A few months back I had the opportunity to try out Shi Zi: A Primer of Chinese Characters. The website outlined the goal of the application, which are as follows:
"Most Chinese characters consist of components that represent physical things. This primer uses animations to teach 88 Chinese characters that are components in many other Chinese characters. Mastering these 88 characters will provide a foundation for Chinese language learners to quickly learn the other characters."
After completing all of the various Chinese Character sets, I thought it would be a good idea to give it a review.
Positives about the application:
Firstly, the application has a really unique and Chinese feel to it. The layout is simple to follow and I loved the different 獎品 (jiǎngpǐn: prizes) that you receive for completing practice sets, it helps add that extra bit of encouragement when you get 100%.
The topics they selected are all really great as well. The mix of animals, locations, people, weather etc. provide a ride range of characters for people learning Chinese and a lot of background information on Chinese culture. With the exception of some of the animals, much of the vocabulary would be found within a first or second year Chinese language textbook.
Unlike your basic flash card systems, Shi Zi incorporates animations and pictures to help students memorize the characters. For those of use who are more visual learners this is a huge bonus. Trying the animation and pictures to the character, making them easier to recall the next time you see them. An example of 日 (rì: a day; the sun; date) can be seen below.
A huge plus to this application is the the ability to record your own voice and play it back while studying. Although I didn't use the option very often, I think that other learners who are still new to Chinese pronunciation will find this component very useful. I did notice that when using the record function my voice came in a lot softer than I expected, but turning the volume up a little louder and speaking louder were easy enough fixes.
The program allows students to choose Chinese or English as an audio background. When I used the application I had the audio set to Chinese the entire time. However, I noticed that the background information on the Chinese character was still in English. If they changed the background info to Chinese it might give those more advanced (or super curious students) even more opportunity to study some of the vocabulary and sentence patterns being used.
The negatives (or things I would personally change):
I did find that after spending more than 20 minutes reviewing I was a little sick of hearing the women end many of the explanations by asking if you can still see the similarities between the traditional character and what is used today in modern China. I know that it is a set pattern, but it sure got annoying.
One thing that I did want at the end was the ability to study all the words together, or in larger blocks. By taking the characters and putting them all together it gives a better test of how much the student has learned overall. Also, I think it would be nice to have the names of the prizes in Chinese as well as in English. Again, this allows students to learn even more material than being presented if they wish too.
I did like the fact that the application made use of both listening and visual aids to select characters. This is certainly an application designed for students with a basic understand of Chinese, or those who are looking to get a solid start. Compared to many of the other applications out there in this price range I would say that it is well worth $1.99. Even though I have been studying Chinese for quite a while, I still felt that this was a useful learning tool.
Subject Matter: 4/5