Feb 262012

Hanlexon is a website offering a number of tools for the study of Chinese. All of the tools are used with “worksheets” that you create first. A worksheet is essentially a set of characters. It can be an actual text with punctuation, or just a list of characters (e.g. 50 most frequent). Worksheets can be organized into “lessons” and “classes.”

One feature of Hanlexon, namely its ability to generate PDFs for practicing writing hanzi, is called the “writing” tool and was reviewed in an earlier post in comparison with a similar web-based tool, Hanzi Grids. This post will cover the other features of Hanlexon.

The “reading” tool can turn the content of your worksheet into a PDF with the option of adding pinyin as a phonetic guide above the hanzi, creating an annotated (or ruby) version.

PDF of text with phonetic guide created with the Hanlexon "reading" tool

The “reading” tool can also display the content of the worksheet right in the browser, with ruby pinyin that you can toggle off and on. Clicking on a character pops up an animated stroke order diagram, if one is available (blue characters have animation). This is works fine on iOS devices (tested with mobile Safari).

One theoretically excellent feature is the ability to choose the correct pinyin for characters that have more than one possible pronunciation. In practice, however, I found that sometimes a change just won’t take. For example, no matter how many times I chose “zhe” as the reading for , it kept giving me “zhāo”. Needless to say, this can ruin your output and I hope the developers will fix it soon.

Correcting pinyin in the Hanlexon "reading" tool

The “scramble” tool gives you a little exercise in matching pinyin with hanzi. It takes the characters from your worksheet and shuffles them. Then you drag them to empty boxes labeled with pinyin; the pinyin is in the same order as the text appears in your worksheet. If your text is a continuous narrative, you get the benefit of reinforcing sentence patterns by putting the characters in the correct order. But if your goal is to test whether you know the pronunciation of the characters (as represented by the pinyin), then you may get an unwanted advantage by simply knowing what should come next in the text. The drag-and-drop also works in mobile Safari on iOS, but it can be difficult to get to a target that is offscreen.

Drag the characters to the correct pinyin in "scramble"

The “flashcard” tool is, in my opinion, somewhat disappointing. It just does not function like flashcards in the usual sense. As with the “reading” tool, there is an html mode and a pdf mode. In the html mode, you get a list of your worksheet’s characters and when you click one, it appears in large print on the “flashcard” with optional pinyin in small print. If available, an animated stroke order diagram can optionally be displayed as well. You can toggle the pinyin on and off, but there seems to be no way to show English.

Animated stroke order on a "flashcard"

The PDF mode of the “flashcard” tool is even more unexpected; it gives something like a sheet of writing squares, but filled in. The tool is not bad for what it does, but the name raises false expectations. If you want actual flashcard functionality, the web has plenty of other flashcard services (such as Quizlet).

In what sense are these flashcards?

Minor technical gripe: When you hit your browser’s “back” button or command after being in one of the above tools, I would expect to get back to my list of worksheets, but instead I get a search box and a message saying that there are no such worksheets. Clearing the placeholder text in the search box brings back my list of worksheets. The intended way to get back to your worksheets seems to be to click the “My Worksheets” link at the top of the page, but if you generally find using keyboard commands faster, not being able simply to go back gets frustrating.

Privacy note: All worksheets are searchable and useable by other registered users. There seems to be no way to make a worksheet private.

Hanlexon has a very nice feature set, especially for a free (donations accepted) service. The fact that none of it depends on Flash is very welcome; teachers and learners can generate pdf practice sheets or texts with ruby pinyin and print them off right from an iOS device.

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