The Chinese for International Players project offers an innovative solution to the main linguistic difficulties faced by Western learners of the Chinese language. Problems regarding tones and a non-alphabetic writing system are not suitably addressed by commercial learning materials that currently exist. CHIPS offers a considerable time saving over conventional methods and a flexible pedagogy suited to learning with smart-phone and other mobile devices.

CHIPS proposes assessing the normal pitch range of learners in their mother tongue and then mapping the four tonal patterns of Mandarin Chinese onto this range in such a manner that the learners’ attempts at reproducing Chinese tones can be automatically assessed and evaluated and feedback given.

Technological advances have facilitated a working prototype which can be tested using exemplar content specifically designed for business learners.

Project Details




19th October 2009




Technical Information

The main difficulty for Westerners in learning Chinese is that it is a tonal language, where the same ‘word’ can have at least four totally different meanings depending on the tone used. Indeed, the US Foreign Service Institute calculates that it takes almost five times as long to reach a ‘basic conversational and written ability’ in Chinese as in most Western European languages. For example, English speakers use tonality to express attitude and to mark syntactic functions rather than to distinguish words. When spoken quickly, English results in blurred speech and ‘eroded’ words, whereas in Chinese the tones must stay the same or the meaning becomes distorted. Furthermore, the Chinese vocabulary requires knowledge of written characters in order to distinguish words that sound identical, but have fundamentally different meanings.

CHIPS’s solution is an automatic, graphical feedback system for smart-phones, allowing learners to quantify their tonal problems and indicate where improvement is necessary. Common phrases will be used as the basis for learning, with each exemplar dialogue accompanied by an English transcript, audio recording, Chinese characters and their Pinyin (Romanised) version.CHIPS’s Tonal Assessment System (TAS) will automatically assess learners’ attempts at tonal reproduction and provide feedback.

CHIPS will also use a Character-string Segmentation Facility to combat problems presenting by the Chinese writing system, which does not insert gaps between words.

The Digital Media Centre (DMC) proposes to build and test a prototype analysis tool using the iPhone.

Research Outputs

It was intended to present the project at a conference such as EuroCALL in September 2010.

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