Bottom Line: A great introduction to Mandarin Chinese for kids age 9+. Simple, easy to follow, informative and effective, Loopskool Chinese by developer Yeddo is a wonderful starting point for kids (and adults) interested in pursuing further language studies, or just learning a few key phrases.
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When I adopted my daughter, I spent three weeks in Vietnam, finalizing paperwork, getting her a visa, and absorbing as much of her birth culture as I could in a short time. One of the things I really wanted to do was learn some basic Vietnamese. My daughter was only a few months old, but still, all she'd heard up to that point in her life was Vietnamese, and I thought it would be great to learn a few phrases. How hard could it be, right?
Wow. I was completely unprepared for the difficulties of learning a tonal language, so different from the English and Spanish with which I was familiar. I finally gave up and muddled my way through my time in Hanoi, depending on the limited English spoken by hotel staff and others accustomed to Western tourists. I really wish there had been something like a Vietnamese version of Loopskool Chinese available back in 2007.
When I heard I was writing a review for a Chinese language app, I thought of my limited experience in trying to learn Vietnamese, and I thought, "There's no way this app can do what it says it can, especially not for kids. Chinese and other Asian languages are too hard." I'm happy to say I was completely wrong, and that I even learned a few Mandarin phrases myself before turning this app over to my daughter, who is now running about the house happily talking to the dog in Chinese.
Loopskool Chinese is deceptively simple -- it begins with an introduction to the tones of Mandarin, as well as an intro to pinyin, the official phonetic system for transcribing Mandarin
pronunciations into the Latin alphabet. The app focuses strictly on pronunciation and does not really deal with Chinese characters at all, but there is a setting that allows you to turn the Chinese characters on, so that you can see them next to the pinyin as lessons progress. Just learning to pronounce the words is enough of a lesson for now, without bringing Chinese writing into the picture. Maybe a topic for a future app?
The key to this app, at least for me, is that the words and phrases are set to music, creating a chant that assists with getting all the tones right. It's just a background beat, really, but it makes all the difference in practicing the phrases and making sure you're not saying "horse" when you mean to say "mother." English-speakers are so unaccustomed to tonal differences that this extra boost goes a long way toward understanding and retaining this intro to Mandarin.
So much of this app is based on listening that the best advice I can give you before purchasing it is to watch Ellie's video below. It gives you a comprehensive look at how the app works, how easy it is to understand and retain what you're learning, and the simplicity with which a very complicated subject is presented.
Once you master the phrases, you can complete activities related to each one and test yourself to see if you've really mastered it. The tests and activities aren't hard, but they do reinforce what you've learned and force you to go back and review if you haven't quite got all the details down.
My daughter is eight -- just under the suggested age range for this app. But she picked up on it right away with very little input from me. The hardest part for her (and me) was mastering the Chinese sounds that go with familiar Latin letters. X isn't "ex" -- it's more like "she." The ui letter combo is "way." My daughter is in third grade and has only become a really fluent reader in the last six months. Having to switch her mindset to new sounds wasn't easy, but she got it.
Overall, I highly recommend this app as an introduction to conversational Mandarin. For my daughter, it's sparked an interest in continued study, and while I'm happy she's learning some basic Chinese, I'm thrilled that the app has motivated her to continue learning about a topic she previously knew nothing about. I look forward to seeing what else the folks at Yeddo come up with.
Emilie can't figure out how to make her Latin keyboard put the proper accent marks on the Chinese words in the headline for this review. Dang it. Smart Apps For Kids was paid a priority review fee to publish this review in an expedited manner.