Last week was my three-year-old Philip’s last day at preschool. Starting next month, he will be attending kindergarten instead. One of the electives that my wife and I have chosen for him is to learn Mandarin Chinese once a week. Even though my parents and in-laws speak Mandarin fluently, that’s not the case with me and my wife. Thus, helping Philip and his younger brother Noah to learn Mandarin won’t be a trivial thing for us.
Because we’re not native Mandarin speakers, we can’t simply browse the Chinese App Store to find the perfect app for Philip. Instead, we have been looking for a solid app that teaches basic Mandarin to English speaking juniors. That’s why I feel very fortunate when the developer team at Fingerprint Play contacted us about their latest app, Kids Learn Mandarin.
Kids Learn Mandarin
Kids Learn Mandarin is designed to help juniors ages four to eight learn basic words used in everyday Mandarin, including numbers, color and shapes, body parts, family members, and household things. The words are organized into 12 chapters. Within each chapter, you will learn 20 new words as you play eight mini games.
For each word, you will learn its sound, character shape, romanized pronunciation, and English counterpart. For example, when you learn about the animal elephant, the narrator will pronounce the elephant word both in Mandarin and English, while you can examine what the Chinese character looks like and how the romanized pronunciation is spelled out. Hopefully, after playing with eight mini games involving these new words, you will be able to recognize the words.
Mandarin is quite difficult to learn because it has a writing system that requires you to be familiar with 4,000 unique characters. As you learn how to write these characters, you would stumble upon the rules of character strokes. This app helps you to learn how to write these characters in the correct stroke order. Simply tap the Calligraphy icon that’s available in each chapter to practice your writing skills.
In each chapter, you can also find a music video about the words that you’re learning. For example, in the Family and Occupations chapter, you can hear a song explaining the family relationships among grandparents, parents, and siblings.
Parents Need to Know
Even though the app teaches you everyday Mandarin vocabularies, it doesn’t teach you how to pronounce a completely new word. As I have mentioned, learning Mandarin requires you to memorize up to 4,000 unique characters that when combined form new words.
If you purchase textbooks on how to read Mandarin, you’d find a phonics system that you can use to help you pronounce new words. But even then, you’d also need to have the phonics written alongside each character. Otherwise, you’d not be able to pronounce them.
The app includes a total of 240 words. If you’re new to the language, that’s quite a lot of vocabularies. Even though juniors as young as four years old can start learning, I believe adults can also use the app to learn as well. The methods used in this app are quite effective for learning new vocabularies.
Things I Like
I really like how each chapter is organized. First, you would find two separate Tracing Lesson icons. Each lesson introduces you to 10 new words at a time. The app even locks the second lesson and all the mini games if you haven’t finished the first lesson. And, if you’re following the suggested order of mini games, you'd find that the developers really put some thought into the learning curve.
For example, in-between the two tracing lessons, you will find two mini games: Clam Aquarium and Shooting Hoops. Both of these games let you practice only the first set of 10 words that are introduced in the first lesson. After you have completed the second lesson, you can continue with the other five mini games involving all 20 words introduced in both lessons.
Another example that shows the app’s thoughtful design is how all of the mini games are essentially multiple choice questions where you associate the correct stickers with the pronounced and written Mandarin word. The questions are ordered from Turtle Hop to Coco Climb such that they provide three, four options, and subsequently six or more options.
You can also find a Tic Tac Toe game for juniors. In that mini game, you will find nine stickers that you need to turn over one at a time according to the Mandarin word in question. Since you’re only playing by yourself, the Tic Tac Toe board plays out like a 3x3 Bingo game. Once you have turned over three stickers in any horizontal, vertical or diagonal line, the game is completed.
Kids Learn Mandarin is a solid app to help your English-speaking juniors learn Mandarin in a fun way. With 240 words to learn, more than 80 mini games, and a hands-on calligraphy section, the app will be on my iPad for a long time.