Do you like learning new languages? Do you have a thing for Mahjong or tile-based games? How about if you could have both, and an excellent utility for learning conversational Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time? If you answered yes to any of those, then TileSpeak Mahjong by developer TileSpeak Software is the language acquisition tool (and tile game) you’ve been waiting for.
Concept and Gameplay
If you have any experience with the classic game of Mahjong Solitaire, then you’ll have no trouble understanding TileSpeak Mahjong. The app presents you with a field of Mahjong tiles, each labeled with a traditional Chinese character and simplified Chinese spelling. From there it’s a matching game as you attempt to pick two of the same tiles from the pile. You can only select open tiles, meaning any uncovered pieces that are open on the left or right. The gameplay is just as solid as this classic should be, and will keep you entertained for hours.
However, TileSpeak Mahjong features a hidden agenda: It wants to have you speaking basic Chinese as you game. When a tile is selected the character is pronounced, and the English equivalent is translated along the top. This is a brilliant way to learn a language, as the player is distracted by the game while hearing each word repeatedly—a technique that’s used in many schools to teach small children a second language. It’s simplistic but effective, and with multiple levels available for your progression, you’ll quickly find yourself recognizing specific words and symbols. TileSpeak Mahjong offers on-the-fly transitioning between Mandarin and Cantonese as well, covering both major Chinese dialects. All in all, it’s a fantastic resource hidden within a fun (and often challenging game).
The developers have put in a lot of effort towards making TileSpeak Mahjong easy to use but hard to play. Matching tiles can often be a challenge, which only serves to have you thinking about the symbols and words longer. I greatly enjoyed the included shuffle button, which allows the player to rearrange the tiles when no matches are apparent. The quality audio pronunciation recordings are great as well. Having each word repeated four times within a puzzle is also a tremendous boon. However, I do wish the English translation had been integrated into the puzzles themselves, reinforcing meaning. I often found myself looking for similar shapes, rather than focusing on semantics: Moving translations further down would easily fix this.
Priced at $1.99, TileSpeak Mahjong is an absolute steal for fans of Mahjong and language learning alike. Whether you need a mastery of conversational Chinese or not, this app offers a brilliant interface with heaps of fun gameplay that will have you shanghaied into learning Chinese in no time.
TileSpeak Mahjong requires iOS 4.0 or later and is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. A small expedite fee was paid by the developer to speed up the publication of this review.
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