Being a geek I’m always keen to lay my hands on gadgets. The recently launched Creative PlayChinese ZiiO Shenbi Tablet is my latest tech purchase.
It’s actually ZiiO 7 inch tablet preinstalled with Chinese apps and repackaged as a ‘fun tool to PlayChinese‘. My first impression of the gadget itself is quite positive. The capacitive screen is very responsive and the 4 styli bundled are pretty decent. This is my first Android device and I’m quite impressed with it. The Shenbi app is essentially a Chinese character writing app which features a scoring system. The more characters you write, the higher your score is. It also has features like pronunciation of the characters and dictionary. I certainly hope they will update the app with more functions like searching characters using 汉语拼音 in the near future.
Updates: The recent software update of Shenbi has included 汉语拼音 search. It’s a great feature especially when I have any character in mind I wish to practice. That means I can easily search for any character with the Chinese language syllabus.
My first impression of the PlayChinese pedagogy is mixed bag. Creative CEO Mr Sim Wong Hoo completely eliminated the ‘learn’ part of language mastery and decided to go all out to play it. Play-based learning is great. We all know kids are always engaged when they are playing. However, to remove ‘learning’ in the process of language acquisition makes little pedagogical sense. Ironically Mr Sim calls PlayChinese a pedagogy. In my humble opinion it’s more like a marketing gimmick. Sadly, Creative’s weakest link has always been her marketing.
Another big downside of PlayChinese is the weak integration with MOE Chinese language curriculum. Mr Sim did not promise PlayChinese will improve test scores as its main
learning outcome is to let kids learn master Chinese in a fun way. To me, fun might not last long when the activity is not purposeful and satisfying. Hence I’m not sure the fun of this high tech drill and practice of character writing activity will be able to sustain in the long run without complementing what the kids learn in school.
Nevertheless I am very excited to try out this gadget with some of my weaker Primary 3 pupils. I plan to let them use the tablet to practice a few characters in before the Spelling test. I will update again after the mini experiment is done🙂