is a solitaire-style mahjong game with a significant educational slant. Each tile displays a character and pinyin; when you select a tile, you hear the pronunciation of that character, hence the name. You can choose simplified or traditional characters with Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation, respectively (see the first “con” below). Educational value is boosted by a display of pinyin, a basic English translation, and part of speech given at the top of the screen as each tile is selected color-coding of characters according to their tone a choice of fourteen levels which seem to correspond roughly to character frequency. Nice touches: attractive backgrounds pleasant music completed games are rewarded with a Chinese proverb (in English; it would be nice to have the Chinese too.) buttons to reshuffle tiles and undo last move. Cons: The Mandarin and Cantonese are pronounced by the same speaker, who seems to bring something … [read more]

Jun 092011

After I wrote my initial review of the Chinese Writer game from trainchinese, the developer posted a very detailed response in the comments, which I very much appreciate. A day or two ago they released an update which addresses some of my wish list: There is now a choice of  traditional or simplified characters. The game now displays the high score for each character pack in a nice little scrolling ticker. Other changes: The instructions, while clear enough before, seem improved (although my memory of them is not perfect). A “freeze” button has been added onto the more complex character which lets you slow down the speed. A change that wasn’t what I expected: One of the items on my earlier wishlist was to be able to add your own wordlist. I had thought from the update’s description (“build custom packs by searching for characters”) that users could now build a custom … [read more]