Teaching Chinese

So you want to learn Chinese. Can the computer help us?

First break the subject down into two parts, writing and speaking. The writing is much harder to learn. It also tends to leave you unless you practice it every day. Of course, you can learn it by wrote, by simply writing the characters many times, over and over. This is how Chinese school kids learn Chinese.

Learning to speak is actually easier, or could be easier, but every teacher or system wants you to learn characters at the same time, so you get overwhelmed and quit.

The Chinese phonics system, call pinyin, is easy to learn and very good. Once you learn pinyin, you need to practice listening to spoken Chinese and writing the pinyin for each word. The only hard part here is getting the tone right. mandarin Chinese has four tones that can change the meaning of the word. So if you do not get the tone right, people say, what? or just stare at you. So you have to memorize the tone for each pinyin word meaning. This does not define the word uniquely as there are many characters with the same pinyin and tone, however, given the context, you can understand the meaning.

Here is where the computer can help. A good teaching program should talk to you at the same rate you talk to it. If you are very slow, it should say it very slow as well. Why do you need a computer program to talk to? Well, because of one simple reason. Few Chinese people will have the patience to talk to you in Chinese to teach you. Chinese people would rather talk to you in English because 10) their English is better than your Chinese, and 2) they would rather learn English from you.

What should a good Chinese instruction program do? First it should be able to understand what you say no matter how badly you pronounce it. This is one of the benefits of AI. So you need to test your program with beginners.

If you have a Chinese teacher, you will have a hard time getting her to teach you purely using phonics. Why is this? Because the Chinese language is symbol based and Chinese people don't consider it really learning Chinese unless you also learn the characters. Nevertheless, it is easier to start out just doing the phonics and conversation. It is actually easier to learn Cantonese than mandarin because Cantonese does not rely upon either good phonics or characters, as they use Mandarin grammar instead. So your Cantonese tutor will talk to you purley in Cantonese, without you needing to learn any characters.

This is why we need a good AI Mandarin conversation program. One that can converse with beginners or advanced learners, as well as native speakers.

What is wrong with just going through canned lessons and CDs? The CDs are always too fast for beginners. The lessons do not really activate you brain into internalizing spoken Chinese. You need to talk to others for that. Lacking a partner, this is why you need the AI program,

Is Chinese Chess useful in teaching Chinese. Sure, it is. I used to hang out with the old men in the park in Chinatown. Learned some Cantonese from them. They were all giving each other advice on how to beat me. Very interesting to communicate through the chess board with someone from a different world. Cantonese is also a very expressive language, very expressive of emotion. Played in the Chinatown chess club too. To chessplayers, chess is the meaning of life. So it is a good mix of culture and language. You can learn how to read a Chinese chess book and follow the games there. Of course, you have to free your mind from Western strategy, which does not apply if you want to win at Chinese Chess. You have to learn the tactics and strategies of the Chinese players. This can free up your mind a bit. Most people who play both say Chinese Chess is more fun.

I like this Chinese chatbot:

一海科技 (yī hǎi kē jì — One Sea Technology) offers a chatbot in the form of a basic AI chatting app for Mandarin learning. It may be basic, but it’s still very useful. This 100% free app is perfect for all levels of Mandarin, as you can control the conversation and keep it at the level of fluency you’re comfortable with.

It’s simple to use: Either type out a message in Chinese (or English if you’re a beginner) or use the voice recording function to chat with the bot. The conversation is surprisingly fluid for such a simple AI system and it’s super practical for practicing conversational Chinese in your free time. You can even select from over a dozen different chatbot voices and dialects and adjust speaking speed.

The 一海科技 Chatbot is available for Android devices.