If Junior is unable to make head or tail of the Mandarin websites he encounters, a dictionary app or plug-in comes in useful. These tools translate words on a Chinese website automatically, without the user having to navigate away from the page. “Two good plug-ins for web browsers are Perapera (www. perapera.org) and Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary (http:// addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/ addon/zhong-wen). They can be quickly installed on web browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome,” suggests Dr Moser.
“For tablets and smartphones, there are apps like Pleco (www. pleco.com) that allow users to input queries using pinyin, voice commands or handwriting. The textto-speech function in these apps allows kids to sound out characters,” he recommends. HOW MUCH TECHNOLOGY IS TOO MUCH? So how often should you be using technology as a mode of language instruction? “Your child’s language competency will naturally improve with exposure. If he displays enough interest in the tool, I’d say let him continue using it, by all means,” says Dan Feng.
Dr Moser says: “There’s no real limit on the amount of learning that can be derived from these digital tools. Children spend a great deal of time on their computers, both for schoolwork and for recreation. If used in the right way, these tools can remove barriers to learning Mandarin, and children can then naturally gravitate towards other language materials that spark their interest.”
However, Dr Moser feels that technology should complement, not substitute, existing methods of language learning, such as personal instruction, arts and music, calligraphy or verbal language drills. “Rather, they should enable children to free up more time for these activities,” he says.