Tongue untied

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am

Have you been getting confused and frustrated trying to learn Putonghua? Do you find the self-help book Chinese for Dummies decidedly unhelpful?

No problem. Games publisher Ubisoft Entertainment has released My Chinese Coach, its latest edutainment title.

Created by United States-based developer Sensory Sweep Studios for the Nintendo DS hand-held console, My Chinese Coach uses carefully structured vocabulary and calligraphy exercises to help students learn the language.

The game uses a young, computer-generated Chinese girl as tutor.

Putonghua is the mainland's official spoken language. The pronunciation is based on the urban Beijing dialect.

Your attempts can be compared to a native speaker using the Nintendo DS' microphone. Putonghua is a tonal language: it has four tones (Cantonese has nine).

Players can also use the console's touch-screen display and stylus to trace over and learn the correct way of writing Chinese characters.

To progress through the lessons, players must earn so-called 'mastery' points by scoring in several mini-games and tests.

Players start off with a simple multiple- choice test and a game in which one must tap the touch-screen when a mole with the right answer pops up.

When you have earned enough points in all the categories, you unlock your next lesson. With every lesson, you get to open up further mini-games and tests.

Although the graphics are simple, the gameplay offers a sure-fire way of instilling basic lessons in Putonghua. It's a great alternative to using books or audio CDs to learn the language.

Pros: Covers basic Putonghua lessons well.

Cons: Graphics are too simple.