As world’s second largest economy and the United States’ largest trading partner, China has an increasingly significant role in global market. Each year more and more people whose native language are not Chinese Mandarin study it with enthusiasm and success.
Whether you are a student who is interested in foreign culture, a businessman who works with factories in China, a teacher, a tourist, a linguist or a researcher, knowing Chinese as a second language will give you an extra edge at seeking jobs or other opportunities.
In English, the tone or the pitch of your voice usually conveys a feeling or an emotion. However in Chinese Mandarin, tones are used to distinguish the meanings of words. For example, mà(scold) is very different from mā (mother). In addition, each tone in Mandarin doesn't have a specific pitch, instead it is identified through the change of pitches (as explained by the music notes above). English native speakers often find the concept of four tones difficult to understand.
Below is a funny video of my friends trying to pronounce Chinese words:
After looking at different methods of learning a new language, I’ve decided to create a new learning experience that is away from computer screen or smart phone applications. I would like to bring back the traditional learning method of using a book and at the same time add visual, audio and tactile feedback to this experience.
A book accessory comes in different forms, such as a pen, a bookmark or a book clip. During my brainstorming, prototyping and user testing stages, I quickly mocked up several prototypes and invited people to interact with my models. For each subject, I asked them to the following (For the 3rd step I would mimic the feedback of the device):
1. Pick a prototype based on look, feel and ergonomics.
2. Pick a Chinese phrase from the testing booklet.
3. Interact with the device and try to pronounce the Chinese characters.
Although none of my test subjects speak Chinese Mandarin fluently, most of them were able to successfully finish the task with the assistance of the device they picked (32 out of 40). More than half of my test subjects thought the device (24 out of 40) was helpful and many left comments about their interaction with the device.
Was the device helpful?
Did you finish the task?
After comparing my testing results and user comments, I analyzed the pros and cons of each prototype and decided to choose the book strap for my final design because it is intuitive to use, small and compact and it also attaches to books without falling out.
Sittone recognizes your voice and give real time feedback to indicate the accuracy of your pronunciation.
Sitone can be used with any beginner to intermediate level Chinese learning books, simply strap it onto the opening page and speak to the device. If the LED lights indicate the same tone as the Chinese character you pronounced (tones are labeled on each Chinese character), that means you pronounced it correctly.
If the user doesn't remember how to pronounce a tone, they can simply press the buttons to hear the correct tone.
Small and easy to use, Sitone's magnetic charging system allows users to charge the device without taking it off the strap.
1. Discover: Potential users who are passionate about learning Chinese Mandarin can discover Sitone through multiple channels such as news feeds, friends' and teachers' recommendation, brick-and-mortar stores and subway ads. Upon opening the packaging, the user will find the main device, an instruction manual, a charging port and an interchangeable elastic band.
2. Explore: After the user puts on the elastic strap and closely examines the device, they start to learn how to use Sitone by either following the instruction manual or playing with the device through trial and error.
3. Practice: When the user feels comfortable using Sitone and understands its visual and audio feedback, they can start practicing their Mandarin pronunciation by strapping Sitone onto any Chinese learning books.
4. Repeat: Learning a new language takes time. Sitone easily transports with any book, so user can study and practice Mandarin pronunciation anywhere, anytime.
5. Reward: At the end of the day. the user will notice significant improvement in their Mandarin skills after a couple months of practice. They can then recommend Sitone to their friends, families and colleagues.