Posts tagged ‘Chinese’

Your world, with subtitles

Pleco, maker of Chinese dictionaries for smartphones, announces a very sexy OCR add-on for the iPhone. If the final product is anything like the demo, it’ll be blazingly fast. Watch the dictionary entries come up as the phone is panned across the text.

You can also change the OCR window size, varying it from one character to a whole phrase.

It takes advantage of the better video camera on the iPhone 4; I’ll be interested to see how it performs on my 3GS (with iOS4).

Of course they’re demoing the app recognizing text in a book. But you know I’m going to take it out into the world and try it on signage. Product labels at 99 Ranch grocery. Marquees in Oakland Chinatown. Specials on the Chinese-only menu! Pleco Camera Recognizer doesn’t look like an augmented reality app, but it is. Or it could be.

August 12, 2010 at 7:46 pm 4 comments

Hǎojíle! Tools for learning Chinese

You’ll see more posts here on teaching and learning. In the last few months I’ve taken a more active role in learning: e-, m-, and face to face. And as a personal project, I’ve started to learn Standard (Mandarin) Chinese.

Why do it? Well, Pǔtōnghuà is the official language of a rapidly expanding world power. Even if the effort isn’t strictly speaking cost-justifiable, I get to broaden my cultural and linguistic horizons.

But at heart I’m a language nerd. Grappling with tones and deciphering characters is just plain fun. Add to that the Joys of Meta – the opportunity to observe adult learning first hand – and I’ve got a great project.

And because I am also a geek I’ve assembled tools to help. Mobile learning is essential to me. I turn first to my phone and the apps on it when I’m working, whether I’m drilling vocabulary while riding BART into San Francisco or sitting at home writing characters in my workbook. I’ve got an iPhone 3GS and a MacBook Pro, and strongly favor good iPhone apps with solid desktop integration. However, some of these tools are also available on other platforms.

Here are two of my favorites.

Flashcards: Mental Case (Mac, iPad, iPhone).

Mental Case is a general purpose program for flashcards on any topic. For ease of data entry I create cards with the desktop program and sync them to the iPhone app.

Mental Case Desktop

Mental Case uses spaced repetition. It builds a flashcard Lesson based on the units (“cases”) you want to study, your desired intensity of repetition, and your success with each card. Right now I’ve got 103 cards awaiting study – the app on my iPhone sports a numerical badge saying so. I don’t need to drill nǐ hǎo (hello) any more, so it’s not in the Lesson. But hòutiān (the day after tomorrow) is there, and will even come up multiple times during the review if I make a mistake on it.

If you’re studying a popular topic or a standard text, you can save time by importing flashcards from the Flashcard Exchange website, where students share what they’ve built.

I’m eagerly awaiting Mental Case’s next major release so I can make three-sided flashcards: English, Pinyin romanization with tones, and characters.

I should also give a nod here to Anki, an open source, multiple-platform flashcard system. After a semester using Mental Case I read this informed review of spaced-repetition software culminating in a hearty endorsement of Anki. Even then there still was no iPhone app, but now there is. So, iPhone Anki and Mental Case users, any comments?

Dictionary: Pleco (iPhone, iPad, Palm, Windows Mobile).

Pleco has a long history of creating Chinese dictionaries for mobile phones. Language learners living in China give Pleco high marks, especially for the uncluttered and highly functional iPhone version.

I use the free product, for which one can buy additional modules from within the app. Module bundles are attractive and there are educational discounts. I can’t wait to upgrade to word lookup via handwriting recognition. Pleco does a beautiful job of progressively narrowing its search results as you write, even with my beginner’s hand.

And the cross referencing within Pleco is a delight. From an entry to its component characters, from a character to its component radicals, from a usage example to other words in the phrase – just tap, and more information comes up in context.

July 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment


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