Feb 042012
 

It may sound old-fashioned, but many people (including myself) still think that writing characters repeatedly by hand is one of the best ways to commit them to memory (this works by developing muscle memory). Normally, practice paper is divided into squares, each of which is subdivided with guides to help the student maintain the correct proportions of each character.

In the past, I used to make my own practice grid sheets with a word processor template, but nowadays there are much better options, such as the two web tools: Hanzi Grids and Hanlexon. Both of these allow you to paste a text into a box, choose some options, and output a pdf with the characters from your text printed as a model for copying into empty squares on the sheet.

Hanzi Grids is the newer of the two and is currently a beta release (Feb 24, 2012 update: Hanzi Grids is out of beta and now costs $10 AUD; mention lin2ai4@zhongweb.org as a referrer to get a discount), but nevertheless, it is already very sophisticated. With Hanzi Grids, the precise appearance of the sheet itself is more customizable: for example, you can adjust the size of your model character independently from the size of the square that it is in (Zoom option) and space out the squares on your sheet (notice how the squares do not share borders in the screenshot below).

You can also choose from several styles of guide within your squares: cross (results in a 2 x 2 grid), grid (3 x 3 grid), bar (1 x 2 grid), star (the square is divided into eight, sort of like a pie), or no guidelines at all. The color and opacity of everything is user-adjustable in Hanzi Grids.

Screenshot of Hanzi Grids

The many options and preview pane of Hanzi Grids

As you can see in the screenshot above, Hanzi Grids has a nice interface that gives fine-grained control over most options via sliders. One very nice feature is the dynamic preview of your pdf that updates immediately as you adjust the settings.

Options pane of Hanlexon

Options pane for the "Write" tool of Hanlexon

Hanlexon works somewhat differently. First you create a “worksheet” by pasting in your text. Then there are a number of things you can do with it. The tool that generates practice sheets is labeled “Write”  (we’ll look at the other Hanlexon tools in a future post). Hanlexon offers fewer options (see the screenshot of “Worksheet Options”) than Hanzi Grids, but Hanlexon can optionally include pinyin and stroke order diagrams. The stroke order diagrams are limited to certain characters, as can be seen in the screenshot below, and seem not to be available for traditional characters (unless the simplified character is the same). Hanlexon does allow you to have traditional characters on your sheet, as does Hanzi Grids. Finally, if you register with Hanlexon, you can save your worksheets for later use.

Screenshot of pdf made by Hanlexon, with pinyin and stroke order options

Screenshot of pdf made by Hanlexon, with pinyin and stroke order options

The following table compares the features and options of both Hanzi Grids and Hanlexon. One feature that both lack is the ability to remove duplicate characters. I would like to only have one row for each character of the text; words that occur more frequently in a given text do not necessarily need to be practiced more.

 
Hanzi Grids Hanlexon
Adjustable size of squares
Adjustable spacing between squares
Character size independently adjustable
Guides in squares ✓+, choice of styles , star style only
Adjustable opacity for guides
Tracing characters
Adjustable opacity for tracing
Choice of font style , Kaiti and Songti , Kaiti only
Choice of color for font, squares, guides
Stroke order ✓-, but not for all 
Pinyin
Translation
Removes punctuation , when one character/row option is selected
Removes English ✓-, but not necessarily other non-roman alphabets
Removes duplicate characters
Removes whitespace , optionally , always
Choice of one character/row or continuous text
Choice of paper size/orientation
Customizable page header , custom text at left, center, & right; also adjustable size , always “姓名”, user-specified title, page number
Saves your sheets

 

Both Hanzi Grids and Hanlexon allow you to create practice sheets that have the characters from your text printed down the leftmost column, leaving the rest of the row for the learner to fill in (“single character” or “one character per line”). With this option, the pdfs produced by the two tools can be nearly identical (depending on the other options chosen).

Both tools also allow you to print your text continuously from left to right. The results of the latter option differ more from one another. The screenshots below show how Hanzi Grids prints the model characters in the writing squares, while Hanlexon prints the model characters between the writing squares. Both are potentially useful, but in this mode Hanzi Grids is really only good for tracing, whereas Hanlexon is good for copying. My ideal tool would combine the two: show the model inside squares, but alternating with rows of empty squares.

Screenshot of Hanzi Grids continuous text

Screenshot of continuous text in Hanzi Grids

Screenshot of continuous text in Hanlexon

Screenshot of continuous text in Hanlexon

On the whole, I feel that most of Hanzi Grids’ unique options (such as opacity, color, adjustable spacing between squares, paper orientation) are aesthetic refinements that do not significantly improve the learning experience, whereas the unique options that Hanlexon provides (pinyin, stroke order diagrams [when possible], removal of punctuation and roman letters) actually make the practice sheet more useful from an educational standpoint. I prefer the interface of Hanzi Grids, however, especially the live preview, and I look forward to further development of Hanzi Grids bringing it onto a par with Hanlexon in terms of educational value. There is a lively discussion about Hanzi Grids on www.chinese-forums.com, where the developer is an administrator.

Both Hanzi Grids and Hanlexon are great tools for self-motivated learners and for teachers wanting to prepare custom practice sheets for their students. The choice between them at the moment comes down to which features are more important to you.

  6 Responses to “Custom hanzi handwriting practice sheets”

  1. Thanks for the reviews, but the stroke orders on the generated worksheets are difficult to read. I ended up subscribing to Arch Chinese, which can generate much complete and more importantly accurate stroke order diagrams. -Paul

    • Paul, many thanks for the comment. I have not tried Arch Chinese for a couple of reasons: the ongoing cost of the subscription plan and, more recently, the dependence on Flash (for buttons of all things), which rules out use on iOS.

      I agree that the stroke order images from Hanlexon become very difficult to read when the character has enough strokes to require two rows.

      Arch Chinese does seem to have some other interesting features, like the ability to show the stroke order with one stroke per square, as well as some unusual font options.

  2. Thanks for the writeup!

    I’m happy to say that most of the red crosses on the Hanzi Grids list are either already planned features that I haven’t quite finished yet, or are simple enough to add that they’ll soon become features :-) An option for automatically adding a blank row should be simple enough to do too (so watch out for that in a future update).

    I’ve also recently added two handwriting fonts (a Kaishu and a Xingshu font) to the site (you can see examples here), but to help cover the licensing costs of this I’ve had to make some of the features of the site paid access only (but it’s a cheap one-off cost).

    Any other suggestions you have on how to improve the site are welcome.

  3. [...] for practicing writing hanzi, is called the “writing” tool and was reviewed in an earlier post in comparison with a similar web-based tool, HanziGrids. This post will cover the other features [...]

  4. Hi, thanks for the review on Hanlexon tool. We find it very helpful in our future enhancement of the tool. Will be happy to fix the few bugs you mentioned in your post shortly.

    Hanlexon sets out to provide a free tool for everyone to use and promote the chinese heritage. We are glad it’s drawing some attentions.

  5. Hi

    This is helpful, and I have used both. Recently though, I have encountered a problem.
    I live in Hong Kong, and my kids go to local Cantonese primary school – all of their classes are in Cantonese except for Mandarin and English.

    They have weekly Chinese dictations, and I used to make them worksheets using Hanlexon. I could not use HanziGrids because they don’t allow for multiple character words or short phrases.
    I was really happy with Hanlexon until…

    Our tutor and other Cantonese friends pointed out it some of the characters were wrong… strokes were wrong – too short, too long or not the same way as used in Hong Kong.

    Since learning this, I have found that on the Mac I should use these two fonts:
    LiHei 儷黑 Pro and LiSong 儷宋 Pro
    But the programs don’t let me choose a font, so that doesn’t help.

    And that Hong Kong has it’s own Character Set and this is what is used in text books and for school writing.

    I have yet to find a tool that can create worksheets acceptable in Hong Kong.

    Would really like to see one of the two above address this (and for HanziGrids allow for multi character words, phrases and sentence)

    These two links are really helpful:

    http://www.ogcio.gov.hk/en/business/tech_promotion/ccli/hkscs/

    http://www.yale.edu/chinesemac/pages/character_sets.html

    Hong Kong SCS

    In 1995, the government of Hong Kong created its own extension to Big Five, calling it the Government Common Character Set (GCCS). In 1999, they revised it and renamed it the Hong Kong Supplementary Character Set (HKSCS or Hong Kong SCS). It was updated in 2001, 2004, and 2008, for a current total of 4,568 traditional-form hanzi.

    Unicode 4.1 (2005) and HKSCS-2004 are fully coordinated, and Unicode 5.2 (2009) and HKSCS-2008 are fully coordinated. Thus, all HKSCS characters map to Unicode characters. HKSCS-2008 is the last version that will be published with Big Five code points.

    The Traditional Chinese Input Method in Mac OS X 10.3 and above supports HKSCS-2001 in the fonts LiHei 儷黑 Pro and LiSong 儷宋 Pro.

    Charset name: BIG5-HKSCS.

    http://www.ogcio.gov.hk/ccli/eng/hkscs/

    Sorry, know this is a bit unique, but do hope it can be resolved and maybe you can do a post in future on tools for students of Cantonese in Hong Kong :)

    Thanks!

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