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New Browser-Based MMO Teaches Mandarin Chinese 103

Have you ever wanted to learn Mandarin Chinese? (Yeah, me neither.) However, if you suddenly feel the urge to learn how to welcome your new Chinese overlords, researchers supported by Michigan State University and the Office of the Chinese Language Council International have a game for you. "Zon" is a browser-based virtual world, currently in beta-testing, that helps users to learn the Mandarin Chinese language.
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New Browser-Based MMO Teaches Mandarin Chinese

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  • Dialects... (Score:4, Funny)

    by SomeJoel ( 1061138 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @06:30PM (#23675499)
    I suppose if you don't like the dialect you're learning, you can always reroll.
  • Yes, you want, too. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hankapobe ( 1290722 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @06:31PM (#23675513)
    Have you ever wanted to learn Mandarin Chinese?

    An acquaintance of mine went to China an she found something rather interesting. Young folks right out of college would go to China for a couple of years to teach English or whatever, the Chinese Government pays them and gives them a stipend (more $$$ if you can speak Chinese too!). They just bank their pay and when they come home, they have enough money to put a sizable down payment on a house and start their lives. And they had an adventure that they'll remember fir the rest of their life.

    Considering that the US will be China's bitch in a few years, I suggest you do in fact learn Chinese!

    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Thursday June 05, 2008 @06:48PM (#23675731) Homepage Journal
      Just don't let them take your passport. No matter how much they say they are required to.

      • And when traveling overseas, *always* make several color photo copies of it. Should your passport get lost, stolen, taken; you will want a secondary copy that can be obtained elsewhere.

        I can only imagine how shit up a creek you would be without it.
        • I would also recommend e-mailing yourself the hi-res scanned images. That way, if all you have left is the skin on your back (sort of speak), you could re-gain access to the photos at the nearest Internet Cafe.
          • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *
            You dipshits don't actually think a copy of a passport is worth anything do you?
            • It's better than nothing.
            • At one of the western embassy's, yes. To a local cop, nope.
              • by soren100 ( 63191 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:10PM (#23677557)

                You dipshits don't actually think a copy of a passport is worth anything do you?

                At one of the western embassy's, yes. To a local cop, nope.
                That's not true.

                  I had a French cop stop me on the streeet ask me for ID (there was some kind of local fraudster that was panhandling, and the cop saw that person talking to me) The French cop said he wanted to see my passport (all I had was my driver's license). When I told him I had left my passport in the hotel room, he wanted to know why I did not make a copy of it and take it with me. He said that it was important that I do this. So yes, copies of passports are important to local cops. Sure, they can be easily altered, but they provide a starting point to prove your nationality and identity.
                • Same in Beijing (Score:4, Informative)

                  by ihatewinXP ( 638000 ) on Friday June 06, 2008 @12:55AM (#23678651)

                  I live in Beijing and rarely carry my passport for anything aside from a trip to the bank - but ALWAYS have a copy on me.

                  In three years the _one time_ I was stopped by an officer and asked for ID he was fine taking the number from a photocopy and understood my (poor) Chinese explaining I just dont want to lose the damn thing.

                  Same thing though with your housing permits - try not having one of those when the police come by for checks. I got a knock last week at 12:30 AM from two cops making the rounds in my building checking on listed foreigners - I have heard without the right housing permit it would have been much more than a 5 minute affair and more like a 5 day mess with my possible deportation.

                  Protip: carry a copy, leave the real one at home. If its that big of a mess they will gladly escort you there ;)
                  • by Daengbo ( 523424 )
                    I'm a permanent expat, and I go much further than that. I have several expired passports kept in separate locations just in case the original gets lost, stolen, or mutilated. When I first left government service, I even kept my official passport just in case I needed it. I'm sure that using it would have gotten my ass in trouble, but if I needed out of a country in that much of a hurry, I would have chanced the hot water I'd have been in.
                • Thanx for the tip. BTW, do photocopy the whole thing, or just the info page and the one with current stamp?
            • Yes, it is. (Score:5, Informative)

              by The Iso ( 1088207 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:40PM (#23676831)
              Your passport does not confer the right travel, your nationality does. Your passport is proof of nationality, and you can still prove your nationality by other means. Having your passport's number and expiration date helps. If you have an American passport, turn to page 6. You will notice that the State Department recommends making two photocopies of your passport data page.
              • It depends on the law of the country. Some countries require foreigners to have their passport with them at all times unless they are resident aliens and have some kind of alien registration.

      • by readin ( 838620 )
        I carried my passport around Taiwan for a year because the instructions on it said to keep it with you all the time. When i got soaked in the rain, it got soaked in the rain. It was in such bad shape when I tried to leave that the officials at the airport almost kept me from going. It was tough. I was tearing up because I was leaving my fiance for several months and instead of being able to just jump on the plane I had to stand around and answer questions. I wonder if I had been in China if they would
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by budcub ( 92165 )
      Considering that the US will be China's bitch in a few years, I suggest you do in fact learn Chinese!

      Back in the 80's they told us that the US would be Japan's bitch and we should all learn to speak Japanese. Heck, maybe we'll be Mexico's bitch and we should learn Spanish?
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        No, that's stupid. The cartels are fscking Mexico pretty hard.
      • by Eudial ( 590661 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @07:55PM (#23676445)

        Considering that the US will be China's bitch in a few years, I suggest you do in fact learn Chinese!

        Back in the 80's they told us that the US would be Japan's bitch and we should all learn to speak Japanese. Heck, maybe we'll be Mexico's bitch and we should learn Spanish?
        With such confusion as to who was going to be our new overlords, no wonder Esperanto was big.
        • > With such confusion as to who was going to be our new overlords, no wonder Esperanto was big.

          Ho! Konsiderante ke la Usono estos la hundinac^o de Esperantujo en la venontaj kelkaj jaroj, mi sugestas ke vi fakte lernu Esperanton!
          • by zapakh ( 1256518 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @11:16PM (#23678039)

            Ho! Konsiderante ke la Usono estos la hundinac^o de Esperantujo en la venontaj kelkaj jaroj, mi sugestas ke vi fakte lernu Esperanton!
            Mi, por unu, bonvenigus niajn Esperantistajn majstrojn!
            • ...Should I be happy or upset that I actually understood both of those posts, although I've not gotten much farther in Esperanto than the basic grammar rules?
              • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )
                for those of us who are Esperanto impaired.


                Ho! Konsiderante ke la Usono estos la hundinac^o de Esperantujo en la venontaj kelkaj jaroj, mi sugestas ke vi fakte lernu Esperanton!

                Oh! While considerring that the USA will be the hundinacõ of Esperanto-container in the next a few years, I suggests that you in fact should learn Esperanto

                Mi, por unu, bonvenigus niajn Esperantistajn majstrojn!

                I, for one, would welcome-ize our Esperanto speaker maestroes

                • Interesting! I don't know how handles circumflexes. The "c^" is supposed to be a 'c' with a circumflex on it.

                  And for your amusement and bemusement, because doesn't understand colloquialisms...

                  hundo = dog
                  -in- suffix = female
                  -ac^- suffix = foul, abominable :)
        • Mi por unu bonveno nia novaj esperantlingvanoj tiranoj.
      • by religious freak ( 1005821 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @11:05PM (#23677983)
        This is for real. China is on the rise. Japan couldn't do it because no matter how productive they were, they still had 1) limited land area/natural resources and 2) limited population, relative to ours

        It is a logical fallicy to assume that because this has been predicted before, it is not real this time. The best hope we have of countering a strong Chinese influence is India. So next time you speak to your friendly Indian "code factory" worker, blow them a kiss and wish them good luck.

        China has a number of things which makes me think it'll be top dog for only a few decades, but their capacity to beat us is much more potent than Japan's. Believe it.
      • by antic ( 29198 )
        The population of each of Mexico and Japan is around 100-130 million. The population of China is currently 1.3 billion. You'll get by without learning the language, sure, but it could open up some great opportunities if you were interested.
      • Considering how many millions of Spanish-speaking people there are in the US, and rising, you'd better learn Spanish. It may become the second official language in the future. And Spanish is cool. Adios, amigo!
    • by rob1980 ( 941751 )
      Yeah, there are programs like that in Japan [] and South Korea [] too, and I imagine other places as well.
    • A good friend of mine and his wife went to China and they found something rather interesting. They were young folks right out of college and went to China to teach English for the Chinese government. They were taken to a military medical research facility, put in a room with black mold, given "military escorts", and followed everywhere. The first night locked in their room they could hear the screams of people being "researched" on. They got out, evaded the guards, fled the city, snuck onto a truck and
    • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Friday June 06, 2008 @12:48AM (#23678629) Homepage Journal
      I have been learning Mandarin for the last three years. It's a lot of fun -- mainly because Chinese people give you these serious WTF? looks when you speak to them.

      While the summary is kind of insulting, learning Chinese is actually a fairly pragmatic choice these days (as you rightly point out, China is making the US its bitch) and I actually think this idea of a language MMO is incredibly awesome. When I lived in San Diego and San Francisco I had no trouble finding community college Chinese classes -- but now that I live in Fresno, there's no options available.

      ChinesePod is an... okay... web site, but their lessons are all over the place instead of organized in a systematic approach to teaching Chinese, and while its free, you have to pay huge amounts of money just to see what the characters used in the lessons are. It's very expensive for a free site.

      Every Chinese software product I've tried sucks (especially Rosetta Stone -- it's terrible), though Fluenz looks pretty good... but I'm not willing to part with $300 bucks to support my hobby though.
      • Would you mind expanding on what was so bad about Rosetta Stone? I'm curious, and its expensive to check it out for yourself.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          Would you mind expanding on what was so bad about Rosetta Stone? I'm curious, and its expensive to check it out for yourself.

          Words do not correspond 1:1 in different languages. There are subtle distinctions between meanings of near-synonyms, and the boundary between meanings isn't at the same place in any two languages. Rosetta Stone doesn't explain that well enough [].

        • It's terrible. No real lessons, it just shows you four photos and a sentence next to each one. No explanation of the words, or grammar, or any of that stuff which is really, really critical for learning Mandarin.
      • Pimsleur [] I recommend it to everyone. I used it myself and am VERY satisfied with what I know, I've spent maybe a total of 10 hours (because I listen to lessons twice just to be sure I've got it down, although you don't have to) learning Japanese and I can actually SPEAK the language to a point. Most people who learned via Rosetta can only tell me what an object translated is, I can form sentences. Better yet, I can meet, greet, ask for directions, say thank you, goodbye, and even have insight into how you a
        • I've been listening to the Pimsler Mandarin CD's recently, I got them from the library. They are okay. They really skim over tones though, and I'd never be able to read Pinyin (Chinese written with western characters) if I relied solely on the audio, but there isn't a companion book. They also teach the Beijing dialect and not 'standard' mandarin. Chinesepod has a strong Shanghai accent. I really liked the "Teach Yourself" book and tapes I got a few years back, but I lost the tapes.

          After listening to t
          • but there isn't a companion book.
            There should be, although I admit it may not be fantastic. IMO, I'd rather learn to speak the language than write it, because the symbols seem confusing enough, not to mention I don't have patience to study both at the same time.
  • by Satanboy ( 253169 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @06:32PM (#23675535)
    I welcome any free opportunity to learn a new language.

    I might mess with this a bit and see if I can pick up some new phrases.
    I hope there are more things like this developed in the future. Games can really bring people together, and language is a huge barrier that could be broken down if things such as this are successfull.
    • by cp.tar ( 871488 )

      I like the idea, too.

      It's a shame I get nothing once I get past the login screen, though. Just a colored background upon a background image. Both from Firefox and Safari.

  • Yah, but (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2008 @06:37PM (#23675599)
    But, half an hour later, you just want to learn another new language.
  • this is really neat, but the mandarin font shows boxes because I don't have a suitable font. Any ideas on how to fix this?
    • Well... if you're using windows it's pretty easy - just install the language pack. Probably equally simple on apple / linux.
      • On Ubuntu Hardy and Fedora 9 they are installed by default for Firefox. The operating system translation can be installed from the system menu.
    • Re:Mandarin font? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Adambomb ( 118938 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @07:02PM (#23675869) Journal
      Firefox at least:
      Go to Tools, Options, then click on General on the left
      click the languages... tab on the right hand side
      click the down arrow where it says select a language to add
      click add.
      then just click the down arrow by where it says "Default character encoding" and pick the language you just installed and confirm it all with ok's.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NoobixCube ( 1133473 )
      If you're using Linux, it can be pretty easy too. Ubuntu and it's progeny have the fonts in the repositories, so you just open up your package manager and search for them. I'm sure other distros would too.
      • by the_tsi ( 19767 )
        If you're running Gentoo you have to recompile your kernel with --funroll-loops and --egg-foo-yung (and of course the ever-present -O3 and -j256), but at least then the whole system will be tuned specifically for handling UTF-8 on your exact CPU.
  • Ahh! (Score:2, Funny)

    by DJNephilim ( 832695 )
    I don't have time to play this, my hovercraft is full of eels! *pretends to strike a match*
  • by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @06:46PM (#23675701) Journal
    Now I'll be able to understand what those chinese gold farmers are actually saying.
  • by ricebowl ( 999467 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @07:05PM (#23675895)
    ...we can all watch Firefly without the subtitles! Is this just a clever preparation for the MMO?
    • My friend's Chinese wife said that the Firefly actors' Chinese pronunciation is pretty awful, it might do you more harm than good.
      • by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:14PM (#23677103) Homepage Journal
        It's not awful, just a projection of the future of the language. Just as the Chinese of today isn't pronounced the same as the Chinese of five hundred years ago.
        • by mcvos ( 645701 )

          It's not awful, just a projection of the future of the language. Just as the Chinese of today isn't pronounced the same as the Chinese of five hundred years ago.

          That's a nice explanation, but I doubt it works. As far as I know, some actors had more trouble pronouncing the Chinese than others. So while none of it is likely to be perfect Mandarin, some of them might be understandable by a Chinese speaker, while others speak complete gibberish.

          So they're not even cursing in the same language.

      • .. you just need to nod & smile so Kaylee thinks you're listening.
      • The pronunciation in Firefly *is* horrible. The words sound as if they hired white actors who were trying to read romanized Chinese words off a script. My Chinese sucks, but I flinch whenever they try to say anything.
    • by WaXHeLL ( 452463 )
      You still can't understand a good 1/2 of the Chinese in firefly without rewinding and replaying several times.
  • I would love it if it taught lojban [].
  • Someone please (Score:3, Interesting)

    by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @07:52PM (#23676405) Journal
    Someone please create something similar for the DS! For a learning environments design class, my partners and I designed something along the same lines, only not an MMO, to teach Swedish (one guy happened to know Swedish) on the DS. Just the bare-bones outline of a design, no programming, but something like that would ROCK. Everyone in the class agreed we wanted one - some people would even buy a DS to get that kind of a language-learning game in preparation for a trip.

    The DS is the perfect platform - multiple types of possible input, including typing, writing, and voice (which could be turned off if you're on the go), portable, affordable. Create a game where you're a tourist in some foreign city and must complete little missions like finding a hotel and eating in a restaurant, along with something more out-there for the fun factor. In addition to language, you'd be able to get some cultural info (like currency, etc) as well as a map of part of the city if that's where you'll be visiting. Sure, the stores etc won't be accurate but it could incorporate major tourist landmarks like museums and historical sites.

    SOMEONE PLEASE STEAL THIS IDEA AND MAKE IT. Please. I have no idea how to go about making a video game.

    • There are already Spanish and French language learning programs for the DS. No idea whether they're any good or not, though, or if they're even games in the traditional sense.
      • Most of them, that I've seen at least, contain nothing but cutesy little games that aren't much more than dressed-up flashcards or worksheets from your Spanish I class. Nothing like a full immersive game environment. This type of a game might contain those types of things as mini-games, etc, but you can do so much more than that.
    • [] have fun.
  • Project LRNJ (Score:4, Informative)

    by Volanin ( 935080 ) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @07:57PM (#23676459)
    There is also Project LRNJ, an RPG game that teaches you JAPANESE.
    It is not browser-based, but it is available for every major OS.

    Get it here! []

    And good luck getting rid of all those slimes!
  • What a brilliant idea.. I'm very much looking forward to using this...
    • > Zen is total bullshit. When you realize that fact, you have mastered Zen.

      The Zen that cannot embrace dualism is not the true Zen.

  • I tried it for a while, and this actually looks awesome! They even got voice acting for you to get the tones. Unfortunately it's a bit advanced for someone with no contact with the language â" the first shopkeeper I tried to interact with triggered a long conversation full of set expressions and hanzi. If you're a mandarin student, you have to play this! I think they might be onto something with the idea of multiplayer language learning game --- I wish there was a Japanese equivalent.
  • I managed to escape the airport and get to my hotel in the game, but I wouldn't put much money on my remembering many of the specific words that I 'learned' in the airport in an hour. Without some sort of review mechanism, I don't see this being very effective. Of course, perhaps if I play this eight hours a day I would just soak it in by immersion, but I think that it is more likely that I would kill myself from the boredom first. Not that learning languages is that horrible, but this is more painful th
  • I tried this out and I think its a great game. After I finally got it working after upgrading flash, only to get trapped in a map screen with no apparent way out!

    I hope this gets a little stronger, it would be a fun way to learn a new language.

  • by Saffaya ( 702234 ) on Friday June 06, 2008 @02:20AM (#23678979)

    Having played a number of MMO betas in chinese language, due to the fact they were the only versions available on the planet besides korean, I do recommend such option for players looking forward to learn the language.
    Even more helpful would be to play a chinese version of a game you already know in english version, so you have a working knowledge which would make your first steps easier.

    Examples : RF Online, Granado Espada (aka sword of the new world), etc ..

    A ceveat though, would be the recent and very annoying trend from companies to dictate that all other licencee companies exploiting a particular MMO restict their player's access by country IP. Even though the MMO maker itself never intended so.
    This is very annoying and should not be allowed to be, it may force you to look for a proxy service in the country where the servers are located.
    • In Guild Wars [], you can choose the nationality or language of your district when in any town or outpost. This makes it a great game for practicing languages, including far eastern ones.

      There are no subscription costs either, just the single fairly low purchase price [], although if you became interested in the gaming you'd end up buying the two other campaigns and the expansion as well.

      The downside is that games players can't spell for shit, so you'd be learning from very bad teachers. Learning languages via
    • Indeed, I've often found it beneficial to play available games in other languages, as a way of enhancing my language understanding.

      Back around 1994, I had a CD version of "The Secret of Monkey Island" that contained five language versions of the game. I brought it in to my high school French class and my teacher LOVED it. Thanks to that, I can still say, "How appropriate: you fight like a cow!" in French. (Didn't come in so useful at that job where we actually communicated with Francophone schools and
  • I used this idea some time ago and found it quite fun. I always liked playing MMOs so I went about looking for one in the language I was learning. I found one and while it was not geared for learning the language but for native speakers I still learned a bit.

    Take this article as an example of the many resources the internet provides for learning a new language. Sure it's quite easy for an native English speaker to take up teaching in Asia but there are teaching websites, TV shows, movies, games, music
  • Just don't tell my Khmer wife!
    • My girlfriend actually tells me I need a Chinese girlfriend! Her family is Chinese but she was born in Thailand and never learned Mandarin. We're learning it together right now, but it sure would help if one of us knew the correct pronunciations.
  • I went to the web site and started to register. As I was reading the License Agreement I ran across this paragraph -

    • Lots of programs (especially games) do this, WoW for one - the homepage for Glider [] (a WoW 'automation tool') says the game does this to check for tools like theirs in their FAQ [], so it's not surprising that other MMOs do as well.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"