IGN Review of My Chinese Coach
Last year Ubisoft released My French Coach and My Spanish Coach for the Nintendo DS, successfully cashing in on the growing demand for language games that allow people to quickly pick up on the basics. This year they've once again teamed up with developer Sensory Sweep in order to capitalize on the need for Mandarin speakers outside of China. Although making Chinese accessible to everyone is certainly a step in the right direction, My Chinese Coach sometimes proves to be a tangled web of frustration and confusion rather than an enjoyable learning experience.
There are plenty of reasons to want to make a game like this. China is home to a fifth of the globe's total population and is quickly becoming an important economic and political player on the world stage. It's only natural game developers would want to cash in on this. But Chinese isn't something Westerners can just "pick up" like French or Spanish. For one thing, Chinese has very little in common with the European language family. Not only is the writing system vastly different (consisting of pictographs as opposed to an alphabet), but the language itself is both analytic and tonal, with four basic tones and one toneless tone. Trying to teach all of this outside a proper classroom setting would be a formidable task for anyone, but Sensory Sweep seems to struggle with this new, complicated dynamic.
Like the other My Language titles, My Chinese Coach consists of a series of games (many featured in previous My Coach titles) designed to teach players the language in various ways. Games like "Hit-a-Word", "Multiple Choice" and "Memory" quickly help players visually recognize written characters, which is helpful for reading skills. But the writing portion of My Chinese Coach is a major problem. The tutorials that show you HOW to write a character in Chinese are ridiculously fast. Unless players already have a basic grasp of how to write in Chinese (and it's safe to assume they don't) it's virtually impossible to understand both the stroke count and line order for a character. It doesn't help that the game will judge your writing skills arbitrarily at times, making games like "Fading Characters" uber-frustrating.
On top of that My Chinese Coach has a hard time teaching the proper pronunciation of words, due mostly to the muffled audio on the DS system. It's often a struggle to hear the speaker, even with the volume turned up. And since Mandarin has quite a few sounds that have no exact English equivalent, players may become exasperated when they play back their own voice in the "Speak" option of the game and realize it sounds nothing like what they just heard.
©2008-11-14, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved