As part of the Beijinger’s Mandarin Month series ahead of our June 25 Mandarin Mixer, we present Hao Laoshi, a series of articles featuring input from teachers, students, and content creators at various Mandarin learning centers and Chinese language teaching tools. Today we hear from Sarah Aberman, co-founder of Ninchanese language education web app.

The main page of your website has colorfully engaging lessons with practical themes such as asking for directions, learning to count, saying "hello," and asking for help at the bank. Tell us more about how this setup is useful for learners.
Those are actually only a few examples of the lessons we offer, which cover hundreds of topics.

Our focus when creating Ninchanese was to offer modern, relevant content, as far removed from stuffy textbook content as possible. Beginners learn practical topics first, such as asking for directions, so they can quickly be comfortable with content they'll be using and reusing in China on a daily basis. You could consider the first world of Ninchanese's game as a form of survival Chinese. As learners go up in levels, they learn more diversified topics, ranging from practical to more abstract topics that are sure to come in handy in one's daily, school, or work life, such as negotiating in Chinese, being interviewed for a job in Mandarin and more.

Before you founded Ninchanese, what compelled you to learn Mandarin in the first place?
I stumbled onto Chinese in middle school, motivated at first by curiosity and a thirst for all things foreign and international. I quickly fell in love with the language and while I studied on and off after that, Chinese has always remained a constant in my life.

What was the funniest mistake that you've made while trying to speak or understand Mandarin?
I have plenty of stories to tell, but this one might have been the most embarrassing for me at the time. I was trying to jokingly insult a friend, by calling her 二百五 (èrbǎiwǔ, 250), a way to call someone dumb. But it came out 五二零 (wǔèrlíng, 520) instead, which is short for "I love you" in Chinese! Thankfully, she didn't take me seriously and think I was declaring my love to her. That was a while ago, and now it's a funny story that bonded us together even more.

There are plenty of mistakes one can make when learning Chinese, but that's just part of the fun of any learning process! When you make a mistake, at least you know you're truly using and practicing the language you're learning. As you learn to speak the language, you're bound to make mistakes, so better get used to them from the start, and embrace them. At least that way you can be sure you'll have fun and have colorful stories to tell!

How did your Mandarin studies lead to your involvement in Ninchanese?
After coming back from China, where I lived for a couple of years, I looked for a way to access learning material at my level to keep improving my Chinese. But I struggled to find the resources I needed. Nothing struck my fancy online at the time, and classes for non-beginners weren't available in my town. So my now business partner, who faced the same struggles, worked with me to start prototyping an online Chinese learning solution. Fast forward a few years and Ninchanese is now a well-loved Chinese learning product used by thousands of learners.

Tell us more about what sets Ninchanese apart.
We built Ninchanese as an engaging app to learn to read, speak, write and understand Mandarin Chinese for all levels. Behind Ninchanese's concept is the belief that a combination of game mechanics, scientifically-proven language learning techniques, and a colorful and engaging atmosphere are keys to reaching one's goal of conversational fluency in Chinese.

Game mechanics, which are poured in every lesson, help with motivation, because of course regularity is crucial for effective learning. An adorable learning atmosphere creates reassurance and emotional attachment, so we designed the aesthetic of Ninchanese accordingly. Lastly, we incorporated science-backed learning techniques that allow quick and lasting language acquisition.

For those of us who have not tried Ninchanese, what are some examples of its adorable and effective features?
Ninchanese has plenty of cool features, but here are three I'd like to highlight:

First, the Ninchallenges, which are two -player battles over one's knowledge of Chinese. They're a lot of fun, and when you play, there's the thrill of being able to show to your friend you know your vocab better than them. Ninchallenges are also great at making you review and strengthen what you've learned before, just so you know you'll be ready to win your next Ninchallenges!

There's also the game's story. Ninchanese is story-based, which in my opinion, brings a lot to the learning experience. The story is full of Chinese culture and insights into China, which are also extremely important to learn. Learning the language and having a cultural awareness go hand in hand, especially when it comes to a language like Chinese.

Lastly, the speaking stages are a great feature to check out. Thanks to the instant feedback you get on your pronunciation, you easily know whether you'll be understood in China or not. You'll also learn what areas of your Chinese pronunciation you need to improve. You'll gradually learn to pick up speed when speaking Chinese, and gain the confidence to discuss a variety of useful and practical topics.

Tell us more about how you draw users into all that by making Ninchanese accessible and fun.
Yes, Ninchanese was created to be a fully gamified, story-based experience. Its colorful, distraction-free interface keeps you on track and motivated. You learn almost without realizing it, because you're entertained by the storyline and having fun.

These aspects are what make Ninchanese unique in the Chinese learning space. They also make the app motivating and, above all, effective. As two of our learners recently put it: "This is the first time I'm actually motivated to learn Chinese – and I've tried many methods to do so." Another said: "I've learned more in Ninchanese in a few days than I have in 10 months in China."

Come meet teachers from a dozen Mandarin schools at our free event this Saturday at Home Plate BBQ, and look back at our month-long Mandarin Month coverage here.

Mandarin Month is brought to you by Pleco, Project Pengyou, Ninchanese, BenCham, BritCham, and MexCham

This post is sponsored by Ninchanese.

Photos: Ninchanese


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