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]

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]

Aug 192012
OS 10.8 new and improved features: fonts for pinyin

As promised in the last post, here’s a look at the roman character sets of the new Chinese fonts in Mountain Lion and whether they will work for displaying pinyin. The short answer is that most seem to have the appropriate letters with tone marks, but may display less than ideally. First of all, Weibei clearly lacks the necessary combined letter/tone marks. So it will work for sticking English words (with no accent marks or other diacritics) into your Chinese text and having the style match, but not for pinyin. Lantinghei and Yuppy seem to have the necessary combined letter/tone marks, but the kerning of the text goes wrong around the letters with tone marks. It may be that these characters are actually substitutions and that’s what’s throwing off the kerning, but if so, they look very like the fonts in question. Baoli, Libian, Xingkai, and Yuanti display the combined letters/tone marks … [read more]

May 262012
iOS app: Pinyinizer

Pinyinizer is an app for adding pinyin phonetic guide text (ruby text) automatically to Chinese characters. You simply type or paste a text in hanzi into the box and click the “Pinyinize” button. An internet connection is required. The result is a nice display with large characters and smaller, red pinyin above them. You can also hear line-by-line audio. The quality of the text-to-speech was quite good. The app is powered by Google Translate. Tapping a button gives you the option to print or e-mail the Pinyinized text. I could not print from the app, however; it simply hung after tapping the Print button. I needed to completely quit the app before I could use it again. In the iOS and Mac Mail apps, the Pinyinized text looks just like it does in the Pinyinizer app, but without the audio icons. Looking at the message source code revealed (unsurprisingly) that … [read more]