I thought I'd share a great study toy (I mean, tool!) I found recently. For those of us playful enough to have a Nintendo DS, or whose kids have one we can steal, there's a great new game out called "My Chinese Coach." It's put out by Ubisoft. My understanding is the company wanted to have it out in time for the Olympics, but couldn't quite make it. Thankfully they didn't rush things to meet a deadline - this game is great!
I'll review it a little bit here for those who are interested. First, this is really a study tool, and while those of us who are hopelessly addicted to Chinese will enjoy using it, it's probably not something a 5 year old would want to spend hours with. The game begins with a vocab placement test (which actually placed me further ahead than I belonged!). After this you progress to the lessons. Each lesson has approximately 10 new words, which it also puts into phrases for you. At each level, you must play games to gain "mastery" points for each word before the game allows you to move on to the next level.
Learning games include flashcards, a "whack-a-mole" game where you must recognize the correct characters very quickly, a fading characters game (where you practice drawing words), and many other games, some of which are unlockable as you progress.
Each word you learn has three parts: listen, speak, and write. "Listen" allows you to hear a native speaker pronounce the word/phrase correctly. "Speak" allows you to listen to the native speaker, record your own voice saying the word, then compare. You can even play your voice and the native speaker's at the same time to listen for minor differences! "Write" allows you to practice writing each character. You can trace over the computer's character using your stylus, or write it yourself and have the digital copy show up over yours to compare. Correct stroke order is also emphasized.
Last but certainly not least, the game includes a great dictionary (searchable by English or pinyin) and an amazingly comprehensive phrasebook (searchable by topic or keyword). Everything has native pronunciation with it. I believe the game has a database of around 15,000 words (?), and from what I've heard will take you through 1,000 levels (at approximately 10 words each, that's 10,000 words you'll know how to speak, write, and use!).
The only downside in the game is that the characters are drawn by the program much too quickly, so that I have to watch again and again and again in order to figure out the stroke order. This isn't a huge problem, nor should it keep someone from getting the game, but I thought I'd mention it. Also, the game only teaches simplified Chinese, not traditional, if that's important for you.
If you're interested, the cheapest I've found the game online is at newegg.com. Click here for the link. At $27.99, it's not cheap, but well worth the cost imho. Feel free to ask me if you have any questions - I'll do my best to answer them.
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