Friday, September 30, 2011

Courses in Iowa City

The Confucius Institute at the University of Iowa is offering Chinese Culture enrichment events!  The Confucius Institute is located in the International Programs Department at the University Capitol Centre (UCC) in the Old Capitol Mall in downtown Iowa City.

Below are a list of classes that have been offered in the past.  Click on the link above to find out what classes are currently available.
  • Language Classes
    • Mandarin Level One, Davenport
    • Mandarin Level One, Iowa City
  • Exercise
    •  Taiji太极-  Taiji was originally designed focus on self-defense, and has gradually evolved as an effective means for flexibility, relaxation, stress control, and overall health enhancement. In this session, students will learn fundamental Taiji movements: Ward-off, Roll Back, Press and Push in a Four Hands form. Any loose and comfortable fitting clothing is suitable. Students should wear light, low, and flat shoes.
    • Wushu武术- Wushu is a style of martial arts that is based on Chinese calligraphy. Participants will learn about the origin and philosophy of this art form, the characters and the movements, the offensive and defensive sets, and practice some basic traditional Chinese martial arts exercises and techniques.
  • Fun and Culture
    • Majiang麻将- This Majiang course is designed to introduce a popular Chinese board game to those who are interested in learning the basic concept of the game, how to play it, and some simple strategies. Participants will also learn some Chinese numbers and characters as well as some related aspects of Chinese culture and customs.
    • Chinese Calligraphy Workshops- Workshop participants will get hands-on experience using calligraphy ink and brushes. No previous experience with Chinese or Chinese Calligraphy is required. Chinese Calligraphy Workshops are led by Dr. Ramon Lim, University of Iowa Professor Emeritus of Neurology and winner of the 2005 Eighth International Calligraphy Competition. Dr. Lim has his works widely exhibited in China, Korea and Japan.
  • History
    • From Yao to Mao: 5,000 Years of Chinese History- This "Great Courses" video series is designed to give students a glimpse into ancient China.  China has a long and complex history full of rich culture.  The course will give an overview of early Chinese dynasties, philosophies, and historical figures.  The course will not only explore China's vast history but is will also offer participants a window of understanding into modern day China.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chinese for Kids

Chinese for Kids- Created by 321Speak, this program has the same layout as Rosetta Stone, but with vocabulary aimed at kids. The app utilizes simplified characters with pinyin.  I've enjoyed this app and so have my children (ages 3 and 5). Currently there are 11 categories: body parts, people, animals, colors, numbers (Arabic numbers to Chinese pronunciation), food, school, getting places, home, opposites, and more food.

My only complaint is that the pictures are sometimes confusing.  For example, the pictures used to drill numbers are difficult to see (too busy).  Also, the pictures for up/down (上\下) are misleading.  To illustrate, the picture for "down" showed a cat that was under a sofa but was placed in the upper portion of the picture. The picture for "up" showed a cat that was on a table but placed in the lower half of the picture. When these pictures are compared side-by-side, there is an opportunity for confusion. It helps when an adult can direct the child's attention to the relative position within each picture.  The pictures illustrating other concepts are fine.  However, because of these issues, I'm recomending parents to use this app not to teach the vocabulary, but to reinforce the vocabulary.

Side Note- There is another Chinese program written by the same company called Chinese (Mandarin) Course- Speak and Learn Pro.  Written for adults, Chinese (Mandarin) Course also uses simplified characters and pinyin.  It contains over 50+ Lessons on various topics including:
  • Airport Travel
  • Travel Vocab
  • Places
  • Directions
  • Money and Shopping
  • Eating/Dining
  • Colors/Numbers
  • Hotel
  • Family and Friends
  • Plus many more 'most used' words and phrases

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Flashcards- Eric Youngsdale

Eric Youngsdale has written a skeleton program that allows regular folks like you and me to control what Chinese characters we want to study.  The program is nice because it allows you to choose either simplified or traditional characters.  It also allows you to decide how to study (i.e. do you see the phonetic pronunciation, the character, or the meaning).  But what truly makes this program awesome is that the computer keeps track of which cards you need to practice more and makes these cards appear in the deck more often.

In order to convienently create your own cards, you will need to be able to type in Chinese.  Check out this post to learn how.  Alternatively, you can copy and paste Chinese characters from an online dictionary like YellowBridge.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Childroad Story Apps

Childroad - Childroad is an online library of Chinese books, which are read outloud.  Children can read along if they are familiar with the Mainland Chinese pinyin system or simplified characters (although the text is pretty small).  The text is highlighted as the professional narrators read the story.  The content is suitable for children 4 to 12 years of age.   

For more info. & to see a short video about Childroad, visit the Childroad Blog.
You can also go directly to their website and begin viewing their free books without membership at the Childroad Homepage.

Monday, September 5, 2011

LinguPingu Chinese/English Picture Dictionary

      LinguPingu- This picture dictionary is a favorite of my kids.  Their favorite feature of the app is that they can easily switch between Chinese and English and hear the item being labeled in each language.  I like this concept because it seems to emphasis that both languages are important, which is important if you want to encourage bilingualism rather than stressing one language over another.

The lite version (free) has two pages:  animals and transportation.  You can upgrade to include seven other pages:  food, body parts, farm, toys, nature, clothes, and apartment. 

KittyWords Chinese Picture Dictionary

·         KittyWords- is a free picture dictionary.  It has seven different scenes:  jungle, seaside, pond/field, farm, ocean, African savanna, and forest.  Kids can tap on the screen to discover the Chinese word for the things pictured.  As a bonus, the simplified character for the word is presented as it is read.  There is also a quiz setting that allows kids to test their skills with new words.

YellowBridge Chinese/English Online Dictionary

YellowBridge- is a well organized, online dictionary that offers several nice features.  First off, the basic services are free.  This includes audio files that allow you to listen to the word's pronunciation, information on the character’s radical/etymology, and the stroke order for writing the character.  Each entry also has a short list of phrases/compound words that start or end with the target character, which is very nice if you can only remember part of a word or phrase.

Entries can be viewed in either their simplified or traditional forms.  There are several methods to looking up an entry:
  • English input,
  • Pinyin input,
  • Type Chinese characters (simplified or traditional), and
  • Draw Chinese characters using a Java program.  This function is not accessible via the web on your iPad.  However, you can get around this by activating the iPad keyboard named "Chinese-Traditional:  Handwriting" or "Chinese-Simplified:  Handwriting."  Check out this blog to find out how to do this in just a few easy steps.

    There are also two alternative method for looking up entries, which are based on the root radical. 
    • Select a radical (simplified or traditional) and also the number of additional strokes.  The dictionary will provide you with a list of characters (based on the 4,000 most common characters) that fit your criteria.
      • The pool of entries that the dictionary pulls from (X number of common characters) can be increased by purchasing membership. 
    • If you remember part of a character such as the character's structure and one of the component pieces, the dictionary will provide you with a list of characters (based on the 500 most common characters) that fit your criteria. 
      • The pool of entries that the dictionary pulls from (X number of common characters) can be increased by purchasing membership.  

          Input using 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) is not available, but YellowBridge offers you a great conversion chart.  

          Apple Tree Chinese Story App

          AppleTreeBooks produces story apps in Chinese/English for both iPad and iPhone.  The iPad apps provide an option for Traditional or Simplified Characters, but do not provide either the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) or the pinyin to help the children read along.  However the illustrations are awesome!  The easiest way to find these stories is to visit their website (

          QLL Chinese Story Apps

                Wow!  I recommend any of the story apps by QLL (Quick Language Learning Inc. Ltd.).  The easiest way to find these apps is to visit the company's website ( and then choose the type of app you need to download (iPad, iPhone, Android, etc).  There are usually some free stories and several that you can purchase.  Check back often as new stories become available!

          Some of the apps use traditional characters along with 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ); some of the stories use simplified characters.  So be sure to look at the description or the screenshots of the app in order to verify what is included.  In general, I have found that the iPad apps use traditional characters along with the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ; the iPhone apps use the simplified characters.  I presume this is due to the screen size and therefore is an attempt at making the characters easier to read on the smaller screens.  The company also produces apps for Androids, but I can't attest to those app functions.

          Here's some more information about the iPad apps- What is great about these apps is that they were designed for kids learning 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).  In addition, you can control the language settings to control both the written text and the audio output.  Do you want English or Chinese text?  Do you want the story read to you in Chinese, English, or both?  Or would you rather there be no audio so that you can practice reading the characters yourself?  Yea!  Practical application of reading skills!  There are currently more than 30 stories produced by this company including:  Snow White, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Frog Prince, and The Three Little Pigs).

          Update!  I've taken screen shots of "The Three Little Pigs" and printed them on paper so my kids now have a book they can color.  I'm also using a white-out pen to cover up the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ of the characters my kids are learning to read by sight.

               I choose  "The Three Little Pigs" as my test run for several reasons:
          • My kids are already very familiar with the story.
          • There is lots of repetition of the vocabulary.
          • The vocabulary is fairly simple and my kids are familiar with it (if not the character themselves); the grammar is also simple.
          • The kids have memorized several of the characters in this story and can recognize them without the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ (For example, 三,小,有,他,的, 一, 了, 子, 二, 心, 大, 聽, 好, 喜歡, 吃, 口, 是, 家, 門, 不, 我, 你, 叫, 說, 給, 裡, 去, 兩, 生, 力, 想, 也, 笑, 下, 個, 來, 明, 快, 水, and 樂.)
          If you would like to make your own hard copy of the book, you can do that easily on an iPad by creating your own screenshots.  Simply go to the page you want to take a picture of, then press the "Home Button" and the "On/Off Button" simultaneously; this will create a picture and store it in your photo library.  Then email the picture to yourself (I use the Facebook app to accomplish this) and paste the picture into a document you can print (like Microsoft Word).

            loveChinese iPad App

            loveChinese 小宝宝学中- This is a quiz-type program.  The primary purpose of the app is to reinforce already studied basic vocabulary, not to teach the vocabulary- so you'll need to introduce the vocabulary to your kids before they use the app.    The lite version (free) will quiz your child on numbers (Chinese characters 1-9), shapes, and colors.  There are nine additional packs (fruits & vegetables, transportation, animals, daily necessities, occupation, insects & birds, numbers (Arabic), basic words (1), and basic words (2)) that you can purchase.

            Kids earn e-stickers as rewards, and parents can determine how often those rewards are earned on the Settings page.  The nice thing about this app is that you can set it to display注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ), or Mainland Chinese pinyin.  You also control whether simplified or traditional characters are displayed. 

            ABCs and Me

            ABCs and Me- This is a free flashcard app that teaches numbers (0-100), shapes, colors, transportation, and food in Chinese using both simplified characters and pinyin (adjust the language under settings).  The nice thing about this app is that the parent can control which flashcards a child sees.  For example, if you only want the child to study numbers 1-5, you can set that.  

            To control the "favorite" flashcards that your child sees, do the following two steps.  First, touch the star outline in the top, right-hand corner of the flashcards you want your child to study so that the star turns yellow (like in the picture seen here).  Next, go to the home page and touch the gear in the upper, right-hand corner (this opens the settings).  In the settings page, find "Favorites Only" and slide the bar so that it displays "On."  Voila, personalized flashcards!

            ㄅㄆㄇ學注音 iPad App

            ㄅㄆㄇ注音- I cannot say enough good things about this app and this company in general.  It was produced by QLL (Quick Language Learning Inc. Ltd.) for the purpose of teaching pre-elementary children about the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) system.  The company also produced several other story-book apps in Chinese/English.  Some use the simplified characters with pinyin; others use traditional characters with 注音符號.  To find out more about the QLL story-books, check out this post.

            The home page displays the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ alphabet and your child can select the sound s/he wishes to study.  Next s/he is shown the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letter along with the stroke order used to write the letter.  Three words (characters plus ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) that contain the target sound are also displayed.  Your child can click on a link at the bottom of the page that will take him/her to a story sample.  The story sample contains an example of the target sound within a word and your child is asked to identify the word with the target sound.  This is not too difficult since all the stories produced by QLL for iPad include the注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) next to the characters.  

            ㄅㄆㄇ App by 5QChannel

            ㄅㄆㄇ- This is a wonderful program written by "5QChannel."  Throughout the app, children's knowledge of the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) sounds are reinforced by constant pairing of the sounds with the  ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letters.  From the home page, kids choose which ㄅㄆㄇㄈ sound they want to explore.

            Each sound can be explored in several ways:  
            • By clicking around an image-rich picture (like that shown here) to find words containing the target sound (i.e. Find a picture of a word that starts with the sound ".");
            • By reading the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) of four different words, which promotes a lexicon of words associated with each sound; and
            • By searching for the hidden 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) letter in a picture, which reinforces letter recognition.

            快樂學注音 lite iPad App

            注音 lite- a flashcard app that will reinforce the注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) sounds.  You can purchase the extended version and get access to a practice section as well as a writing section.

            HuaYu World

            The Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, R.O.C.(Taiwan) in conjunction with HanYu World has a TON of great resources.  The only problem is accessing them if you don't speak Chinese.  The home page (  has a langauge button in the top right corner, but since most of what is posted is pictures, a lot of the content is not translated.  Here are the top links that I've found helpful.

            The ㄅㄆㄇㄈ Alphabet- Check out this website that lists several 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) websites/games.  I recommend clicking on the link above and then scrolling down the page until you see this picture (the one shown to the right here).  By clicking on the picture in the HanYu World blog, you can download this game.  Inside the program, kids can choose which ㄅㄆㄇㄈ sound to investigate.  They will be given a picture of an object that contains the sound and will see how the object looks like the  ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letter.  See below for an example.

            If the website above is not working, please try this one.

            Also, check out this file, which provides a file with all the pictures from this game.  Post them on your wall for quick reference!

            Leveled Reading- This site hosts free, online, leveled reading programs that give children the opportunity to practice their 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).  Check them out at:


   This is a very nice site published by "Mandarin Daily News" that allows your child explore the individual ㄅㄆㄇ sounds with a simple click.  The audio has excellent quality.

            Counting 101 iPad App

            Counting101- A very basic app that teaches numbers (1-9) and counting.  However, I think this app could be more flexible- right now you hear the Chinese, but only the Arabic numbers are shown.

            Chinese Number Trainer iPad App

            Chinese Number Trainer- This is a fun, free app for adults learning Chinese as a second language.  This app is nice because it provides a guide, which gives an excellent overview of how to count in Chinese and includes a brief discussion of how to read a phone number.  The guide provides the pronunciation using pinyin.  

            The app is designed like a game in which the learner is asked to find a particular number from a multiple choice set (you can change the setting so that you control the number range you are quizzed on (0-100, 0-1,000, 1,000-10,000, or 10,000-1,000,000).  There is a time limit, and you try to beat your best score.  The app is free, but will only allow you to play the game 5 times a day for free.  To play more often you must purchase the full version. 


            GenkiChinese- written by Richard (sorry, no last name) this website posts songs and simple games that can be used to teach and reinforce simple vocabulary and sentence memorization.  Types of vocabulary include:  numbers, colors, body parts, names of fruits, the months of the year, directions, names of countries, and different types of drinks.  

            There are two components to most every game on the site.  The first is the vocabulary introduction.  This is where the user can click around the screen and hear the vocabulary.  The simple characters and the pinyin pronunciation also flash up on the screen to help reinforce character recognition.  The second component is the game.  Typically the game asks the user to listen to a vocabulary word and then correctly identify it on the screen.  These games are easy and anyone with a mouse can play- even my five-year old!

            I would suggest reviewing the fruits vocabulary with your child before having him/her play the game.  There are two reasons:
            1. During the game, the picture for grape is a picture of one grape; however, during the review the picture is of a bunch of grapes.  This may be confusing to some students.
            2. Some of the vocabulary is new/different.  Some children learn 菠蘿 (bōluó, ㄅㄛ ㄌㄨㄛˊ ) and some learn 鳳梨 (fènglí, ㄈㄥˋ ㄌㄧˊ ).  Depending on which word your student learned for pineapple, you may need to introduce the alternative.  Remind your student that English also has many words that mean the same thing.  For example: sofa & couch; road & street; child & kid; etc.
            The site also has songs to help language learners remember sentences.  For example, he's produced a song called "你好吗?" (ㄋㄧˇ ㄏㄠˇ ㄇㄚ˙?, Nǐ hǎo ma?, How are you?).  It's a good representation of the types of songs he creates.  Be careful- the songs tend to stick in your head!

            Please, preview the songs first before sharing with your children.  In the song called "请给我" (ㄑㄧㄥˇ ㄍㄟˇㄨㄛˇ, Qǐng gěi wǒ, Please give me) the word "beer" appears.