I’m always looking for ways to encourage my kids to learn Chinese — a task that is not always easy in small-town Kansas, where their bilingual education is largely up to me. Chinese for Munchkins is an iPhone app developed by two moms who are raising their own kids to be bilingual. Heidi Yu Spurrell and Lisa Ting wanted an app that featured both Mandarin and Cantonese for their kids, so they got to work creating one.
Chinese for Munchkins has four different modes: Animals, Numbers, Memory, and Counting Pigs. The Animals section is similar to Langu, another language-flashcard app, except instead of photography it features the whimsical illustrations of Bibi Devoy, which are really cute. Also, tapping on the animal itself makes it spin around and play a noise — actually, a woman’s voice saying the animal noise, which is not the most accurate but is pretty funny. (The giraffe says “Streeetch. Streeetch.”) You can also tap the words, both English and Chinese, to hear those words spoken, and there’s a setting to change between English and Mandarin. I can’t vouch for the Cantonese pronunciations since I don’t speak it, but the Mandarin is fairly accurate. (Originally I found some of the pronunciations a little off, but a recent update has corrected those.)
Numbers mode uses the same animals but shows different numbers of them so you can learn the numbers as well. The memory game gives a choice between matching animals and numbers, and has five difficulty levels, ranging from six to twenty-four cards. Each time a card is flipped, the animal or number is pronounced; matching cards reveals the illustration behind. Finally, there’s a Counting Pigs mode: winged pigs fly across the screen, and the app counts them out loud as you drag them into the barn. It’s quite silly and random, but my kids loved it.
What I like about Chinese for Munchkins is that it looks like a kids’ book — the illustrations are wonderful — and the interface is simple enough that my three-year-old had no trouble with it. Both of my kids (the older is six) enjoyed hearing what sounds the animals would make, and I found that without my prompting they were repeating the animal names and numbers as they played with it. Of course, no app is a substitute for actually hearing the language spoken live by a person and practicing, but it helps make Chinese fun for my kids, which is all I can ask for.
Chinese for Munchkins is $1.99 from the App Store. Or, you can try out the lite version for free; it has the same functions but the counting only goes up to ten, and there are fewer animals. For more about the app and its creators, visit the Chinese for Munchkins website.
Wired: Delightful illustrations, Cantonese and Mandarin options, a number of modes to entertain and educate your kids.
Tired: Not a substitute for other language education, but a pretty fun little game.
Disclosure: I received a free download code for review purposes.