Chinese Writer by Molatra is an app to help children learn Chinese in an enjoyable way. It's a character learning game that makes recognising characters and stroke order part of its game play. It teaches correct stroke orders of words with English explanations and audio cues with pinyin. Learners read, write and hear words while trying to beat the clock.
More than 5,200 characters are available in Chinese Writer - more than most children will need to know throughout their time at school. In fact, you only need to know 2,500 words to read and write 99 per cent of everyday material.
Each character has an audio recording, English translation and stroke order diagram for simplified and traditional script. The best way to use Chinese Writer's gaming infrastructure is to build your own custom packs based on your Chinese level and words learned in the classroom through searching by Chinese, pinyin or English.
There are two modes of game play in Chinese Writer; tracing and writing. In tracing, characters remain visible while you trace over. In writing, the character disappears after the first stroke, testing learners on character recognition and writing.
Users tap characters as they fall from the top of the screen and write them accurately before they reach the bottom. Points are awarded for accurate stroke order and bonuses awarded for speed. Users get five chances, and any incomplete word counts as one. The game is forgiving for learning complex words. There is a freeze button that can slow words to a crawl so you have more time to write.
The app provides immediate feedback and monitors difficult words and mistakes. At the end, users can review and practise words they got wrong in the browse-and-practise mode that won't affect their positions in the game.
The free version comes with four sample packs, which are not arranged according to difficulty. This is of limited use unless you download the 17 character packs available, each for 99 US cents. But buying all the packs individually costs almost twice as much as the educators' version, which includes all characters for US$9.99.
Educators can also create packs to share with students via e-mail if they own the app and the requisite character packs. The app is part of the online TrainChinese system, which you can use to create a more robust learning environment for reading, writing and speaking.
Chinese Writer really shines on the iPad's touch screen, the larger surface area of which makes practising easy. It's fiddly trying to do the same on an iPhone.
Verdict: The educators' version works out to be a better value since it is easier to find words you are learning to add to custom packs from its database.
Chinese Writer for Educators, US$9.99 from the iTunes App Store