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Alumnus returns favour with new teaching tool

11 Jul 2017

Innovative language app designed by Manchester alumnus now being used by University


A ground-breaking new language learning app designed by a former Manchester student is now being used by the University, after its creator reached an agreement with the University’s Confucius Institute.

Philip Zhang, who graduated from his Master of Laws (LLM) degree in 2007, started his own company on his return to China. There he developed YiyaHanyu, a Mandarin Chinese learning app which contains live spoken materials that are particularly helpful for those learning the language remotely without any linguistic or cultural context.

The app contains voice recognition software that helps the user with their tone and intonation – which are very important in Mandarin Chinese – and also enables the user to have a ‘conversation’ in realistic situations through the use of videos featuring professional actors.

The University tested YiyaHanyu with students at its Confucius Institute, who responded positively. As a result, it has been agreed to provide free access to the app for ten language teachers and 250 students each year. He will also collaborate with other Chinese language departments within the University.

Philip, who also happens to be one of the most highly qualified Tai Chi instructors in China, hopes that the app will enable students at Manchester to learn Mandarin Chinese in an effective and realistic way, and give them a distinct advantage when they come to use the language in their careers.

"Sound recognition technology is developing so quickly, but nobody uses this in the Chinese education industry - so we created this app to help to develop and promote the technology and the industry in China," said Philip. "We have committed to partnering with The University of Manchester's Confucius Institute to provide students with better tools, and to improve their learning efficiencies.

"I studied at Manchester here from 2005 to 2007 – but spent most of my time in the library doing coursework and reading! I really love the University, and I really love Manchester as a city. I'm now a committee member of The University of Manchester Alumni Association China, and help our alumni to communicate with one another.

“We are very excited to collaborate with Yiyahanyu, and this app will allow our students to practice their Mandarin outside classroom wherever and when they want,” said Karen Wang, the Deputy Director of the Confucius Institute. “Most of our learners can only attend classroom-based learning once a week, and research indicates that learners retain less than 25% of newly-acquired language after a week. We hope that students can learn Mandarin more effectively with the app.

“We have already had some success in incorporating technology in our language teaching, and this app is the next step up.”