HanZi 800 - an educational app that will help improve your child's Chinese

HanZi 800 - an educational app that will help improve your child's Chinese

There’s an iPad app that teaches Chinese in a fun and engaging way... and that kids and grownups will both like. Read about it here.

We are a bilingual family, but like most families, we tend to put emphasis on English instead of Chinese. When our boy started primary school, we realised that his grasp on the language was poorer than some his classmates.

Since then, we had a difficult time in getting him to master Chinese characters recognition, usage and proper pronunciation. I cringe every time our boy converses in Mandarin because his choice of words and sentence construction are always a little bit off.

I have always relied on Chinese story books, magazines and daily conversation to give him opportunities to learn and use the language. With my perseverance and determination, there have been some improvements even though it was a slow and tedious progress. Some of my friends suggested some online apps, but I hardly use them because I could not find one that appeals to me enough to continue using it.

Recently, I was introduced to and was immediately drawn to HanZi 800, which claims that "after completing all 40 lessons, a user who started the programme with basic level of Chinese literacy (preschool or Primary 1) can expect to achieve up to 80% general reading competency." That is something which I hope my boy to achieve in the near future.

Introducing HanZi 800

HanZi 800 is an educational app for the Apple iPad, based on a specially developed, story-centric pedagogy. It is designed around 800 core Chinese characters, hence the "800" in the name.

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I downloaded the app, followed the prompted instruction to create an account and also the first lesson. The first five lessons are free and you can only download the next lesson after completing the current lesson. Subsequent lessons are priced at SGD5.98 per block of 5 lessons making the total 40 lesson at an affordable price of SGD42.

What features make HanZi 800 a standout? Read on the next page!

HanZi 800 has the following features:

1. Read-along stories - Around 20 core characters are introduced in each story, which is the first part of every lesson

2. Chinese-English Glossary - Highlighted characters and phrases within each story brings up a Chinese-English glossary to aid learning

3. Interactive practice - A practice to test character recognition and comprehension attained from the read-along story

4. Animated story - A second, longer story incorporates characters that have been already covered and some that will appear in later lessons, but not part of the curriculum for the current lesson

5. Quiz game - A multiple choice, Q&A game at the end of each lesson that tests the level of learning and comprehension attained in the current lesson

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6. Scoring for each lesson - Scoring based on performance in the quiz game. Depending on how well the user performs, up to 5 stars are awarded, and a corresponding percentage score is shown.

7. Progress tracking - A cumulative average of all the scores for prior lessons completed is viewable at any time. By the end of the 40 lessons, this average score gives a strong indication of how much the user has learned and absorbed.

8. Progressive learning - As the user goes through the 40-lesson programme, the difficulty level noticeably increases, as newer, more complex characters and phrases are introduced. But because stories are, to a large extent, written using characters that have been learned, there is familiarity that couples with the new material. Naturally, stories also become gradually more interesting and vivid.

9. Up to 3 individual users - Supports up to three user accounts, catering to families with more than one child.

What's to like about HanZi 800? Read on the next page!

What to like about HanZi 800

I explored each lesson and enjoyed it very much. I like the vivid animations, cute illustrations of the characters and the catchy tune. Even the female voiceover sounds pleasant with clear, precise pronunciation; she even varies her tone and pitches while reading the story which will surely catch a child's attention.

Another plus point for this educational app that I would like to highlight is the proper construction of the English translation.  We know that there are many occasions where we read the English translation of the Chinese stories that leave us scratching our heads in bewilderment.

I am relieved, then, to see that the English glossary of Hanzi800's read-along stories are in properly constructed sentences that are logical and make sense to the readers. I am sure that they are aware that it is of utmost importance to have a proper English translation since the readers are stronger in English and need to understand the story in order to help them learn Chinese confidently.

When I showed our boy the app, he was initially reluctant to try it because it is not his favourite subject. He changed his mind, though, after he saw the vibrant coloured front page with animated zodiac animals. He tapped to go into the first lesson, and about half an hour later he finished all five lessons. He shared with me that he enjoys the lesson and that though it's too easy for him, he finds the stories interesting and sometimes hilarious.

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I guess for the first few lessons, HanZi 800 planned to start it at a comfortable level where a five-to-six-year old child can understand the words being used in the lessons. As stated in their website, they gradually incorporate the characters introduced in the previous lessons, increasing the difficulty level as the lessons progress.

How are the next lessons after the first free ones? Read about it on the next page!

The follow-up lessons

Since I am curious to know about the follow-up lessons, I bought the next five lessons. The read-along stories are slightly lengthier than before. There are also more words in each page, thus more words to recognise and learn.

The animated stories get more interesting with some link to either the read-along story of the same lesson or to the stories of earlier lessons.  This is good as it makes the reader think back on what they have learnt or read before and they can easily go back to the earlier lessons to refresh their memory in case they forget.

The quiz game is designed to have the reader and another opponent standing on top of a fireplace for the first five lessons, much like the huge stove where people used to cook in the olden days.  A correct answer will cause the fire in the opponent's stove to get higher, a wrong answer will make you jump in high heat.  At the end of the quiz, if the score is 100%, the opponent would fall off the stove, burnt. But don't think it's morbid, as the character dies in a comical way and your child will not be traumatised.  My son does find it amusing to see the character jumping up and down on the hot stove, and tries to answer the quiz questions correctly to see it again and again.

The quiz questions are read aloud, which trains children’s listening skills, useful when they sit for listening comprehension tests in primary school.  This also helps them to recognise the character and learn the proper way of pronouncing it.

Keeping track of progress

There is a Total Score to track your child's progress, which I think is good for parents to be able to gauge the area of weakness of their child and perhaps do some coaching with some assessment books.

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There is also a button on the main menu that shows the updated cumulative scoring of all the lesson completed. This is great because it will track my boy’s progress as he goes through all 40 lessons.

As the lessons get more difficult. he may score lesser but it will also encourage him to re-visit the lessons again to understand the stories, find out the mistakes he made, and do the quiz again. By doing this it will improve his score, thus improving his Chinese. There is no stress on him too since this is a supplementary learning aide so he can learn it at his own pace, eventually when he manages to score a better or even full score, we will know that there is a definite improvement.

As HanZi 800 is designed to be engaging, the stories and animation keep it fun and fresh always, and any re-visitation will feel like it’s the first time. We know that repetition is important in language learning, instead of completing stacks of assessment books and perhaps not getting significant improvement, maybe this educational app may help your child?   I know my boy is enjoying it, even though he STILL says that lessons six to 10 is still too easy for him after scoring 100%. Eh, don’t get over confident Smarty Pants.

So what's the final verdict? Read on to the next page!

Interesting for adults and kids alike

The husband was around when I was exploring the app a few times the past two days and he started to recite the short read-along story in lesson one without missing any words. Mind you, when I turned on the app, the catchy tune started to play on the iPad. If a bilingual man in his forties finds the tune and voiceover appealing, I would think that kids would too.

I especially like the animated story in each lesson because behind each story, there is a moral or a life lesson to be learnt. This creates a chance for parents to be involved by further discussing the story and perhaps instil some useful knowledge to their child.

Regardless of whether you are looking for an app to start building a solid foundation in Chinese for your pre-schooler, or for your primary school child to gain confidence and interest in Chinese, or even for your own use, this is an app that you can consider. Putting the affordable price of SGD42 for 40 lessons aside, the whole app comes with lively, cute animations makes learning fun and engaging, which I think plays a vital part in learning a language. It certainly beats sitting at the table trying to finish some assessment books.

For more information please visit HanZi800 at www.hanzi800.com or simply download the app at iTunes Page: https://itunes.apple.com/sg/app/hanzi-800/id1002896261?mt=8

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Written by

Jennifer Lim

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