The Confucius Institute at Michigan State University has come up with an interesting interactive Mandarin study program called Zon. It is a virtual China where players can guide an avatar through an illustrated environment and engage in practice dialogues with other players and figures within the game. Correctly answering questions can earn virtual money for players, who can then trade or use it in a virtual teahouse, art gallery, medicine shop, bank, and more.
Signing up is pretty easy but mastering the use of Zon takes some time. First each player gets a passport and some Zon Dollars in the form of traveler’s checks which should be changed at the bank. Such interactive situations allow users to practice dialogues and study vocabulary. There are many options to listen, speak, and record single words and phrases, which are written in Chinese hanzi, pinyin, and English.
From the About Zon page:
“Zon is a multiplayer, online learning environment designed to teach Chinese language and culture through gameplay. As a web-based site, Zon provides real-time, on-demand connection to interactive learning activities and authentic cultural information.
Zon players are motivated not only by their intrinsic desire to learn more about Chinese language and culture, but also the ability to interact with engaging story-driven plot lines, interesting characters, and fellow players. Zon is built on the premise that learning is interactive. The game provides the opportunity for players to learn from non-player characters (NPCs), responsive game agents, and other players.
Throughout each scene, players can engage with various elements of the environment, but they can also speak with other players in that scene or elsewhere in Zon. This allows for players to learn from both the designed game elements and other players. In this way, Zon is designed to provide social and environmental scaffolds to support player learning.”
The overall aesthetic design of Zon is pretty cool, and it’s a colorful way to start learning Mandarin. There’s even a chat function, either by typing or talking, and players may join clubs and groups to get to know other members of the online community. To find out more, Enter Zon.