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A Review of Ninchinese | An Immersive, Story-Based Language Learning Tool

A Review of Ninchinese | An Immersive, Story-Based Language Learning Tool

I know that it’s not for everyone, but I enjoy using Duolingo. In all honesty, my biggest problem with the app is that it isn’t available in the languages that I’m currently studying.

That’s why I’ve been on the lookout for a fun and engaging app for Mandarin.

When NinChanese contacted me about testing the beta version of their app, I jumped at the opportunity. I had tried ChineseSkill, but it wasn’t for me, and so I was still looking for something to fill that space in my language learning toolbox.

I’m happy to say that after spending a couple of weeks with the app and passing the entirety of the first world, that NinChanese may just be that app.

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About the NinChanese Application

NinChanese is a story-based, interactive language application that teaches you to speak, read, write, and understand Chinese. They utilize game mechanics, levels, epic quests and challenges, rewards and feedback to keep Chinese language learners engaged.

“Learn Chinese as you Enter in a Unique and Immersive Story

The Nincha village is in trouble. Its Pearl of Chinese knowledge was stolen!

You’re a baby dragon that needs to learn to read, write, understand and speak Chinese to save the Nincha cats.

With your friend Nincha, the lucky cat, you’ll need to travel the NinChana world to find and face the Knowledge guardians. As you go, you learn Chinese vocabulary, Chinese grammar, learn to Speak Chinese and master the Chinese tones.

Each venerable guardian is a step closer to the pearl and a paw closer to you confidently and easily speaking Chinese!

Are you ready?”

Ninchanese follows a narrative structure with an adorable cast of characters leading you along on your language learning journey. It is a gamified language learning app that keeps track of your progress through a wide range of stats. It offers challenging, yet fun ways for you to review the material that you’ve learnt.

How Does the App Work?

First, I’d like to make note of how beautifully illustrated the NinChanese app is. I know that it doesn’t have anything to do with how the application functions for language learning, but the user interface for this app is outstanding and it just adds to the enjoyment of using it. You can see what I mean by watching the trailer below:

Each lesson begins with a short narrative, continuing the story, before you launching into a variety of exercises. There are currently three different exercises and each segment of the various worlds alternates between learning vocabulary, building sentences, and listening/speaking. Each world segment is progressive, and you cannot continue through to the next without finishing the previous (the later segments are locked).

You also have the option of challenging other users. You randomly select a card and it prompts you to either write the pinyin spelling or the English translation of the word. It is then the next players turn. You wait for them to do the same. It alternates until the game expires.

As you progress through the worlds, your dragon levels up, you collect badges for various milestones (there’s even a Pokemon badge for when you’ve learnt 151 words!), and you earn points.

You can see how you rank against other learners in the Ninchanese leaderboards, challenge your friends, review the material you’ve learnt, or learn new words.

My Thoughts

The game is somewhat addicting. I want to know how the story continues and progressing through the levels makes me feel accomplished. I would definitely say this is a point in Ninchanese’s favor. You don’t have to worry about finding the motivation to study – the game is engaging and addicting enough that you want to go back to continue working on your Chinese.

As I mentioned before, the user interface is beautiful and it makes the experience of using Ninchanese that much more enjoyable. Definitely another point earned here.

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The app, however, isn’t yet available for phones or mobile devices which is kind of a bummer. I’d love to be able to play on the go and it is currently only browser based. In my interview with Sarah, the co-founder of Ninchanese, she told me that they are planning on releasing a mobile app, so I am eagerly looking forward to it!

My biggest frustrations with the app were definitely things that could be easily changed. And when I reached out to Ninchanese about them, it turns out that they were already working on improving each of them.

Here were my suggestions for improvement and Ninchanese found Sarah’s responses:

  1. You are not required to include the tone markers when typing the pinyin versions of the words. I would really like to see this added since tones are such an important aspect of the language. Using numbers at the ends of the pinyin spellings would suffice (i.e. wo3 shuo1 de5 bu4 hao3.)

    Sarah: “I definitely agree that tones are extremely important to learn in Chinese. On Ninchanese, you can actually enter tone numbers when playing in pinyin, and the system will tell you if it’s correct or not. We chose not to make that mandatory because we have specific tone exercises planned, that’ll be more audio-based. I feel one should learn to recognize tones they hear, and also internalize the whole sound unit for a given word or character (sound and tone) – so that afterward, you’re able to sound out a word and figure out what tones they are. Learning tones by heart doesn’t feel like the best way to go for us, which is why we don’t force you to enter them. They should come naturally. That being said, I do agree we don’t emphasize them enough as is.
  2. That you need to include the translations exactly as they appear in the app rather than any variation you might have learned elsewhere. Again, another issue with the exercises. This is maybe just me, but it was a bit frustrating while completing the exercises. I learned words like 呢 and 吗 as “markers” or “particles.” When I insert “particle” as my response, it requires that I include which kind of particle it is – past, question, etc. When I “question marker” I get the answer wrong because the correct answer is “question particle” not marker. It’s a small thing, but it’s frustrating when I get something wrong over whether it’s called a “marker” or a “particle”. Another was “in front” or “in front of” – both were technically correct, but the app would not accept the variation in response. This could easily be resolved by more variations on what the correct answers might be being input into the exercises.

    Sarah: “I wholeheartedly agree our system is way too strict as is. Improving this system is next on our to-do list, in fact, and we’re currently thinking about how best to improve this vocab system, to introduce more flexibility in the accepted answers. Accepting more variations, more “fuzzy matching” is probably the way we’ll go. We’d love to have more user-based input on variations as well.
  3. The computer-generated voice used on some of the audio – especially when the words were mispronounced. The poorly pronounced words from a computer-generated voice make it really difficult to get a good sense of how the language actually sounds.

    Sarah: “We’re just starting out so we’ve postponed recording native speakers and opted for computer-generated speech as a way to have sound to start out with. It’s not perfect and there are indeed some mistakes. We try to track these down to re-upload them — and some of our users also send us feedback on troublesome words, which is fantastic. Real voice recordings are in our plans. The will sound more accurate and natural, which is important for language learners. It’s not just a matter of proper pronunciation, it’s also a question of flow and rhythm. We are mostly waiting to finish creating all our content before we start recording real live humans!

So as you can see, in the end, there’s not much to complain about (or there won’t be soon)!

In Conclusion

Ninchanese definitely has a lot to offer, and seeing as it’s still in beta, I imagine the app will only continue to improve. I really enjoyed the storyline and the game elements of Ninchanese and I look forward to seeing them further develop those features.

Ninchanese will soon begin promoting their Kickstarter campaign in order to continue to build their application. I’m definitely going to contribute to it because I definitely believe that it will evolve into something impressive and I’d love to continue using the app.

I look forward to seeing what they do with Ninchanese and to having the opportunity to delve further into the saga of Lupichu and his Nincha Cat friends.

If you’re interested in trying Ninchanese out yourself, head here to request a beta account.

I hope you have enjoyed this review. I look forward to your thoughts and/or experiences with Chinese language learning applications, or even Ninchanese, in the comments below!

© 2020 Shannon Kennedy & Eurolinguiste. All Rights Reserved.

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