I am über-excited about the new Discovering Chinese Pro app by Better Chinese. As most of my readers are aware, we have been using Better Chinese curricula for our Mandarin studies for years. I even blog about our language learning endeavors for them.
For the past several years, we have been using My First Chinese Reader and have been anxiously awaiting the release of an interactive iPad program. Discovering Chinese Pro is the answer. Easy to navigate, engaging animations, and a variety of practical language skill applications.
Each volume in Discovering Chinese Pro contains twelve lessons and each lesson begins with the goals outlined clearly. Upon reading through the goals, each lesson begins with a short animation. The material is presented in several formats allowing students with different learning styles to choose the method that is best (with or without pinyin, with or without audio, and with or without English translations). The student even has the choice to use simplified or traditional characters and can apply this option to specific words or the entire lesson.
Tabs across the top divide the lesson into sections that allow the learner to easily jump to the desired section: Language Notes, Culture Points, Practice, Homework, and I Can.
The Language Notes section of each lesson introduces in more detail the new lesson vocabulary, additional required vocabulary, and proper nouns. Here, the words are defined and the characters, pinyin, and parts of speech are shown. Students can tap on an icon to hear each word spoken aloud. Within ‘Language Points’, students are shown how to combine different characters for phrases and example sentences can be heard. ‘Language Tips’ points out short cuts or more commonly used phrases.
True of all the lessons in the series, the tab Culture Points helps put the lesson vocabulary into historical and cultural context. Here students are introduced to China with idioms and photographs – bringing the Chinese culture to life. In anticipation of our trip to China, I had selected two lessons from Volume 2 to review, Lesson 19 “Shopping” and Lesson 24 “Trip to China”. These tabs were very valuable to me, providing a better understanding of the culture of China.
The practice section is split into six parts – pinyin, characters, listening, reading, speaking, and writing. In the pinyin section you can practice pronunciation of the four tones, pinyin identification, and pinyin dictation. In the character writing section, several characters are introduced that correspond to the new vocabulary introduced in the lesson. Here, students can see the story behind a Chinese character, watch the stroke order animation, and try it themselves.
The next four practice sections work on the students’ listening, speaking, reading (split into reading comprehension and reading challenge), and writing skills (split into grammar exercises and composition). The activities and practice applications vary with each lesson – ensuring the students are engaged and have ample opportunity to practice their budding skills in varied contexts. In the speaking section of Lesson 24 “Trip to China”, students were asked to interview a friend about his/her recent trip.
One of the things I liked best about the Practice section was the partner and group activities. In Lesson 19 “Shopping”, students were asked to set up a flea market. Working in small groups, they were to decide upon a name, what to sell, categorize the items, create an inventory, set prices, determine if bargaining is allowed, and finally create a poster. In Lesson 24 “Trip to China”, students were asked to pick a destination from a list of overseas trips and to create an itinerary to potential customers. As a group assignment, tasks were to be divided between students (transportation, food, activities, etc.). In both scenarios, the students were to present it to the class.
The homework section provides additional opportunities for the language learner to test his developing listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. The listening section has three dialogues. The reading section has two short passages with characters only, followed by a few comprehension questions. The speaking section asked the student to record an oral narration of the lesson animation. The writing section provides grammar practice whereby students follow a specific sentence structure or pattern as they compose sentences of their own. In addition, a composition activity is provided that varies with each lesson. In Lesson 19 “Shopping”, the student was asked to compose an email response to a friend regarding what she bought at the store.
Each practice and homework section has a prompt box whereby the student can record their audio reply and/or type their composition. If desired, images can even be added for a multi-media approach. As I know even less Mandarin Chinese than the kids, I love that the students can email their tutor their work for review.disclosure policy for more information.