Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The APPs and programs we're using now - Updated!

The world of Apps for IPad, IPhone and Android are constantly changing and like Chinese textbooks, we now suffer from an overwhelming flood of content.  Some is great, some is ok and a lot is just not worth your time or money.  How to tell the difference?  That is difficult.

We have a policy of only recommending what we actually like AND use.  We don't write negative reviews. Therefore, the absence of a mention does not mean we don't like a product, it may mean we have not looked at it. If you have recommendations, please forward to our email and we'll take a look. We will only mention a product if we choose to use it in our school and recommend it to our students. With that in mind, here is what we are currently using, recommending and/or requiring for our students:

Typing Chinese and Learn to Type

Key Software - Key is published by and represents the best and most comprehensive word processing product for students of Chinese. It goes beyond mere word processing to a full learning tool. It allows input in English, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) Japanese and Korean at the click of a button. Key contains a mouse over dictionary that lists a character's radical, radical number and total stroke count as well as definition. In addition Key allows the user to create vocabulary lists, timed reading passages, glossaries, and promotes fluency in typing in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Please note we only use the product for Chinese and cannot comment on its use for Japanese or Korean. Students can cut and paste content to and from Key to utilize the tools contained within such as displaying Pinyin or Zhuyin above or below the character text, tones, and switching back and forth from Traditional to Simplified. Key was created specifically for students of Chinese, Japanese and Korean at the college level and is unlike any other product in its unlimited content creation capability. We require this product for all students who are reading at a 4th grade level and above in our program. Teachers looking for a product to create lesson plans, handouts and content should look no further than Key. The only shortcoming to using Key is that the input method is slightly different from the standard IME input format. Students who do not also learn to type without the "assistance" that key provides in a regular IME format, will find typing Chinese outside of Key difficult. It is important for students to utilize both.

IQ Chinese Go Chinese & Pinyin - IQ Chinese is a type-to-learn curriculum that outpaces all competitors. Although the company produces a product similar to Key, it has substantive differences.  Key does not teach how to type in Chinese, this is where the IQ Go Chinese levels 100-800 and Pinyin products shine. We will start with the Pinyin product - it is among the very best to teach Pinyin for the purpose of typing in Chinese. Rather than utilizing class time to teach phonetics, older students can utilize this product to accomplish a rather mundane but important task on computer saving class time for vocabulary acquisition. The type to learn vocabulary and character curriculum is called Go Chinese.  It has 8 separate levels that mirror most textbook series.  The curriculum is engaging and thorough. It drills listening comprehension, character recognition, production of correct spelling and tones as well as selecting the character while typing. This product is essential for AP Chinese exam preparation. The AP Chinese test is a typewritten test and therefore students must spend substantial time learning to type in Chinese in order to sit for the test. Most Chinese programs prioritize handwriting characters from memory and many do not teach typing. Students who have not learned how to type accurately in a standard IME format will be at a significant disadvantage in the AP Chinese exam. Typing in Chinese involves typing pinyin (or another input alphabet) and tones that will generate a choice of either traditional or simplified characters. It is a 2 step process - correct spelling & tones an then selection of the correct character. The process takes repeated practice and can be overwhelming for beginning and intermediate level students. IQ creates an environment that limits choices for the beginning student thereby simplifying the learning process. The combination of kinesthetic, visual and auditory learning styles through typing can increase the speed at which students learn to recognize and produce written Chinese content.

Pleco - This is the last dictionary you will ever need. Previously we recommended the hard copy Far East Dictionary and a series of picture dictionaries - these still have value but realistically, Pleco is what we use every day, in every class, with every student. Pleco is available for IPhone, IPad and Android devices. Pleco is a free app but you will need to purchase a bundle or selected add-ons to take full advantage of its strengths.  We recommend the Basic Bundle $29.99 which contains almost everything a student will need including:  Optical character recognizer (shhh - we dont' tell the kids about this one - we want them to use handwriting to look up words rather than taking a picture with their phones), full screen handwriting, stroke order diagrams (huge hit with the kids), document reader (cut and paste from email, texts, or websites to read with the help of Pleco dictionary), flash card system, audio reader with male and female voices. We are currently experimenting with new add-ons for character etymology, a proverb dictionary and a thesaurus database.

Skritter - this is the 1 the only, the best tool for learning to write characters (also used for Japanese). Skritter requires a subscription.  It is essential for anyone learning to write by hand and read Chinese characters. The program features spaced repetition which is much better than your old fashioned flash cards. Kids will like tracking their scores. You can create your own cards or download pre-made sets for specific textbooks. Its not for the youngest children however - as it is a pinyin utilizing tool. Pre-literate children will not be able to use it without assistance. There are a number of writing programs for very young children. 

認字識詞 - This darling app requires in app purchases. It teaches topical vocabulary with proper stroke order in a format that will delight younger kids. There are 8 topic areas each featuring 15 characters. After introducing the stroke order, hearing the words, seeing zhuyin bpmf, the user is quizzed to put the words in the correct sentence order. There are multiple challenges allowing the user to earn points. The animation is cute and the interactive nature will appeal to younger users. The stroke order is strict but friendly for kids. Challenges can be repeated and the app will track multiple users.

APPs to learn Zhuyin or Pinyin - yes we teach both in our program therefore we look for products that offer one or both phonetic systems. These are not listed in a particular order - some are free (with annoying music and popup ads or low cost apps.

5Q Channel BPMF App -  This app takes the form of a child's audio picture book. It has interactive features - click on the pictures on the screen to hear the word and the sound followed by a "find the sound" page.

快樂學bpmf -This App has rather annoying music, but kids will love the writing of the Zhuyin phonetic symbols. The pronunciation is clear and in the voice of a young child. It is a good app for learning to write the symbols and association the sounds with the symbols. The interactive activities are limited to writing. There is no game or quiz mode.

熊貓教室 - This app has an interactive list of zhuyin symbols and a game that tests the student's listening and association of the sound with the symbol. It is the only app we found that does this. It is a limited program but good for what it does.

Bopomofo - pinyin to zhuyin training game - This app quizzes the user on zhuyin and pinyin associations.  A limited matching game format but tests sound combinations in both zhuyin and pinyin.

Wills School Lite - This app has 3 useful components surrounded by irrelevant games. Under learning, users can trace zhuyin symbols and see them used with vocabulary associated with pictures (the user must tap on the pictures to hear pronunciation, a "music" task where the user can hear the pronunciation of individual symbols, and an interactive "exam" that asks the user to fill in the blank on a vocabulary picture card from 4 symbol choices. This "test" on zhuyin in context is good but the app does not pronounce the word for confirmation. 

BoPoMo一起Fun - This app has 4 activities writing the zhuyin phonetic sounds, clicking on them in a game-like activity, listing the sounds in the correct order by selecting the floating circle and a blackboard where you can select a card and write/select the bpmf sound and tone to match the character/picture (note there is no correction or verification on this activity). The app is useful for learning how to write the symbols and recite/list them in the correct order. Kids will like the tracing activity.

Apps for learning the history/etymology of characters
Chinese Etymology - our absolute favorite. Type in a character (simplified or traditional) and you can see Oracle Bone, Bronze, Seal and 6 Book scripts. The list of Oracle Bone and Bronze variants is substantial - you will need to be online or on Wifi to use this app as it connects to a database. It also lists character details that are very helpful in understanding how characters evolved. It represents a labor of love by the author who compiled the database. We frequently use this in class. For the Android store click here.

古文字猜猜樂 - this fun game asks the users to match characters with Oracle Bone, Bronze and later script variants. Free app with ads.

Art of Chinese Characters - This fun app requires in app purchases. It features 15 "pages" with 4-7 characters depicted. It demonstrates the origin of each from Oracle Bone to the modern simplified variant, shows stroke order, meaning, and associated words (with audio). It has a learn and "search for" function. The user can write the character after seeing it traced using the correct stroke order.

汉字猜猜1:幼儿版--有趣有文化的猜字游戏 - This guessing game asks the user to see an oracle bone script character or later variant and guess which modern simplified character it represents. 4 clues are provided. A book can be opened after guessing that shows the full evolution. Kids will like scoring points by guessing correctly.


Train Chinese has an excellent app for learning numbers and is worth the Paid version of the App.  It is available for Android devices here and Apple devices here.  Note there are in-app purchases for the full program - it will allow the user to play unlimited games in a day, work with numbers 1-over 1 million. 

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