China has gone from Red Menace to Ripe Market in the eyes of many, but learning to read, write and speak Chinese can be a stumbling block for outsiders. Enter Transparent Language.
The Hollis, N.H., outfit created Power Chinese, a CD-ROM language course for Windows that will have your machine speaking fluently even if you don't. Teaching a foreign language is something multimedia computers do well, and Transparent Language has been helping since 1991.
Power Chinese tackles Mandarin, the official language of China, and does it well. The method is repetition of words and phrases, but from the point of view of those with English as a first language. In other words, the software assumes that you'll be thinking in English while learning Chinese.
The software's navigational tools trigger the appropriate Chinese word, and clever simulations and videos deliver a situational approach to key words and phrases, rather than a rote grammar-based method.
It also offers puzzles and games in written Chinese. By clicking on a Chinese character or phrase, a user can hear a native say it, or see the word or phrase spelled out in Pin Yin, a system that uses the Roman alphabet to represent spoken Chinese.
All told, some 600 characters are included. There's also a section on tone, since in Chinese the meaning is altered by each of four tones for a given sound.
The company claims that if you use the software for about eight weeks, (this reviewer spent about an hour per lesson) you should approach a level of understanding equal to a year of college-level study. Or at the very least, greatly amuse someone fluent in Mandarin.
In case your ambitions include learning to draw the characters, the software includes an exercise book and a book of common phrases.
Power Chinese isn't something most of us are going to buy for fun, and the $159 estimated retail price reflects that. But for those doing business with China, or hoping to, it could be a very good investment.
Installation was easy, and Transparent Language earns Good Software Citizen points by including an uninstall module. The interface dutifully keeps the student a mouse-click away from help on anything.
System requirements for Power Chinese: Multimedia PC with a 486 or higher CPU running Windows 3.1 or later with eight megabytes of RAM and nine megabytes of hard disk space, VGA monitor, sound card and CD-ROM drive.
Transparent Language products are widely available at retail.