Vocabulary

Feb 092013
 
iPad game: PinyinPal

Finally, someone has taken the tried-and-true format of Scrabble/Words with Friends and made a game for learners of Chinese. It’s called PinYinPal and was developed by Adeline Yeh Mah, who runs the website chinesecharacteraday.com. The basic gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played Scrabble-like games; as you can see in the image above, I’ve just placed the tiles C, U, and N, which not only form the word cun, but in combination with the letters already on the board, also form the words lu and gan (tones don’t come into it). But this isn’t a simple knock-off;  the developer has done an admirable job adapting the game to Chinese. First of all, since pinyin syllables are mostly 2-5 letters long, it can be difficult to get enough “clearance” on the board. To solve this, each player has three “spacer” tiles that can be used to let you play … [read more]

Sep 092012
 
Back to school: iOS dictionaries

Last September, I posted about two free dictionaries that had flashcard functionality (at extra cost): Pleco Chinese Dictionary and trainchinese: Dictionary & Flash cards. In reviewing the state of the iOS Chinese dictionary market, I find that those are still the two that I would recommend to students, so let’s take a closer look at their respective advantages. Both have useful features for learners, such as color-coding by tones and example sentences, but for beginning students, I’d recommend trainchinese over Pleco for a number of reasons: Features that are especially useful to beginners, such as audio and stroke order diagrams, are included at no extra charge. Audio does require an internet connection. English to Chinese search is better. A nifty feature draws your attention to characters with similar shapes to the ones you search for (see image below). App badges remind you to study. It seems easier to use, partly … [read more]

Jul 152012
 
iOS app to OCR Chinese: Pleco

This post fulfills my promise to discuss the additional features of Pleco Chinese Dictionary following up on its victory in the iOS OCR showdown. Pleco is the grand old man of apps for learning Chinese (see the Pleco website); I first used it on a Palm Tungsten C device in 2003. It took some time to be ported to iOS and, while the appearance is unfortunately too reminiscent of its earlier incarnations, Pleco is still a very powerful tool for students of Chinese. Once the app has OCRed text from an image, tapping “Capture” will open the app’s “Reader” (available as a paid add-on) and display the text reflowed (preserving paragraph breaks, but not the arbitrary line breaks of the printed page). The reflowing is great for continuous prose, but is undesirable for things like poetry or song lyrics. I have not found a way to disable the reflowing and … [read more]

Jul 062012
 
iOS app: trainchinese Dictionary and Flashcards

Following up on the last post about Skritter, we’ll be looking at another sophisticated flashcard app specifically developed for Chinese, trainchinese: Dictionary & Flash cards. The free app allows use of the dictionary and a free account allows flashcard use for a very small number of new words per week, but this is enough to decide whether you want to upgrade to a paid account. With either a paid or free account, you can also practice your flashcards on the trainchinese website. Study modes The app uses a spaced repetition system to test you less often on words that you know better. There are two basic methods of testing: “honesty” and multiple choice. “Honesty” is the familiar flashcard method where you are responsible for indicating whether or not you knew the correct answer. Multiple choice is self-explanatory. In both modes you can get a hint without penalty. For each method, … [read more]

Jun 242012
 
iOS app: Skritter

The Chinese-learning community is all aflutter over Skritter. This is the highly anticipated iOS version of the popular web-based tool for learning Chinese, particularly writing hanzi with correct stroke order. Although I haven’t yet talked about the web version here, I jumped on the chance to review the app (thanks to Nick at Skritter for making it available in beta and to Marjolein @CleverClogs for putting us in touch). The app itself is free, but to take full advantage of it, you need to subscribe to the Skritter service. You get a week’s free trial when you create an account, so that should give you a reasonable chance to see if you want to pay for a subscription. The following review assumes a subscriber account. More than just a writing trainer, Skritter for iOS can be set to test you on any combination of the following skills: writing hanzi, knowing … [read more]