Reading and writing

May 262012
iOS game: trainchinese Chinese Writer gets new feature

Chinese Writer by trainchinese is an app that makes learning to write hanzi with proper stroke order into a game. I first reviewed it in April 2011 and it keeps getting better (see here and here). To recap how the game works, characters drop from the top of the screen with gradually increasing swiftness; you tap each one and then try to write it properly as quickly as possible. You get bonuses for writing quickly; wrong strokes are penalized. Failure to complete the character in time costs you a “life.” Lose five lives and the game is over. In earlier versions, you traced over the character, which tested your knowledge of stroke order, but not your recall of the character. You could do very well without actually knowing the words, so long as you knew the rules of stroke order and had fast fingers. This update adds the option to … [read more]

May 262012
iOS app: Pinyinizer

Pinyinizer is an app for adding pinyin phonetic guide text (ruby text) automatically to Chinese characters. You simply type or paste a text in hanzi into the box and click the “Pinyinize” button. An internet connection is required. The result is a nice display with large characters and smaller, red pinyin above them. You can also hear line-by-line audio. The quality of the text-to-speech was quite good. The app is powered by Google Translate. Tapping a button gives you the option to print or e-mail the Pinyinized text. I could not print from the app, however; it simply hung after tapping the Print button. I needed to completely quit the app before I could use it again. In the iOS and Mac Mail apps, the Pinyinized text looks just like it does in the Pinyinizer app, but without the audio icons. Looking at the message source code revealed (unsurprisingly) that … [read more]

May 202012
Showdown: iOS apps for Chinese OCR

This blog has discussed several options for performing OCR on Chinese texts, but the options all required a desktop or laptop computer (Google Docs, Adobe Acrobat, Sciweavers i2OCR). In this post, we’ll look at several options for OCRing Chinese on iOS devices. The contenders: ABBYY TextGrabber + Translator is an OCR app that supports many languages and ties into Google Translate. LRDict is a Chinese dictionary app that has an OCR feature. I used the lite version for testing. Pleco Chinese Dictionary is an app with several tools for studying Chinese, primarily a free dictionary; OCR is a paid add-on. All of these require starting from an image file, not a PDF. You can take a photo with your device’s camera or import one from the Photos app. My tests used two different photos taken with an iPhone 4S and iPad 3, so your results may vary. Round one A page … [read more]

May 142012
Chrome Language Immersion browser plug-in

The web is, of course, a limitless source of authentic reading material for students of Chinese (not to mention other languages). But only quite advanced students can read most unadapted web pages. So there has been a fair amount of excitement online (Lifehacker, Engadget, EdSurge newsletter) about a plug-in for the Google Chrome browser called Language Immersion for Chrome that aims to turn any webpage into level-appropriate reading material for language students. Well, that may be overstating its goals; perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the plug-in lets you work some language study into your regular web browsing. Once installed, you start from a page in English (for example) and at the click of a button, the plug-in translates some words and phrases into the language of your choice (including either simplified or traditional Chinese). The number of words/phrases translated into the target language is determined by a setting matched to … [read more]

Apr 222012
Harvard's "lion turtle"

A sure sign that spring has sprung in Harvard Yard (apart from the overpowering smell of mulch) is the reappearance of the Harvard University bixi from its winter wrapping. The term bìxì (赑屃 / 贔屭) refers to a dragon with the body of a tortoise. Stone bixi often serve as a base for a tablet or stele. The 17-foot tall, 20+ ton marble sculpture was given to the university on the occasion of its tercentennial in 1936 by alumni who were members of Harvard Clubs in China. Although the bixi dates from the Qing dynasty, it was re-inscribed for Harvard. The annual winter wrapping, however, only began in the late ’90s and the inscription is severely eroded. The following transcription is taken from the Wikimedia page devoted to the bixi. 文化为国家之命脉国家之所以兴也繇于文化而文化之所以盛也实繇于学深识远 见之士知立国之本必亟以兴学为先创始也艰自是光大而扩充之而其文化之宏往 往收效于数百年间而勿替是说也徵之于美国哈佛大学滋益信矣哈佛约翰先生于 三百年前由英之美讲学于波士顿市嗣在剑桥设立大学即以哈佛名之规制崇闳学 课美备因而人才辈出为世界有名之学府与美国之国运争荣哈佛先生之深识远见 其有造于国家之文化也大矣我国为东方文化古国然世运推移日新月异志学之士 复负笈海外以求深造近三十年来就学于哈佛大学学成归国服务于国家社会者先 后几达千人可云极盛今届母校成立三百年纪念之期同人等感念沾漑启迪之功不 能无所表献自兹以往当见两国文化愈益沟通必更光大扩充之使国家之兴盛得随 学问之进境以增隆斯则同人等之所馨香以祝而永永纪念不忘者尔 西历一九三六年九月哈佛大学中国留学生全体同人敬立 A partial translation appears on the bixi’s Wikipedia page. … [read more]