Learning a new language isn’t easy – especially Asian languages. Of course you want to immerse yourself in the language you’re learning as much as possible. It also helps to make the learning process fun somehow. After that, it’s up to your personal dedication and interest in the idiom.
Indie game developer MNE Creations (located in Shangai, China) has taken all that into account when creating their Windows Phone 8 exclusive game, Tawkable Chinese. They aim to get users started on the road to learning Mandarin Chinese by wrapping language lessons up in an adventure game. The main game is free, with language drills sold as a single In-App Purchase.
Head past the break for our full impressions and hands-on video!
Before running the game itself, you’ll need to install the Chinese Mandarin speech recognition pack through your Windows Phone’s Settings menu. Tawkable Chinese actually detects the user’s speech and judges its accuracy, hence the requirement.
The act of selecting the language itself is kind of a pain since the language name does not appear in Roman characters, but our screenshot points out the right selection. The hassle doesn’t end there, though. Windows Phone 8 treats the language installation as an OS update, a time consuming and slightly risky endeavor. Think of it as a test of your willingness to learn Mandarin, I guess.
Adventures in language learning
The actual game starts out with a tutorial to explain the general mechanics. Basically, tapping on a blue orb causes the game to speak a phrase in Mandarin. Whenever you’re ready to speak it, press the microphone button at bottom and have at it. If the software thinks you said it well enough, you’re free to move on to the next orb or level. Otherwise, you can try again until you get it right.
The process of learning those words is encapsulated by a light story. As the player, you awaken in Shanghai with no memory of how you got there. Each time you reach a new level, the story advances via conversation with a mysterious stranger. You can also return to these conversation screens after finishing the level to review the words you learned.
Story levels also include yellow orbs in which the game asks players either/or questions in English text. You answer by selecting the correct picture and speaking the Mandarin word for it. Thankfully tapping the picture repeats the word out loud, else I’d struggle to remember it (learning Mandarin isn’t actually on my to-do list). Sometimes both answers are technically correct, though – the wording of the questions should be adjusted to be more specific.
Drills, Favorites, and more
Besides the adventure game component, Tawkable has three more learning tools: Drills, Favorites, and All. Selecting All actually brings up a list of all the Mandarin words in the game. You can easily track which ones you’ve encountered and practice those words for a higher rating. Words that haven’t been encountered in the story can still be viewed, but not practiced.
Everything we’ve discussed so far has been included with the free version of the game. But the Drills and Favorite features require an In-App Purchase of $4.99. Favorites allows users to add words from the ‘All’ list to their Favorites. Simple but useful.
The drills menu brings up a daily list of three words to practice. Each word can only be drilled a certain number of times in one go. You have to wait an hour to repeat the drill after that. Thing is, the user can’t select what words come up in the daily drill. They aren’t chosen from words you’ve encountered in story. Frankly, the drills concept here needs a lot more work. If MNE is asking players to pay five bucks for drills, then those drills need to be significant in number and offer some kind of options too.
Iron Man must die!
I love the idea of blending language learning with a game. Tawkable Chinese is more of a story than a GAME game, but it’s still a clever way to get people acquainted with basic Chinese Mandarin.
In the future, I’d like to see the drill system greatly expanded, the words in each story level grouped by more coherent themes, the in-game Achievement system made more transparent, and the UI made more intuitive. You can probably spot me fumbling with the UI a bit in the video above.
As it is, Tawkable is clever learning tool that might just get some users started on the road to understanding Mandarin. Give to a shot, stick with it, and you’ll be able to watch boring historical epics without the subtitles in no time!
Tawkable Chinese – Windows Phone 8 – 46 MB (85 with language pack) – Free – Store Link