It's the lunar New Year, so what better time to look at PinYinPal, and app that hopes to make learning Mandarin fun for kids. We had to a chance to talk to Jen Gross about PinYinPal at Macworld|iWorld 2013, and if it looks like Words With Friends meets Chinese 101, that's not by accident.

The creators of the app had been teaching Mandarin online for a few years but, after seeing iOS and the iPad, thought it would be better if they came out with an app. They're starting off with single, simplified Chinese characters, but they'll be updating with traditional characters and more complicated words in the future. They're also thinking about running online tournaments to further increase engagement.

I really like these kinds of apps, and this approach to education. Teaching is in desperate need of innovation. It's criminally underfunded and understaffed, and the promise of online learning has been wasted by people who sign up but don't attend or engage. Yet, everyone has time for video games, and no one fails to engage with them.

We know what needs to be taught, we know how to capture interest. Gamified learning my sound ridiculous if not abhorrent, but it might also be the answer to getting people involved and educated again. Insert Sam Seaborn rant.

PinYinPal is free, and while it's only available for the iPad right now, it's coming to the iPhone as well this March, and Android and perhaps even desktop in the future.

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