If you think Chinese and English are vastly different languages, Dr. Jonathan Stalling wants to let you know you’re wrong.
Stalling came to UMKC last Monday to give students and faculty a personal walkthrough of his exhibit, which details his process of creating a phone app that teaches Chinese speakers how to speak phonetic English.
The “Poetics of Invention” exhibit initially opened in the fall of 2017 as an eight-room exhibit at the University of Oklahoma (OU), where Stalling is a professor of English. Following a year-long display at OU, the exhibit moved to UMKC in August of 2018 and will run until May 17, 2019. The exhibit is located on the fourth floor of the Miller Nichols Library.
Stalling first began his journey in constructing the app by looking at an ancient Chinese rime table that dates back to 600 A.D. Stalling, who also has a background in poetry and literature, revealed how this very same table helped serve as a basis for the algorithm that powers his app, with a bit of tinkering.
The table, which originally used to help poets create characters for new sounds by combining pre-existing vowels and consonants, performs a similar function today. Rather than create new sounds for Chinese, the table now helps create characters for sounds that exist in English, but not in Chinese, through Stalling’s app.
The app, Pinying, helps users learn simple monosyllabic sounds that make up the English language. Stalling noted this was only possible because of how similar Chinese and English are, explaining they share the same vowels and nearly all the same consonants.
Stalling went on to discuss why he believed his discovery was particularly important. He pointed out that this standardized method of creation is also extremely useful for helping teach English in China. Citizens in China speak many different dialects of Chinese, which Stalling considers to be so different that they are actually entire languages.
He also explained how in much of China, the English language is learned only by younger students as a test-taking tool. This, paired with the fact that most of these speakers tend to forget the language within a few short years, leads him to believe there is still an important gap that needs to be bridged.
With this app, Stalling hopes to make it easier for older Chinese citizens to learn English in a simple and “game-like” way.