Lauren Goode

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Woody Speaks Mandarin: Disney Brings Chinese-Language Apps to iPad

In an age where hardly a conversation can be had about the economy without mentioning China, it’s not surprising that the world’s most populous country is also influencing language education across the U.S.

And, of course, there are apps for that.

Disney Publishing has just released the first in a series of new Chinese-language apps for the iPad, based on the international teaching method known as Diglot Weave. The first app, called Learn Chinese: Toy Story 3, includes multiple versions of Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” broken up into five parts that offer layers of Chinese-language instruction with sequentially increasing degrees of difficulty.

That’s right: Woody and Buzz speak Mandarin!

The app offers background music and sound effects, audio and visual translations of individual words (using Pinyin, the standard system for transcribing Chinese into Latin script) alongside one-tap pronunciation guides, and voice-recording capabilities, so users can practice and compare their pronunciations with the audio narrator.

It’s available for iPad only, though Russell Hampton, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, says Disney plans to expand eventually to other tablets, and will offer more apps and Disney-owned titles. This one costs $4.99 in the iTunes App Store.

There are currently more than 300 Chinese-language instructional apps for kids in the App Store; more than 200 results come up for Mandarin-language apps in the Android marketplace, though it appears that many of these are for adults and are also geared toward traditional language learning through repetition and exercises. The Diglot Weave method that Disney is going with involves teaching the language through a story that’s told partially in the learner’s native language and partially in the foreign tongue, gradually increasing the level of foreign language used throughout the narrative.

Disney has been pushing foreign-language instruction since 2009, when it launched a handful of schools across China. While Disney said at the time that its goal was authentic English-language learning, the push was also seen as a way for Disney to expand its brand reach across a nation known for tightly-controlled media.

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