Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 4 News List

NTU unveils My Chinese tutor service

ONLINE LEARNING The Internet-based software is designed to help National Taiwan University become a world center for learning Chinese, its developer said

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

National Taiwan University (NTU) yesterday unveiled a Chinese-teaching software to capitalize on the Mandarin-learning "craze" worldwide.

Combining voice-analyzing technology and Chinese teaching expertise, the Internet-based software will help the university become "a world center for learning Chinese," said NTU electrical engineering professor Lee Lin-shan (李琳山), who oversaw the technological aspects of the software's design.

"It certainly won't replace teachers," Lee said, referring to the "My Chinese Tutor" software, which the university and a local software company, L Labs Inc, jointly created at the cost of US$2 million over two years.

"But," Lee joked, "unlike teachers in the flesh, My Chinese Tutor will never become impatient or angry, and it won't go on vacations."

Hosting a press conference on the software, NTU president Lee Si-chen (李嗣涔) said the program, which users can access free of charge until September, "improves on pedagogical platforms for Chinese Mandarin" -- a language that "30 million people worldwide currently study," he said.

The software's "uniqueness," designers said, is its ability to "diagnose pronunciation," or instantly record and analyze users' voices, as a means to help them effectively emulate native speakers.

"That's something that no other teaching program out there can do," said Lee Lin-shan, who has researched voice-related technologies for two decades.

Looking to put NTU on the map for Chinese studies, the university teamed up with L Labs, which footed most of the design costs, and recruited three teachers from the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at NTU, to oversee the program's pedagogical details, said ICLP instructor and My Chinese Tutor collaborator, Ann Chen (陳立元).

"What this program teaches," she said, "are phrases that were carefully selected according to past research on what beginners need to focus on to effectively express themselves in everyday situations."

The software, available at chinese.ntu.edu.tw, "can supplement any teaching material [for beginners]," said Lee Lin-shan, while demonstrating the program's user-friendly interface, voice analysis features and 3-D animation that teaches users how to shape their mouths to enunciate words.

L Labs president Lin Yi-jing (林宜敬) said the software represents an opportunity for his company and the university to cash in on what he said was a US$92 million market for learning Chinese.

L Labs and the university will "share revenue," Lin said.

After a free trial period, users can purchase My Chinese Tutor services for NT$1,000 a month.

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