Customer Reviews: My Chinese Coach - Nintendo DS
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...I have to compromise with "4".

NOV. 8, 2009 EDITED TO ADD: Just noted the price drop! Wow. I thought it was a great value at $[...] but its now under $[...]. My recommendation: "Buy, buy!" if you are at all interested in Chinese or in going to China (where this really -could- be helpful, if used properly). And...if you're an educator teaching Chinese at ANY level, I'd strongly urge you to buy a class set! This is a fantastic deal now. What a learning opportunity!

******I've had some Chinese classes in the past so...I think I understand the strengths and weaknesses of "My Chinese Coach" for the variety of people who might try it.

First, the excellent. Spoken Chinese is difficult because of the tones of words. "My Chinese Coach" lets you practice tones and train your ear. A great feature is that you can listen to a word or phrase read in Mandarin, then record yourself saying it, then--if you want to--play both together to see how close you sound. This is a terrific feature, especially practicing tones.

Another good thing is the vocabulary unfolds just like it would in a class--not a lot of words in each lesson, grouped by themes, and with a cute gimmick of advancing you through landmarks in Beijing (Ubisoft tried to get it out during the Olympics but just..couldn't quite do it.) have good vocabulary, practice with tones and recording yourself if you want, many different games to get through the lessons (you start with 4, but unlock 12--I think--I've only got to 5)..

The written Chinese language has characters--no alphabet--and one of the games gives you practice with writing. They're very picky, but it's still fun to practice (and people will recognize it if you come close enough--the game is pretty exacting, though, so don't be discouraged).

The phrasebook and dictionary are great! Even if you feel insecure about pronouncing and using Chinese in conversation, these two features would be a great help to someone traveling in China. Just find what you want to say and let the native Chinese speaker hear it from the DS! It's a great idea. (You could also use characters to communicate, if their spoken Chinese is something other than Mandarin).

So...why not give the game five stars? The reason, for me, is the lack of pinyin. Usually you learn Chinese with the alphabet ("pinyin") system first--then gradually learn characters later. This game incorporates written Chinese much too fast, imo, and cuts back on the pinyin (from what I've seen so far) much too soon. (There is a game where you type answers in pinyin, but I'm not sure how a beginner would have become good enough to be able to do this).

Many people who just want to learn conversational Chinese NEVER learn characters (real literacy will take...forever for most Americans). So Ubisoft's choice to use characters in the drills--much, much more than pinyin-- in my opinion, would be a real problem for anyone who hadnt already studied Chinese a lot.

If they had used pinyin for the vocabulary practices far, far, into the game it would be SO much easier and approachable and helpful. With pinyin, even someone who knew NO Chinese would be able to learn quite a bit from this game.

Without much pinyin, I think it would be very very hard (unless you have a good enough ear to hear the words--use your own pinyin to memorize them--and then use "Flash Cards" to practice with the sounds, just ignoring the characters, for the most part).

It is also important to not freak out when you start being tested with the characters (written or spoken). Because the first game you unlock is "Flash Cards" and that is a much better way to learn the vocabulary than the other games before it. (I don't know what other games are unlocked later--hopefully, some with more pinyin used).

Pinyin IS used (as well as English) in the phrasebook and dictionary and that (plus the features above) still makes this a great deal in my opinion, for anyone who'd like to use Chinese--or who's planning to travel to China and wants a "translator" that will be much better than reading from a phrasebook yourself.

This is good for travelers, great for students, and fun for anyone who has interest in spoken and written Chinese (and a little patience with the learning curve, especially at the beginning). At $[...], I think it's a great bargain.
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on September 6, 2008
This is an excellent teaching tool for Chinese. It teaches you the Mandarin dialect (the official language of both China and Taiwan), pinyin (the anglicized pronounciation guide) and the simplified Chinese writing system (used in China).

Each lesson has a few characters and phrases to learn. You can hear the program pronounce each character and phrase, speak into the Nintendo DS to compare your pronounciation to the program, and practice writing. There are also games to play to strengthen the learning process. You can repeat the lessons and games as often as you like.

With Chinese writing, a character is only considered to be written correctly if the strokes are written in the right order and direction (imagine yourself writing a "plus" sign, there are 2 strokes that can come in different directions). So I found the writing part, using the stylus to write the characters, particularly helpful, because I could practice writing the characters.

A huge bonus is the mini-program included that includes travel phrases, dictionary of words known, etc. So if I'm in a restaurant in Beijing, I can choose the dining phrase from the list and show it to the waitor to ask a question.

I've tried to learn Chinese from language CDs, but found it hard to use because the CD's go on their own pace and the pronounciation is very fast. With this program, I can choose to replay something over and over again. With books, I'm not sure if my pronounciation is right. With this program, I can tell easily with the DS' audio capabilities.

So basically, this is the best language teaching tool I've seen for Mandarin (short of moving to China or knowing someone who speaks it fluently.)
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on September 9, 2008
I am a fluent chinese speaker but i can't write in chinese. I have taken many classes and have never really walked away with much success. This game kept me interested and excited to learn. The game has many functions. It first tests you on how much chinese you know, then places you in the right lesson to start with. You can record and compare the pronounication in the game. This game teaches you all the important charaters and grammer. Really good game. Perfect for anyone taking chinese or interested in learning the language.
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on June 17, 2009
I have been studying Chinese for five years and am constantly looking for tools to help me with my studies. Based on the screen shots, I thought that this product would be perfect, however, as I started working through the lessons, I found that, in at least one instance, the tones were wrong, and the character writing games often had incorrect stroke orders and in some cases even the number of strokes was wrong! Unfortunately for me, this ruins the credibility of the software and makes it all but unusable as I don't know what is right and what is wrong. That is why I gave it just one star.
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on August 30, 2008
I'm not looking to master any particular language. My goal in buying these language coach games (I have all three so far) is to familiarize myself with new languages, stimulate my brain, and have fun while doing it. I figure a few minutes a day won't take too much from my life. Keep this in mind as perhaps you may have a different learning goal.

I really like this game so far. The set up is very much like the Spanish and French coach games with one very important addition: it actually gives you a chance to practice writing the characters as well.

Wow this language is so foreign to me so I'm barely learning a few words a day. I expect my word-acquisition rate to increase as I warm up to it after weeks of daily training.

Basically it's broken up into many lessons. Each lesson includes a chance to read the set of words for the lesson, listen to them clearly spoken, say them and compare what you say to how they say it, and then practice writing the words in Chinese. In addition to this basic mode of learning, each lesson has fun mini games and quizzes. It appears that there are more unlockable games, but I haven't made it that far yet.

I'm not sure if you can actually learn a language from any single tool and this is no exception. I do believe, however, that this can make a valuable addition to a language student's toolset. I believe these language games give you a lot for the price. I love the DS for these kinds of educational games, and I look forward to getting more titles of this kind.
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on November 2, 2008
This type of game is such a great idea! I think it's for someone who is quite serious about learning Mandarin (the main language of China), because it really goes into writing the characters. Now, I should have read the directions, then I wouldn't have been so freaked out when it went into a quiz very quickly after starting it. The quiz tests your level of knowledge in Mandarin, so don't worry - you're not supposed to know all of that right off the bat. For me, it said it would start at lesson 4, but I found it more helpful to go back to the introduction lesson, because it had skipped past pinyin (the English letters used to help you to learn pronunciation).

I thought the introduction was more difficult than lessons 1-4, because it goes right into common words/phrases, like "thank you," "welcome". Sure, that sounds like it should be right, but part of what they quiz you on is recognizing the characters. Luckily, the early lessons go slower. You start with how to read pinyin and then how to read tones in pinyin. However, you still are expected to become familiar enough with the characters to recognize them AND write them. That can be good because you are really learning the language. That can be bad for someone who just wants to learn how to speak and/or feels learning characters is too daunting. You have to learn them in this game, though, in order to gather points and unlock new lessons.

What is great about the game are the write and speak options. The write option allows you to practice writing the character, either over top of the character, or on your own by clearing the character from the page. My problem with it is that it doesn't have a repeat button to allow you to repeat one particular character. If you have a word made out of two characters, you have to press forward and back again to repeat it. I also find myself doing this a lot in order to figure out stroke order (the order in which you draw each line of the character - yes, there is an order to it!). This game does not take you through stroke order step-by-step, which I think is a major flaw. The character is "drawn" in front of you, but it goes rather quickly and you can't slow it down. You have to go forward or forward and back to get it to play again. I do this multiple times to figure out the stroke order. Besides that, when you draw characters for the "fading character" quizzes, it does not always pick up incorrect stroke order, or even incorrect characters, for that matter. Drawing characters also does not always work correctly. Sometimes it seems that I can't complete my character and have to clear it and start over because a stroke will not appear where I am trying to draw it. Minor flaws, though. Not enough for me to be turned off by this.

I have to admit, I have not used the speak option yet, but just having it there is awesome! ;) It allows you to record yourself reading the sound/character, and to compare it to their professional speaker. I do, however, have a problem with the speaker. I'm not advanced by any means, but it seems that the way some things are pronounced are a bit off, such as "wu" (five) and "jiu" (nine). I am confident of this because I checked with a native speaker. ;) I think this might be from the speaker's attempt to exaggerate tones used, for the beginner's sake. Tone is important, but it shouldn't be important enough to throw off correct pronunciation, right? Or maybe it's a regional dialect thing? I don't know. Your relative/friend/acquaintance/teacher should be the judge.

I also have to admit that I am only on lesson 6, and there are supposed to be many, many more lessons. I kind of wish lessons were not locked, but in a way it's good to be forced to stick with the lesson plan in the order in which it was meant to be. I also kind of wish you didn't have to learn the characters because it makes learning all that much harder, but I'm thinking of the benefits - hopefully I'll be able to read some things the next time I go to Chinatown, recognize kanji (Chinese-derived Japanese characters) in my manga (Japanese comics) (yes, I know it's not the same, but it's still nice to recognize things, even if they don't always share the same meaning), or actually write messages to relatives or in-laws. That would be cool.

If you want to refresh your memory and go back on what you've learned, you can go to previous lessons through the Learning section. You can test your knowledge though the Games sections, which allows you to choose which of the games you want to play, the difficulty, and whether or not you want to be tested on just words you've mastered, or other words as well.

There are some other options in the Reference section that I haven't made use of yet as well - there is a player status area, a dictionary (you can use by list, search, or mastered words, by English or Mandarin in pinyin), a phrasebook (which goes by category, list, search, and favorites), and a sketchpad. The sketchpad is a very interesting option. It allows you to use two different sized brushes, an eraser, and "undo last stroke" option in order for you or someone else to draw what they mean, whether it be a picture, phone number, or directions. Nice idea, but might not be enough for complicated directions! ;)

All-in-all, I thought this was worth the purchase, as I expect to be using what I learn in the next year. It also makes me interested in purchasing the other languages in this series. There is Japanese (just what I want), Spanish (who couldn't use that?), and French (I've always been curious about this one). I think what is so good about this is the thoroughness of it compared to other language learning programs I've used - you get to hear, speak, and write, with enough lessons to keep you busy for a looooong time! The graphics are very appealing as well. Plus, there are multiple profiles you can use, meaning you not only get to keep track of your progress, but if someone else wants to use it too, they can keep track of their own progress! A lot of thought was put into this game. Good job, Ubisoft!
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on November 25, 2008
So, this is not better than a trip to Beijing but it's a whole lot less expensive. Is it better than an instructor? Arguably... And here's why...

People like us either don't have the time, the money or the patience for class room instruction. If we did, we would be in a class room. We like to learn, but on our own schedule and what we want are the tools and resources to learn effectively! That's what My Chinese Coach is... an effective learning tool.

Here are the pros (IMHO)
1. Structured lessons with words that make sense. True, I probably do not need to know the Chinese word for hemp (unless I'm traveling through China with Snoop Doggy Dogg's entourage) but some words are thrown in to make a point; hemp, for instance was part of a lesson in the different vowel sounds.
2. Voice comparison. You can record your voice and compare it with that of the virtual instructor.
3. Writing tutor. You can practice writing Chinese characters in your lessons.
4. Games. I mean, they're games and they teach you... win, win!
5. Dictionary/Phrasebook. There is a decent sized, searchable dictionary and phrase book included. You can mark your favorite phrases and go back to your favorites list whenever you want!

1. The dictionary/phrasebook does not give you the option of practicing the characters. I wish that were included!
2. You have to "earn points" by playing games that demonstrate your mastery over the lessons before having the next lesson "unlocked". This prevents you from skipping around and studying lessons based on your interest.

Overall, I think this is a great tool for learning Chinese. Because Chinese depends heavily on tones, I cannot imagine learning it without the benefit of hearing it and this game gives you that.

I also went out and bought a book on the 100 essential Chinese characters based on some of the recommendations here on Amazon because I wanted to be sure I was learning the correct stroke order of the characters.

This is a fun way to learn and even my 8 year old daughter is enjoying learning Chinese this way! That's the icing on the cake!
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on January 10, 2009
I bought both Nintendo DS and Chinese Tutor based on positive reviews here.

PRO: With a few exceptions, I'm happy with it. It uses lessons, locked lessons, games, touch screen, microphone very well to create interactive and fun lesons. A bit Anglicized (e.g. shi4 = "yes", guo4qu4 = "past"). Pronunciation is great as is the ability to record voice and play back.

CON: These guys are *sloppy* on writing, which makes some of the writing exercizes very frustrating. Hao3 (good) all of a sudden has the first stroke divided into two and you actually have to *do* it that way to score. qu4 (go) has the penultimate stroke similarly divided. Ba2 (dad) uses the wrong stroke order, chun1 (spring) inserts the 5th stroke at the second instead of the third. Why does this matter? Well, first you don't get points for doing it right :-). Second, stroke count matters when you look up characters and of course for electronic input devices, so you want to learn it the right way.

A minor gripe is that "fill in the missing words" requires you to enter the tone right after the vowel (chu1n instead of chun1) and is picky about spaces (chu1ntia1n is OK, chu1n tia1n is not). Each syllable has only one tone and spaces or not within "terms" - who cares? Why not be lenient here?

In summary: Great first release and still a wonderful and fun learning tool. Needs more QA. Looking forward to the bug-fixed version in an on-line store near me :-).
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on October 2, 2008
I bought this product based on my happiness with UbiSoft's "My French Coach." It's just as good!

Like "My French Coach," "My Chinese Coach" teaches vocabulary and pronunciation by using games and common expressions. I have really learned a lot from the program's ability to record MY voice pronouncing things. I find the little graph that shows a voice print to be incredibly instructive. You can slow down or speed up the recording to match the speed at which you record your own voice, and see exactly where you've gone wrong on the graph while comparing your voice to the teacher's.

Learning to write the script has proven more difficult than I expected, but the tool allows you to write over theirs, repeat theirs, and apply theirs over the top of your own.

Two downsides:
--There is no option in the placement test for saying you don't know, so if you inadvertently guess correctly, you can get placed several lessons in (I got placed at the 5th lesson, and I could only say "thank you," and "happy New Year" when I started). It took me a little while to figure out how to retrace my steps and get to the first lesson. There is no option to just start at the first lesson, or if there is, I didn't find it. (In "My French Coach," I tested more accurately because I knew some French.)
--The script in some of the games is very small. Because these characters are unfamiliar to me, I need them to be large and clear enough that I can learn to distinguish them.
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on September 6, 2010
CON: The characters in the reference tab are too small to see all the strokes. When writing the characters, most of the time you don't even have to be closely accurate and the game will count it. When the game shows stroke order, it is WAY too fast, and there is no way to slow it down.

PRO: Breaks up monotony. The speaking part is awesome. It has a dictionary which will say the word you are looking for.

My recommendation, if you already have a DS, it is worth it, but I bought a DS just for this game and don't think it is worth it.
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