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 chinesecharacteraday.com. 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]

Jul 062012
iOS app: trainchinese Dictionary and Flashcards

Following up on the last post about Skritter, we’ll be looking at another sophisticated flashcard app specifically developed for Chinese, trainchinese: Dictionary & Flash cards. The free app allows use of the dictionary and a free account allows flashcard use for a very small number of new words per week, but this is enough to decide whether you want to upgrade to a paid account. With either a paid or free account, you can also practice your flashcards on the trainchinese website. Study modes The app uses a spaced repetition system to test you less often on words that you know better. There are two basic methods of testing: “honesty” and multiple choice. “Honesty” is the familiar flashcard method where you are responsible for indicating whether or not you knew the correct answer. Multiple choice is self-explanatory. In both modes you can get a hint without penalty. For each method, … [read more]

Jun 242012
iOS app: Skritter

The Chinese-learning community is all aflutter over Skritter. This is the highly anticipated iOS version of the popular web-based tool for learning Chinese, particularly writing hanzi with correct stroke order. Although I haven’t yet talked about the web version here, I jumped on the chance to review the app (thanks to Nick at Skritter for making it available in beta and to Marjolein @CleverClogs for putting us in touch). The app itself is free, but to take full advantage of it, you need to subscribe to the Skritter service. You get a week’s free trial when you create an account, so that should give you a reasonable chance to see if you want to pay for a subscription. The following review assumes a subscriber account. More than just a writing trainer, Skritter for iOS can be set to test you on any combination of the following skills: writing hanzi, knowing … [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]

May 142012
Chrome Language Immersion browser plug-in

The web is, of course, a limitless source of authentic reading material for students of Chinese (not to mention other languages). But only quite advanced students can read most unadapted web pages. So there has been a fair amount of excitement online (Lifehacker, Engadget, EdSurge newsletter) about a plug-in for the Google Chrome browser called Language Immersion for Chrome that aims to turn any webpage into level-appropriate reading material for language students. Well, that may be overstating its goals; perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the plug-in lets you work some language study into your regular web browsing. Once installed, you start from a page in English (for example) and at the click of a button, the plug-in translates some words and phrases into the language of your choice (including either simplified or traditional Chinese). The number of words/phrases translated into the target language is determined by a setting matched to … [read more]