AppStore User Rating:
Chinese Letter Academy presents characters for common Chinese words with sequenced strokes to make sure that children trace, then copy the character correctly using visual and kinesthetic memory skills. There is a practice mode and a dictation function.
- Accesses both visual and kinesthetic memory
- Dictation feature available in both Cantonese and Mandarin
- Teaches order of strokes
- Grid overlay that helps with stroke placement
- Gradual steps toward writing independence
Chinese Letter Academy is a high-quality app that works reliably and in the way intended. The developers have included features such as the capability to create individual accounts, the ability to see student’s efforts and the option to use or turn off background music that make the app more functional. The app also includes a dictation function and the ability to see a screen-capture video of how the student formed each character in the dictation mode.
Chinese Letter Academy uses proven teaching techniques to help young children and beginning learners tackle a very complex task: learning to write Chinese characters. The app begins students with five built-in characters, each with a structured practice pattern. Students can watch the character being formed correctly, then trace the lines in the proper order. Next, the app gives clues about where to start each stroke. In addition, letters are formed on an overlay with vertical, horizontal and diagonal guidelines that will help learners to position each stroke correctly. The app allows parents and teachers to select characters for dictation in Mandarin or Cantonese. When writing the characters from the dictation, no prompts are available but the guidelines are still in place to help the student recall where to position each stroke. This method of assessment will help teachers or parents to tell if the student has mastered the character.
One very nice feature is in the record-keeping section. Students with accounts have records of multiple sessions stored in the app. “Guests” have records for the current session only. The records of the practice mode show each attempt with the greyed model underneath the student’s strokes so you can assess the quality of the child’s effort. The records for the dictation activity actually show a video screencast of the strokes as they were produced, which would be invaluable for teachers or parents who want to know exactly how the student performed. The dictation feature is also timed (you can set the time between thirty and sixty seconds per character), so a student who does not respond will still be moved through the exercise.
Chinese Letter Academy utilizes a number of sound educational strategies to help beginning learners master writing each character. Students can see and feel how to form each stroke. The guidelines provide points of reference to help with positioning each line. The spoken version of each word is available to the student at any time simply by tapping the desired language button. If students have difficulty with making any stroke accurately, the app will provide an auditory cue to try again, and after several incorrect attempts, will add visual cues such as a starting point, an ending point, and animated arrows showing the direction the stroke should be made in. Each incorrect attempt will activate an additional prompt until the student is able to replicate the correct stroke.
Chinese Letter Academy is not really intended to be entertaining, but it does manage to take a repetitive and often boring or frustrating task and make it more interesting. Correct responses are rewarded with a colorful animated bird flying across the screen, and on the most difficult level, there are animated blossoms that show up with different colors and patterns. Children will also be very intrigued by watching their own strokes appearing in order after they complete the dictate activity and are likely to learn from the experience as well.
Chinese Letter Academy is a good value. The free version comes with five Chinese characters built in, allowing users to access both the practice and dictation modes, store records for multiple users, and more. Adults can purchase additional words on an as-needed basis for $0.99 per ten words. The developers have set up a token-based system allowing users to purchase only the words they want or need from a selection of characters commonly taught in the first year of school. Each character allows unlimited practice and dictation. It’s a great idea to allow purchase of specific words, but the cost of nearly ten cents per word seems somewhat expensive. Perhaps a scheme where the price drops when larger numbers of words are purchased would help.
Chinese Letter Academy is child-friendly. The app contains no outside advertisements and no links to social media. The links to the parents’ section, the dictation section and to make additional purchases of words in the App Store are protected by a parent gate that requires users to press and hold buttons for two seconds. This gate may not stop a determined young student from accessing these sections since the message about holding for two seconds appears when the icons are pressed. It is a concern that children will be faced with a rating request after the first few uses, and will be taken to the App Store if they respond to this. This should definitely be a protected option rather than out in the open where any child could accidentally get into the App Store. The parent gate could also be strengthened so parents would feel more secure knowing that access to these protected areas was less likely all together.
Chinese Letter Academy is a great way to introduce a young child to the process of writing Chinese characters.