The intermediate and upper-intermediate level is an awkward zone where Chinese learning resources are scarce.
At this stage, students want to start getting into native resources but they’re still too challenging to get much benefit from using them.
That’s where WordSwing comes in. They’ve decided to make something for this underrepresented group of students.
While there are several different things going on with WordSwing, the main one is their Text Adventure Games and that’s what we’ll focus on first.
Text Adventure Games
This is the biggest component of WordSwing and my favorite part. There are several different text adventure games already on WordSwing with more planned to be released in the future.
These are sort of a mix between graded readers, choose your own adventure stories, and rpgs.
You’ll find that all of their text adventure games are written at the intermediate or upper-intermediate level. Before starting, you’ll also see the number of distinct Chinese characters in each story and a description in English.
Although the vocabulary is limited to an extent, it’s much less so than you’ll find with graded readers like Mandarin Companion. The stories are very interesting and fun to work through.
While the time it takes to read each one will vary depending on the person and the decisions they make, you’ll definitely get plenty of study time out of each one.
Some example stories are…
Into the Haze – 迷雾中
Here you find yourself in a sort of post-apocalyptic world where the air is barely breathable. With dangers lurking around every corner, you need to go out into the haze to find your missing brother.
The Magistrate’s Gallery – 县长的画廊
This story is really unique and the one I’m currently reading. In this story, a man’s daughter was trapped inside a painting. You need to travel in and out of various paintings and figure out the story in order to rescue his daughter.
Zoo – 动物园
Here you’ll need to follow instructions to make sure all the animals are fed properly, but the animals will be distracting you along the way.
There are a few other stories to choose from as well.
One thing I really like about these text adventure games compared with traditional graded readers is that you’re tested on your comprehension skills throughout. However, this testing doesn’t take the form of boring multiple choice questions.
Instead, the testing comes a lot more naturally.
In real-life, your comprehension skills aren’t tested by exam style questions.
Your comprehension is shown by your responses and the choices you make. Similarly, in these text-adventure games, you’ll need to make the correct choices based on what you read and listen to in order to complete the story successfully.
Even if your comprehension skills are very strong, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to quickly make your way through the story. There are still quite a few other factors at play.
Sometimes you’ll have no way of knowing the correct choice and just need to make your best guess. Other times, there is an element of chance that influences the story at certain points.
Because it is a text adventure game and not a typical graded reader, the story isn’t strictly linear. Sometimes you’ll make a decision and end up back at a point in the story that you’ve already passed through. You’ll need to think about the choices you’ve made, what has happened in the story and re-evaluate the best option for how to proceed.
This makes reading on WordSwing much more interactive and active than you’ll find elsewhere.
With some other resources, it can become easy to read passively but with WordSwing you’re forced to be actively involved.
Some of the stories resemble an rpg more than anything.
In the story, Into the Haze, for example, you’ll need to choose which skills your character will have, as well as which items you’d like to bring along with you. As you go through the story, you’ll face decisions, pick up useful objects, and inevitably get hurt, or even die and need to start over.
Like an rpg, you can look at the items you’re carrying, your health, and more by clicking on the grey tab near the bottom of the screen.
Let’s quickly talk about some of the practical aspects and user-interface.
The stories will include both narration and dialogues. These are represented differently by the bubble surrounding the words.
At the end of the text in each bubble, you’ll see a play button. Pushing this plays the audio. You can also click on any word that you don’t know and see the translation, along with pinyin.
You’ll often encounter choices in which you have to make a decision which will affect how the story unfolds. In these situations, you’ll click the number of the choice you want to make.
You can see how many decisions you’ve made in a game as well as some learning stats.
While the text adventure games are my favorite part of WordSwing, they’re not the only useful study material available.
Other Study Materials on WordSwing
There are currently three other aspects of WordSwing that may be worth checking out. These are comics, dialogues, and review & spaced repetition.
There’s currently one comic called Pepper and Carrot which includes 9 episodes. Similarly to the text adventure games, you’re able to look up individual words and play audio.
There are also lots of dialogues that you can read and listen to. I’m not a huge fan of these just because you’ll need to click the play button each time to listen to what is said. It would be a bit better if you could just play the dialogue straight through.
The format is similar to the other parts of WordSwing where you can look up words as you go. Although I’m not a huge fan of the dialogues, my impression is that they’ve experimented with lots of different ideas to see which ones are most popular. I believe these were all added before they started working on the text adventure games.
The final part worth mentioning is the review & spaced repetition. These are basically SRS flashcards, but actually a bit unique compared to those you would find elsewhere and are perhaps already familiar with.
There are two kinds of flashcards here – pronunciation recall and written word.
For the pronunciation part, you’ll see a character and type in the pinyin with the tone being required. You can adjust how long until you want to review it again. You can also adjust the number of cards you want to set as your goal.
For the written part, you’re given the pinyin and meaning of a word and asked if you know how to write it. It could be quite useful to have a piece of paper with you and practice writing the character as you go through these questions.
Unfortunately, neither of these flashcard exercises are particularly useful because of one major weakness – you can’t choose which words you’ll be tested on. For both of these review sets, you’ll start at the very basic words with no option to change them to something more suitable.
As I mentioned before, a lot of these extra features aren’t necessarily what WordSwing is focusing on now. They were created more as experiments to see what types of content would be most useful.
While these, particularly the flashcards and dialogues, aren’t particularly great, they also aren’t the reason anyone will subscribe to WordSwing. You probably won’t use them much but some people may like them, so there’s no harm in leaving them there.
While WordSwing has more than just text adventure games, that’s the primary focus of their content – and I’m happy about that.
These stories (or games, if you will) are really well-designed. They’re engaging to read and will force you to think through the decisions that you make. They provide very useful material for a segment of learners (intermediate and higher) that are typically ignored.
For $8 per month, you’ll get access to a lot of content. While not everyone will love reading in this way, I’d recommend anyone at this level to give WordSwing a try. You can try out the beginning parts of their text adventure games for free online or through their apps.