About China

Learners of Mandarin get app assistance

By Chinadaily | 2020-05-20 |   591

A smartphone app powered by artificial intelligence to assist learners of Mandarin confined to their homes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has been available in more than 40 countries, and is gaining in popularity for its user-friendly features.
Called iFlyChinese and developed by iFlytek, a leading Chinese AI company, the app has been available since April. It claims to provide a different user experience compared with the other language software that rely mostly on flashcards, which are a set of cards containing a small amount of information that aids learning.
A company official said the app, which uses AI and intelligent voice technologies, was designed to be an "around the clock Mandarin teacher" for its users.
According to the official, its functions are very simple. When a user speaks into the app in his or her mother tongue, the app, in turn, translates the voice message into Mandarin and gives a breakup of words and phrases that form the message.
It also helps users read sentences in Mandarin. When they finish reading a sentence, the app will suggest suitable corrections. Finally, it will provide flashcards for practice and review.
Pan Zeliang, iFlytek's head of the Global Chinese Learning Platform, said that almost all facets of life, including shopping, travel and hospital visits, are covered in the app's database. The product can be upgraded further based on user experience and feedback.
The learning platform was jointly developed by the Ministry of Education and iFlytek in October. The company said the number of its users has reached around 580,000 spanning 123 countries.
"Japan, Australia, Italy, the United States and Russia are among the countries with the largest number of users of this platform, with a majority of them being high school and university students," said Pan.
"The app was our effort to help learners of Mandarin and teaching institutions to continue their studies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in lockdowns and suspension of schools in many countries and regions," he said.
David Cameron, CEO of Learn-Coach, an online education provider in New Zealand, said the number of users of the app in the country has reached 16,000.
"The app gives users feedback each time on their pronunciation and grammar, and such interactivity is of important educational value to help them solve difficulties in pronunciation," he said.
He said only 10 percent of the users are Chinese, while many are learning Mandarin to improve their career prospects. "Obviously, there has been a growing need for Mandarin as the quantum of business with China keeps increasing," he said.
A 5-year-old boy, who was born and raised in Australia, is one of the users of the app. "This app can complement systematic language learning even for such a young child through its functions, such as correction of mistakes and human-computer interactive dialogue," said Zhan Anqi, 35, the boy's mother.
"I cannot be by his side around the clock. When he wants to know how to express himself in Chinese, the app will help him to do so," said Sydney-based Zhan, who works as a foreign affairs specialist with a Chinese provincial government.
The family hopes the boy gets to appreciate Chinese culture when he grows up. According to her, learning Mandarin is like laying the foundation for learning Chinese culture.

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