Mandarin-learning app a boon for English speakers

Updated: 2014-04-09 16:51

By Cecily Liu in London (

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A new app to help English-speakers learn Mandarin with fun and efficiency was launched on Tuesday at the London Book Fair.

A joint project between the Chinese publisher The Commercial Press and the British cartographic company Communicarta, Linguap Chinese is available on the Apple iOS platform.

The app can display pictures of different objects, and a voice will pronounce the Mandarin words corresponding to those objects when the user taps on a particular object on the screen.

Its interactive tools also demonstrate on the screen how a particular word should be written in the correct order of its strokes, and provides examples of common phrases where the words are typically used in.

The app also teaches users how to write and pronounce numbers when they enter numbers onto a calculator screen. It also has a clock face for users to set a time they want to learn how to write and pronounce.

Initial purchase of the app is free of charge, but users can purchase additional features from the app either through buying credits or by gaining credits while playing games on the app.

One example is a game where the user needs to match clothing items to their designated places in a wardrobe. There are three levels of difficulty, the easiest being where Mandarin characters, pinyin – the Chinese pronunciation, and English are all provided. As the level of difficulty increases, the English and pinyin are taken away.

Robin Woods, CEO of Communicarta, said the app would incentivize users to learn Mandarin by allowing them to buy additional features using credits they gain from games.

Woods said the app will make the learning of Mandarin fun, and his team has placed great emphasis on making the app user friendly by making all the features simple and obvious and avoiding over-cluttering of the screen.

The content of the app is based on a book of for children to learn Mandarin published by The Commercial Press. Communicarta took the content and turned it into an app.

Woods said a big challenge in this process is the difficulty of compressing all the digital images, voice files and other content, so the final app is relatively small in size. This is important because if the app is too big in size, it takes up too much internal storage space of the user’s iPad, he said.

The cooperation between the two parties on Linguap Chinese builds on their previous cooperation on developing the Shanghai Metro App back in 2009, which was used by many visitors of the Shanghai Expo in 2010.

Based on this success, the two parties subsequently launched apps for five other Chinese cities together - Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Taipei and Beijing. Communicarta created the technology and content and The Commercial Press led on marketing the app.

Woods said his team and The Commercial Press will continue to develop Linguap Chinese in the future. Currently it is only designed for English speakers, but in the future, it will develop to suit the needs of other language speakers, so users with different mother tongues can all learn Mandarin.

Woods said currently there is only one voice recorded for the pronunciation, but he hopes more voices can be added in the future to give users a choice. As well, the features and activities in the app will also grow, he said.

Li Ping, Vice Director of The Commercial Press, said working with Communicarta on Linguap Chinese is a part of The Commercial Press’ efforts to keep up with the emerging trend of digital publication.

"Our partnership with Communicarta and the development of Linguap Chinese is a significant step in sharing our expertise in teaching Chinese with the digital generation," Li said.

Wang Shiyu contributed to this story