Can Cartoons Teach You a New Language?

425FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestStumbleUpon Can Cartoons Teach You a New Language? ON APRIL 8, 2015 BY KATY FRENCH Cartoons are an ancient art form, present throughout human existence―and in unique iterations throughout our lives. Their simplicity can communicate a story simply and powerfully, from the earliest cave paintings to modern-day versions, which is why they resonate with people around the world. Today, cartoons are perhaps more popular than ever. Children worldwide enjoy animated films and TV shows; advertisements feature classic characters. Adults are attracted to them, too. Worldwide, large subcultures have formed around the cartoon. Take the rise of the manga comic in Japan, for example. Japanese commuters engrossed in Mangacomics. Cartoons present information through engaging storytelling, creating an easy entrance to worlds one might not otherwise explore. For example, in 2012, professional poker player Vivian Im discovered she was the subject of a growing and popular comic about playing the game. She was initially surprised to be the subject of a cartoon, but as the popularity of the cartoon grew, she was able to collaborate with the illustrator, share stories of her life as a poker-player, and develop her storyline. Although it was romanticized fiction, the cartoon added layers of drama and brought an audience that perhaps wouldn’t have engaged with poker in the first place―all thanks to a cartoon. And while cartoons appeal to children and adults as entertainment, we’ve also witnessed their power to communicate more serious topics in the form of political cartoons. Publications like Private Eye and VIZ feature social satire. Why are cartoons so impactful? Because they project images but allow for some emotional distance. They are a representation, not a reflection, and therefore let us synthesize information in a different way. (Ever noticed that every airplane flight safety card features illustrations―not photos―to tell us what to do in an emergency?) Cartoons as a visual medium have the ability to entertain and educate, and entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh is looking to use the medium in a completely new way: To teach people Chinese. Chinese is a global language spoken 1.3 billion people, but its symbol-based language is challenging for Westerners to comprehend. What if there were a hyper-visual way to learn? Hsueh decided that there could and should be, so she created Chineasy, a new language-learning program that turns the seemingly impenetrable symbols into beautiful and memorable cartoon illustrations. Chineasy was born out of Hsueh’s frustration in trying to teach British-born children to speak Chinese. She found it incredibly difficult to help them easily learn the basics. And it’s no surprise: There are 20,000 symbols in the Mandarin language, a daunting task. An understanding of 1,000 symbols is needed for basic literacy, 200 to do basic things like understand road signs and order from restaurant menus. To solve this challenge, Hsueh broke her teaching down into a fun system that is effective and quick to understand. Chineasy uses cartoon illustrations to teach the Chinese. It starts with a simple set of building blocks, giving you a fundamental understanding of the basic 8 characters. For example, put the symbols of a tree and mouth together and you get “idiot,” because a talking tree is pretty stupid. It’s this sense of humor and the boldness of the illustrations that make Chineasy an ingenious way of learning. As Hsueh explains on her successful Kickstarter: “The magical power of the Chineasy method is that by learning one small set of building blocks, students can build many new words, characters, and phrases. Master a few building block sets and your learning will accelerate to a whole new level. With very little effort, learners are able to read several hundred Chinese characters and phrases whilst simultaneously gaining a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural influences behind the vocabulary.” Who knew that cartoons could be homework? For more info, visit Chineasy.org. 425FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestStumbleUpon cartoons Chineasy illustrations languageSHARE Katy French Katy French is Managing Editor of Visual News. She writes about beautiful things and tells jokes on stage sometimes. Follow her @katyifrench Sent from the ether

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