Cool Games to learn Mandarin

Imagine if you could play a role playing game and by the end of it, you would be fluent in Chinese? Sounds stupid, right? Traditional logic states it is stupid and that Language Acquisition is something that should be hard, something that should be “earned”. In the eyes of most snooty academics, you shouldn’t be able to have fun and learn a language. ESPECIALLY not Mandarin Chinese, the “hardest” of the languages to learn. However, that is exactly what EnterZon promises,

EnterZon

EnterZon was created to fulfill the dream of teaching via a role playing game (RPG). An immersive Mandarin learning RPG, Enterzon is a comprehensive execution of a lofty concept. It plays just like Legend of Zelda with observable dialogues and a linear learning format that is based on situations. For example, the first lesson is about learning how to obtain your bags at the airport..It does a great job of giving learners reading and comprehension practice. But don’t take my word for it…

However, there is one problem and it is no longer publicly available. When I found this out after re-visiting the project a few months ago, I was devastated. I thought to myself… WHY ZON, why have you left me?!!!!

Apparently the exclusive distributor has stopped making it publicly available and will now be licensing it to academic programs. I also found out that you can still purchase a license to Zon, but you have to enquire directly. I am currently enquiring and will update this blog once I have heard back.

Regardless, tools like Zon beg the question, why haven’t games been utilized for Mandarin Learning on a broader scale?  Why are there no comprehensive learning solutions for Mandarin that are gamified? Duolingo has 100,000,000 users, but no Mandarin? What is going on?

The truth is, if you look hard enough, there are several options that can augment your Chinese study in a way that is compelling, but also gives a break from the daily grind of drilling vocabulary with flashcards.

Here are several games that can provide a gamified Chinese Learning Experience that are currently available, or on the verge of release:

Influent:

Originally created as a Japanese learning game, influent now has over 10 extra languages including Chinese.

As you can see from the video, influent is a compelling concept that is eye-catching, as a 3D immersive language learning game; it really is a field-leading product. As a language teaching tool however, it is limited in its ability. The game mostly works as a vocabulary builder, I would recommend it for learners that are just starting to learn Chinese from zero as it provides plenty of “a-ha!” moments, being able to learn words by exploring. Definitely a must get game though, just because of how different and cool it is.

MindSnacks Chinese:

Probably the best put together mobile game app for language learning, mindsnacks is just plain fun. It has gamified levels and a linear progression. It builds from simple vocabulary to complex sentences and it is all around just a great game to play. I can’t say much about its function or ability to teach conversation, but it’s a great alternative to flashcards. Where it fails is that there is not enough native review of previous concepts without you having to prompt it. It is very fun, almost fun enough to just be a stand-alone game, regardless of the Chinese learning content which sets it apart from similar applications like ChineseSkill and HelloChinese.

ChineseSkill:

Chinese Skill is also a linear learning product that has gamified mechanics and flashy graphics. A fun “gameplay” like learning method with its cute design, bright graphics, a friendly panda, and a very efficient learning path. Although not a game in the true sense of the word, it functions as a game in many aspects with picture matching and speech, as well as a Kanji building point and click interface. It has a very sleek design and I am excited to see what the future holds for it.

HelloChinese:

Although not a game, a very slick app much like hellochinese, it is the closest to being a “game”, along with HelloChinese that we have seen.

A very slick app, much like ChineseSkill, and in the same vain, an “almost game” that does a wonderful job of helping you learn the basics of Mandarin. One of the features that sets it apart from the other previously featured learning apps is the native way it teaches stroke order by allowing you to write characters through a stroke by stroke interactive format. However, ChineseSkill promotes a sort of click and drag interface that teaches you radicals. Overall, Hellochinese is earlier in its development cycle so time will tell what improvements both camps come up with.

Aside from the cutting edge technology to come out of these promising apps, there are also more analog solutions in development.

AiYa

The people making this game are a systems engineer, math teacher, and a Chinese teacher who are living in Guangzhou. The game is basically a set of character cards than can be used to play a series of different game types depending on the learner’s level. For beginning learners, they basically play go-fish to match vocabulary sets, whereas the more advanced learners form sentences and learn grammar patterns. The game is currently being re-designed and a newkickstarter will be launched towards the end of 2015.

In conclusion, it is a shame that more story-based immersive games has yet to be invented. However, with advancements in Virtual Reality technologies and mobile computing power, I am excited to see what the future holds for Mandarin learning in an increasingly globalized world. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have a tip on an upcoming project that you would like me to feature and review in a future article. I am always on the lookout for emerging ideas!

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