May 262012

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 have the character disappear after you write the first stroke, so that you have to remember it, as well as get the stroke order right. This makes the game more challenging and increases the educational value. Speed is still important, but if you don’t know a character, you will have to look at it for some time before you start writing. Playing in this “writing” mode earns twice as many points as playing in the original “tracing” mode.

Original tracing mode after writing one stroke

Original tracing mode after writing one stroke

New writing mode after writing one stroke

New writing mode after writing one stroke

I actually suggested something like this in my original review, so I am glad to see it implemented. This, along with the previous updates, takes care of almost all my initial criticisms.

Another feature that may not be new with this update, but which I failed to mention before, is the fact that the app remembers your mistakes from game to game. When you browse each wordlist, missed characters will be listed first for ease of review (you do have the option to “forget” previous mistakes). Characters that you have missed will be presented earlier in subsequent games.

These features make Chinese Writer perhaps the best educational game for Chinese available for iOS. As mentioned in an earlier post, a subscription to will allow you to fully customize the wordlists, plus give you access to other educational tools offered by a subscription to trainchinese. If you subscribe using one of the links here, you will earn me a month’s subscription.

Chinese Writer by trainchinese is available on the App Store. Chinese Writer by trainchinese - Molatra

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]

May 062012
iOS app: trainchinese Pinyin Trainer

Pinyin Trainer from trainchinese tests your ability to distinguish pinyin initials, tones, and/or sequences of two tones. You can choose to be tested on any one of these or a combination of all three. There seems to be no option, however, for testing pinyin finals. So if you need work distinguishing gān from gāng, for example, this app won’t help. The format is multiple choice, ranging from 2-4 choices for each syllable; there is also an “artist mode” if you want to sketch tone marks. The app keeps a running tally of right/wrong responses. These are not just numbers, but rather a list of the words tested and what your response was. This is great for finding patterns of errors, for example, if you have trouble distinguishing x from sh, or second tones from third. On an iPad in landscape orientation (as in the image above), this list is constantly … [read more]