Everyone and their dog has a language training app but does everyone and their dog have an augmented reality solution that aims to teach you Chinese using clever little blocks and a webcam? No, they don’t. That’s why there are ChineseCubes.
ChineseCubes are the brainchild of Rex How, the head of a major Taiwanese publishing company, Locus Publishing, and the U.S. President is Jesse Poe. The $149 kit includes a set of 40 cubes along with “command cubes.” To use the system, you can bring a command cube up to the camera and then drop a few of the language cubes. The system shows you if you’ve created a real Chinese world along with the definition. To learn Chinese you do the same but with the interactive software that runs you through drills using the cubes and shows you how to build words and sentences out of simple ideas.
The system teaches you how to write, hear, and speak Chinese by offering very rudimentary parts of speech and chaining them together to create more complex sentences. Poe expects the average user can learn 2,500 phrases in four months, enough to read a basic newspaper. You can also use the AR system to read children’s books in Chinese and learn phrases and basic business vocabulary if you’re in more of a hurry. The system works with Windows and OS X and there are a number of iOS add-ons available, with Android versions coming soon.
How did they work for me? While I’m not going to say I’m yet fluent, I did find the system to be quite ingenious and usable. I put the cubes by my desk and pulled out a few every day for a bit of a lesson. The fact that they require a bit of tactile feedback along with the standard read and repeat of your average language course made it quite interesting and, in a sense, superior to more expensive offerings. The system is also interesting for children in that it offers a very physical sense of language interaction and allows for more retention thanks to the Lego-like play that the system encourages. In short, it’s a very compelling way to learn Chinese.
Is it the best way? Perhaps the cube mechanic is a bit forced and perhaps there are better, more immersive systems out there. But, in my experience, the impetus to play is one of the best ways to keep learning and, at the very least, this kit encourages that. It’s a clever twist on boring old language education and should be an interesting tool for learners and teachers alike.