You smell a strange smell...

We're now opening up our game, 火灾, aka Burning Building, to everyone.

You begin the game at home in your apartment when you notice a strange smell. A fire! Can you get out safely and alert the fire department in time?

Stairwell
(photo by kyser sose)

This is our easiest game yet language-wise, but we'll let you decide how easy it is to get a perfect score.

We had delayed this game because while we were performing final testing, the tragic fire in London occurred and we thought it would be insensitive to release the game at that time. We apologize for any similarities between this game any any actual events. It is entirely fictional and was written in its entirety before the London fire.

If you're not yet familiar with our text adventure games, they are like interactive graded readers, and similar to the adventure games of yore (e.g., Zork) or Choose Your Own Adventure books (though more choices and less reading).

How difficult is this game?

火灾 is our easiest game yet. It has only 399 distinct Chinese characters and 501 distinct words. And there is a built in dictionary to help with words you don't know. Furthermore, the vast majority of the text is composed of just a couple hundred characters.

Hint: There are multiple ways the game is configured and each time you play you may need to try different ways to get out of the building. But if you read carefully, there are clues that direct you toward the right exit. And by playing multiple times, you can try and find all the ways out of the building.

We also created a word list containing all the words in the game, which you can use to practice using WordSwing's activities or export to Anki or any other app. For tips about how to use word lists to prep for a text adventure, see Into the Haze is not as hard as you think.

How do I play?

Our text adventure games are a mixture of reading the game narrative and making choices about what your protagonist should do. See our recent blog posts for more detail on how to play and much more about our adventure games:

Let's go!

The games are free to demo (up to 10 choices), but you will need to become a subscriber to play the full game and restore from checkpoints. And as of now, we still have our Early Backer discount, so it's only $3/month.

Try it out!

We hope you enjoy, and please don't hesitate to let us know what you think.

Cheers,

Kevin & Olle

PS: While this game doesn't have audio yet, we hope to be able to make recordings soon.

Your new job at the zoo

We're pleased to introduce our newest text adventure game, 动物园, or simply, Zoo.

It's your first day on the job as an assistant zookeeper. Can you manage to follow the instructions of your boss on how to feed the animals and carry out other tasks around the zoo? Beware though, this is not an ordinary zoo!

Lazy tiger
(photo by Tambako)

If you're not familiar with our text adventure games yet, they are like interactive graded readers, and similar to the adventure games of yore (e.g., Zork) or Choose Your Own Adventure books (though more choices and less reading).

The games are focused on Chinese reading comprehension. And in this particular game there is an emphasis on following instructions.

You are asked to feed five of the zoo's animals. Since it's your first day on the job, your boss initially gives you instructions on how to feed one animal. If you manage that, then you are given more instructions and have more tasks.

Each time you play from the beginning, the details of how to feed the animals and the other tasks change, so read carefully! And getting a perfect score requires careful reading indeed!

How difficult is this game?

Zoo has 472 distinct Chinese characters and 620 distinct words. But don't let this scare you. There is a built in dictionary and the vast majority of the text is composed of just a few hundred characters. This puts it at about the same difficulty as Escape.

So if you know a few hundred Chinese characters, you can likely play the game successfully with the help of the dictionary. And along the way you will quickly become familiar with the core set of words used to navigate the zoo and carry out your assignments.

The game in its entirety is just shy of 10,000 Chinese characters. And although the full narrative is longer than Escape, there is more variation game to game, and so it's one successful path through would be about the same length.

How do I play?

Our text adventure games are a mixture of reading the game narrative and making choices about what your protagonist should do. The story is revealed line by line, giving you a chance to focus on each one before continuing.

You control the protagonist's actions by choosing among several possibilities at each juncture. When you get to a choice, these will be displayed below the narrative. Each choice has a numbered button and you tap the button to select that choice.

The game interface looks like this:

In the screenshot above there happens to be just one choice (you would select it by tapping the button labeled "1").

And as always, you reach checkpoints along the way that you can restore your game from later.

Please see our other blog posts about our text adventure games for more information about how to play and how to make the best use of the games for learning Chinese:

Let's go!

The games are free to demo (up to 10 choices), but you will need to become a subscriber to play the full game and restore from checkpoints. And as of now, we still have our Early Backer discount, so it's only $3/month.

Try it out!

We hope you enjoy, and please don't hesitate to let us know what you think.

Cheers,

Kevin & Olle

PS: While this game doesn't have audio yet, we hope to be able to make recordings soon.

Word lists for Children's stories

As a language learner, it is often challenging to find material that is ability-appropriate.

Child reading
(photo by Mi PHAM)

We have tried to address this problem by building some activities, such as our text games, dialogs, and quiz tournaments, that are targeted to intermediate and upper-intermediate learners of Chinese.

But there is a lot of material out there on the Internet that may be great practice, but is separate from WordSwing and doesn't allow you to take advantage of WordSwing's tools.

We are under no delusion that WordSwing should be your only learning tool. And we emphatically believe it should not be. At most, it should be one of many tools.

But we would like to help as much as we can. And so, with that in mind, we'd like to point out some word lists we made to accompany Children's books that are already out there on YouTube.

Initially we've created a word list to go with each of 8 children's stories. Each story has a high quality YouTube reading of the story.

When you browse the publish lists, you should see eight word lists among those published that correspond to Children's stories. They should look like these two:

One way to use these word lists would be as follows:

  1. Fork the published list.
  2. Use the "Prune list" feature to remove any words that you have already marked as "learning" or "mastered".
  3. Preview the words by clicking through and drill down into any words you don't recognize (tap the word on on the Word List when "Drill-down" mode is enabled).
  4. Listen to the story on YouTube and try and recognize any words you remember from previewing the words.
  5. Practice the words in the Pronunciation Recall gadget.
  6. Repeat steps 3,4, and 5 as desired until you're satisfied with having learned some new words.

We've explained these steps in more detail in our post, Into the Haze is not as hard as you think.

Here's a list of the stories, and links to the videos and word lists:

  1. 乱七八糟 (luànqībāzāo) | Video | Word List
  2. 小鼹鼠的鸟宝宝 (xiǎo yǎnshǔ de niǎo bǎobǎo) | Video | Word List
  3. 大猩猩和小星星 (dàxīngxīng hé xiǎo xīngxīng) | Video | Word List
  4. 爱吃水果的牛 (ài chī shuǐguǒ de niú) | Video | Word List
  5. 礼物 (lǐwù) | Video | Word List
  6. 我想念你 (wǒ xiǎngniàn nǐ) | Video | Word List
  7. 爷爷一定有办法! (yéyé yīdìng yǒu bànfǎ) | Video | Word List
  8. 脱不下来啊!(tuō bù xiàlái a) | Video | Word List

Even if our text games are a bit too hard for you, we hope you will enjoy these fun and engaging children's stories. And perhaps the word list tools on WordSwing will make it easier to explore the words and track your progress learning them.

Cheers,

Kevin

A fast-paced Chinese character memory game.

Mastering the thousands of Chinese characters can seem an incredibly daunting task, particularly given how fast they seem to escape one's memory.

But the task can seem less scary when it's broken down into its constituent pieces:

  1. Finding out how each character is pronounced and what it means.
  2. Learning how the character is used in context and some words that contain it.
  3. Building up the neural connections that allow you to recognize and recall the character quickly and persist that ability long-term.
  4. Continuing to practice so your character knowledge doesn't erode away.

Between our activities and drill-down tools, we're trying to offer ways you can work on all of these at WordSwing. But today I'd like to talk about a new game that helps with the last two.

Character Memory Grid game

This new little arcade game helps you practice your ability to quickly recognize characters.

I'll first introduce the game, but keep reading if you want to find how we've designed the game to maximize how many distinct characters you can review.

Character memory grid game screenshot

The game shows a 3x3 grid of Chinese characters with the pronunciation of one of those characters above. The game is very simple. You simply tap on the character with that pronunciation before you run out of time.

If you are correct, that character is removed and a new one slides into that column or row and the game keeps going. Also, two other characters slide out and two new ones slide in, causing the characters to shift locations.

If you'd like to get a better sense of how the game works, you can watch this short video:

Give it a whirl!

Fast practice

One way to measure how much recognition practice you're getting is to consider the number of characters you are recognizing per minute.

Hands down the highest throughput activity is reading; all you are doing is just recognizing characters as fast as you can go. Reading is probably also the best activity in other respects too. For example, you see the characters in the context of words, and the words in the context of thoughts and situations and behaviors.

Unfortunately, reading is not very fast if the material is too difficult for you. It can also be very demoralizing. Any student who has tried to read a Chinese newspaper before they have mastered a few thousand characters can attest to this.

This is why we created our text adventure games, like Escape and Into the Haze. A student who knows 500-800 characters can read this game text at about 60 characters per minute (based on timing one individual), which includes time to look up unfamiliar words in the built-in dictionary.

In contrast, when reviewing words using one of our most popular activities, Frequency-ordered SRS, students on average only review words at a rate of about 5.8 characters per minute (based on actual student review data). And the Pronunciation Recall is not much better, which has a rate of 5.9 characters per minute.

An important difference between reading and spaced-repetition is that when reading, you're seeing many of the same characters over and over, and you don't get much of an opportunity to practice the rare ones. If we go back to our reading experiment, which was based on Into the Haze, the individual read 360 characters in 6 minutes. Among these there were 147 distinct characters. And thus the reading rate of distinct characters was 25 characters per minute. That's still way above the 6 (mostly distinct) characters you would encounter in either of the two SRS activities.

But can we do something to speed up the practice of arbitrary subsets of characters?

This was the motivation behind this new game, Character Memory Grid.

In this game, given you need to move fast and new characters keep getting added to the mix, you end up recognizing about 24 distinct characters per minute. This is now right up there with reading. So although you don't get reading's many other benefits, you do get to practice arbitrary subsets of characters.

Just to recap the rates at which you'll come across distinct characters in various activities:

  • Text adventure games: 25 characters/minute
  • Frequency-ordered SRS: 6 characters/minute
  • Pronunciation Recall: 6 characters/minute
  • Character Memory Grid: 24 characters/minute

Learning through the grid game

Racing against the clock in this activity will exercise your ability to recognize characters and recall their pronunciation. But if you don't know a character or forgot it, you're stuck.

Not to worry, once the timer has run out, you can check the pronunciations of the characters in the grid, and learn more about the characters you got right or wrong.

Between episodes (when the grid is gray) you can tap the "Show" button to view pronunciations of all of the characters:

Also, the game keeps track of all the characters you answer correctly, and your incorrect answers (including the solution when you run out of time):

Any of those hyperlinks (in the game) can be clicked on to open those characters in the drill down tool. You can also click on any of the squares (between episodes) and open the character that way.

You can then use the many drill down tools that WordSwing offers to help you explore the characters and words formed by these characters. Here are three views of drill down tools you could use to learn about the character 错.

Word List play

The game is free to play for both guests and WordSwing students. By default, the game lets you practice the 500 most common Chinese characters. But if you're a WordSwing Backer, you can also practice the characters of any subset of your own Word Lists. Once you're a subscriber, you'll see a tool that can be expanded to let you select from which word list you'd like to practice characters:

This mode is particularly useful because it can serve as a stepping stone between identifying words you want to learn and gaining enough facility to easily read text containing those words. This is particularly important once you start trying to learn characters that are less common. If you only count on naturally encountering them in your daily life you may go long periods of time between exposures and they will be hard to learn. But if you've saved a bunch of characters you want to learn in a word list, then you can focus on the lot until you can recognize them easily.

For example, suppose you find our Into the Haze game too challenging. Then you could start with a word list for the game that you've pruned based on your own knowledge of Chinese, use this grid game to improve your recognition of those characters, and then enjoy Into the Haze with a higher level of reading fluency, transforming characters that you merely have the ability to recall into characters you really understand in context.

Give it a whirl!

Conclusion

Naturally, you'll want to pursue many different practice strategies, but if you'd like one of those to allow you to quickly test your character recall in a challenging, fun, and addictive way, perhaps our Character Memory Grid game will be one of your practice strategies.

Cheers,

Kevin & Olle

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