Road Test: a fun start to Chinese lessons

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 7:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 7:18pm

You know you need a little extra help when your daughter suggests "Facetiming" grandma in Sydney for advice on her Chinese homework. Don't get me wrong, my four-year-old is doing well in her K2 class and completes most of her Chinese homework by herself. But at her age, a little extra practice in a fun and modern manner can't hurt.

Each character in the Chinese language has an individual meaning. With more than 50,000 Chinese characters and about 4,000 commonly used, the 20 basic characters included in the My Chinese Copybook: Elementary Class app are just a drop in the ocean. However, for the price of less than a cup of coffee, the app is a great start for any pre-schooler learning to write Chinese.

One of the most important elements of memorising each character's composition is writing characters in the correct stroke order. Before writing each character, the app provides an animation that demonstrates the sequence of strokes and their direction. Learning to follow the right order teaches the writer to use minimal hand movements to write the most strokes possible in a beautiful manner where each character is balanced and legible.

Next, kinesthetic learning begins with three opportunities given to practice writing each character on screen, and as with learning any language, it's this type of practice that helps cement a word to one's vocabulary.

To encourage users to rely on their memory to complete a word, visual prompts and reminders are removed as the child progresses through the three stages. Hints are provided if the child gets stuck or continually makes an incorrect stroke. Anabelle loved the variety in character complexity and enjoyed having the opportunity to practice writing again and again.

According to the app developer, when children write with their fingers on the tablet screen, they are more focused on learning the stroke order without experiencing the difficulties of controlling a pencil. And instead of the usual grey from her lead pencil, Anabelle was really attracted to the rainbow of colours used and liked the way each character had a different colour assigned to it.

A sense of accomplishment is instilled at each stage of the process, with stamps awarded on completion of each character.

The app also teaches pronunciation of the characters, with both Cantonese and Putonghua options. The English translation of each character is displayed on the main menu. Our three-year-old son, who is always playing nearby, couldn't help overhear and would also practise pronouncing the characters himself.

I loved the option of setting a time limit of five, 10 or 30-minute sessions and once the time was up, a parental control on the app was enforced. This 30-minute break helps manage the usage of electronic gadgets and protects kids from digital eye strain. And although it's not a traditional physical copybook, the app allows you to track your child's progress by date and character.

Verdict An educational app to balance the assortment on your iPad menu for your little ones. Great for beginners in practising elementary Chinese words while on the move, and like they say, practice makes perfect.

My Chinese Copybook: Elementary Class, US$2.99, from iTunes App Store