Best apps, websites and digital learning materials to help your child learn Chinese

March 20, 2017
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    Learning Mandarin can be a daunting process for your child, especially if English is primarily used at home – there are thousands of characters to identify, and many different tonalities to master.

    While enrolling him in enrichment programmes helps to increase his exposure to the language, the programmes are often limited to only a few hours each week. An easier way to jump-start Junior’s learning is by leveraging the power of digital technology.

    “While nothing beats face-to-face personal instruction, the strengths of a technology-based methodology are its interactivity, convenience, variety and ability to be customised,” says Tan Dan Feng, executive director of translation firm Interlexis.

    Dr David Moser, academic director of CET Chinese Studies in Capital Normal University, Beijing, agrees. He says technology also eradicates the need for tedious rote learning. “In the past, children were constantly frustrated by the memorisation required to become even minimally literate in Mandarin.

    “Today, the use of digital learning aids enables your child to navigate texts at his own level of cognitive maturity, without having to first learn to write thousands of characters,” he shares. Here are some digital aids that can help improve your child’s Mandarin.

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  • Digital graded readers
    2 / 7 Digital graded readers

    Forget complex and intimidating traditional texts – graded readers that specially cater to your child’s language ability might prove to be more helpful.

    “There are a host of digitally enhanced readers for young children available on the market today, with pinyin, translation pop-up windows, as well as text-to-speech functions,” says Dr Moser.

    “I would personally recommend products like Chinese Reading Practice and Yes! Chinese, just to name a few.”

    You can also try Moo-O, a digital storybook targeted at kindergarten children. “Moo-O helps kids to practise their Mandarin skills by immersing them in fun and absorbing skit scenarios. By taking on the role of a character in the story, your child is able to practise speaking Mandarin in a fun and pressure-free context,” says Dr Moser.

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  • YouTube
    3 / 7 YouTube

    Don’t underestimate the power of Youtube as an instructional tool. “While there are numerous specialised applications for language learning, we should not neglect the fact that many mainstream technology offerings are also effective learning aids,” says Dan Feng.

    “You can easily find video clips of nursery rhymes, children’s songs, skits, cartoons and more that have already been subtitled and translated.”

    Simply type keywords like “Mandarin for children” into Youtube’s search engine, and you’ll have plenty of teaching resources at your fingertips.

    Related story: How to improve child’s Chinese? This mum started Speak Mandarin Campaign at home 

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  • Tablets and Smartphone apps
    4 / 7 Tablets and Smartphone apps

    Does your kid love fiddling with your iPad or iPhone? If so, tablet and phone apps geared towards teaching Mandarin might pique his interest.

    “I’m a big fan of the Dim Sum Warriors iPad app, a hilarious comic strip featuringgongfu-fighting dumplings. It’s a very fun and engaging tool that helps young children to pick up spoken and written Chinese,” says Dan Feng.

    The app features interactive word balloons and dual language capabilities, so your little one can toggle between reading the comic in English and Chinese.

    Other fun apps you can consider include Lingu Pinguin, an iPhone app which focuses on everyday vocabulary for preschoolers, and Piggy Picnic, which exposes your little one to Mandarin through six fun and interactive games.

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  • Digital dictionaries
    5 / 7 Digital dictionaries

    If your kid is unable to make head or tail of the Mandarin websites he encounters, a dictionary app or plug-in comes in useful. These tools translate words on a Chinese website automatically, without the user having to navigate away from the page.

    “Two good plug-ins for web browsers are Perapera and Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary. They can be quickly installed on web browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome,” suggests Dr Moser.

    “For tablets and smartphones, there are apps like Pleco that allow users to input queries using pinyin, voice commands or handwriting. The text-to-speech function in these apps allows kids to sound out characters,” he recommends.

    Related: How to choose Chinese enrichment class for kids when you don’t speak Mandarin

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  • Online forums and Facebook groups
    6 / 7 Online forums and Facebook groups

    You can also seek out additional resources for your child through online communities. “There are plenty of Facebook groups and online forums where parents exchange useful tips,” Dan Feng says.

    Related: Diana Ser’s top tips for teaching kids Chinese 

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  • How much technology is too much?
    7 / 7 How much technology is too much?

So how often should you be using technology as a mode of language instruction? “Your child’s language competency will naturally improve with exposure. If he displays enough interest in the tool, I’d say let him continue using it, by all means,” says Dan Feng.

    Dr Moser says: “There’s no real limit on the amount of learning that can be derived from these digital tools. Children spend a great deal of time on their computers, both for schoolwork and for recreation. If used in the right way, these tools can remove barriers to learning Mandarin, and children can then naturally gravitate towards other language materials that spark their interest.”

    However, Dr Moser feels that technology should complement, not substitute, existing methods of language learning, such as personal instruction, arts and music, calligraphy or verbal language drills.

    “Rather, they should enable children to free up more time for these activities,” he says.

    A version of this article first appeared in Simply Her. 


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