WaiChinese – A complete tone changer

I have to preface this by saying I am extremely impressed by WaiChinese. I have absolutely always wanted an app that was able to actually track your tones as you say them and it’s finally here! So please go and try it it out!

Now onto the full review!

It all comes down to tones

First and foremost this app is specifically focused on improving your tones and, by extension, your regular daily conversation. Phrases are recorded by native speakers, and I’ve had some recorded specifically for me to focus on particularly difficult tone combinations. The app provides live-as-you-record sound charts so that you can see how the tones are actually said, both yours and the ones the teacher records.

Below are two examples of how this looks in the app. The sound chart on the top is the teacher’s original recording, while the chart on the bottom is the student’s:

kaihui

On this screen you can touch on the “translate” text at any time to see the English translation of the phrase you’re currently studying. In addition, you may notice a green book on the side with a grade on it:

Nihaograde

If you click on the green book that has the grade on it, you’ll be taken to this screen:

Archived

Here, all of the recordings done by a student for a particular word, in this case 你好, will appear on this page. What this means is that a student see and hear how they’ve progressed over time for any word submitted on WaiChinese. The student can also see the teacher’s grade and comment. This provides a great way to focus on improvement for particularly difficult tones and tone combinations.

And in case anyone is curious, the app’s designer has also provided a little peak into the teacher’s view:

Teacherinterface

From here the teacher can see the list of students and is also able to grade them very quickly. This is where WaiChinese fits into a very unique niche: not only is it a great resource for students, but it also becomes an invaluable tool for teachers as well.

Originally I wanted to point out that this is an excellent app for Chinese language teachers to be used in the classroom or in 1-on-1 sessions. But I can also see this being really helpful for learners using Skype or even just language exchange partners. Certainly, at least, the “I have a teacher that will assist me” option makes it seem like this would be a great broad use case for this app.

My Personal Experience

I’ve been using WaiChinese for about a week now and I have to say it has made me much more conscious of my tones. I find myself thinking about them on a more regular basis than I normally would. Plus, the comments from the teacher as well as the visual representation of how my tones are being said, has been particularly good reinforcing how and where I need to improve.

IMG_2191

So I am admittedly very impressed about how this app has made me be much more aware of the tones and how I’m actually saying them–compared to how I think I’m saying them. Especially because, after using this app, I noticed there is definitely a big discrepancy between what it actually sounds like versus what I think it sounds like.

Some Video Goodness

Below is a short demo video showing how the system works:

There is also another great demo video which you can find on Vimeo here.

Conclusions

Ultimately it’s the fact that this app is not limited to pre-configured flashcards, but rather any vocabulary word or phrase you want to learn that can be recorded is available to you.

But really it’s better if you try it out for yourself: So sign up today to beta test WaiChinese–it’s completely free! It’s available both for Android and iOS.

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New Chinese Learning App Roundup!

There’s been quite a few great new apps released for both iOS and Android recently that would make a great addition to any Chinese learner’s toolbox. So in this post I wanted to highlight a few of them and share with everyone to take a look at! I’ve also included screenshots at the very end of the post.

Pinyin Browser152x152

  • Platform: iOS (iPhone, iPad)
  • Free but has in-app purchases
  • Official app website can be found here.

Pinyin Browser is a lovely little browser app that allows you to insert Pinyin or even Zhuyin above the text on any website that has Chinese text. This is a great way to practice pronunciation as you read news, blog posts, and more on the web.

In the free version, you’re limited to what websites you can visit. To get access beyond these trial sites, you need to pay $1.99 to upgrade.

You can find Pinyin Browser for iOS here.

Laowai Pro975318_larger

  • Platform: iOS (iPhone, iPad)
  • Free but offers in-app purchases
  • Official app website can be found here

A relatively lightweight app, Laowai Pro provides a selection of texts for you to read and lookup words as you go. It also has flashcards and an SRS system integrated into it, though I prefer using the app to read. The selection of texts are primarily Chinese Classics and a few news articles. Dream of the Red Mansion is also included.

The app also has the options to switch to Traditional, too. You can pay $1.99 to remove ads and $4.99 to get a stack of 30,000+ flashcards.

You can find Laowai Pro for iOS here.

Mandaread836515_larger

  • Platform iOS (iPhone, iPad); Android coming soon
  • Free but requires account
  • Official app website can be found here.

Some may remember the early stages of the Mandaread website, and while it seemed dormant for a while, they’ve come out with a rather well done app. They have a large variety of texts organized by level (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced) and offer popups for each vocabulary word in the text. I also appreciate that they have pre-defined courses to get you started.

One downside is that you can’t switch between Traditional and Simplified Chinese, with the app currently only offering the texts in Simplified.

You can get Mandaread for iOS here.

For all the Above..

I’d recommend picking them all up since they’re all free and really good at different things. Plus, the articles in both Laowai Pro and Mandaread are quite different, so you’ll always have interesting and new content to read.

Have you used any of these? Let me know what you think in the comments!

For screenshots of the apps, click below.

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The Skritter Android Beta is Out!

Good news for Skritter users with Android devices–the Skritter Beta for Android is out!

Check out the post below for a few screenshots and brief overview. Also, learn how to get a three-week free trial (instead of the usual one week) to test out the app!

With a cute splash screen to boot!

With a cute splash screen to boot!

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MCBs and Anki 2.0

This post is a reflection on my experiences with MCBs, mentioned by Jeff弁 over at his blog. You can read all about them here and in this follow-up post, both worth checking out in their entirety. MCB’s, to quote Jeff are:

The general idea with these cards is that, like MCDs, you have a card with some amount of context and a single element that you test yourself on. However, instead of cloze-deletion it uses bold to bring your attention to the piece of the card you are focusing on.
(emphasis added)

In many ways it is basically a reverse cloze-deletion, where instead of trying to guess what the content is, you’re focused on trying to recall what the content is. I have to say, in my brief experience with it (about a week) that it seems two times more effective that MCDs ever were. I find my retention is much stronger and it is easier to recall the word actively rather than passively. This goes for grammar too, as Jeff mentioned he will mark certain points in blue, which I have done as well:

So, for example, I mark this specific sentence structure with blue so I learn to recognize it.

Now, how does this all play into Anki? After the huge update to Anki 2.0, I decided to give it a go again. Recently all my SRS decks have gone stagnant. So, I went through and deleted all my old decks and have since started fresh. You have no idea how relieving that was! Now I’m off to a fresh start, with MCBs guiding the way. The most useful addition is the ability to create parent and child decks, like so:

This way, I can focus my studying on grammar points, Classical Japanese/Chinese, or, by selecting Japanese or Chinese, the whole thing mixed together. This has really helped a lot. As such, my new method of inputting cards reflects this structure–while also making the most use of each phrase. For example:

After adding this new card into Anki, I can select where I put it. So, perhaps I can focus on grammar (blue) or vocabulary (bolded), then place it in its respective deck. I also will flip the cards around and use the content in other ways:

So here’s the same card, with the term I want to focus on in bold. But the content has been reversed to focus on Chinese with the Japanese below. This way I reinforce what I am learning from both sides. However, I try and keep the information on the back of the card specific to what I want to gain from the front. What this means is that, say I have a sentence I am studying the grammar structure for. I only keep that grammar information on the back–even if there’s terms on the front I cannot 100% read or recall. Like the famous adage KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), I don’t want to clog up my cards with more information than I need to. That is why I make separate vocabulary and grammar cards. Before I tried to jam too much on there, making them very tiring to go through and I often just glossed over most of it anyway.

Also, I make sure to go under “Fields” and activate the “Remember last input when adding” option, so that it retains the content for me to change what I want to bold, color, or where I wish to place it. It’s super helpful.

I definitely suggest giving Jeff’s MCBs a shot, they’re a pretty effective way of doing it. Don’t forget, also, if you have Anki follow this guide posted by Lan for creating filtered decks to make your reviews even more effective!

“Opera-”ting Through Web Browsers

I tend to use a variety of web browsers (as much as I prefer multitasking tools to simplify things, I can’t seem to find a browser that works best for me.. some websites only render well in IE, Firefox is slow loading but has great extensions, Google Chrome is sleek, etc.). However, I’ve been playing around with Opera a bit more lately and have found some pretty useful extensions:

operaextensions

Listed, though not purposefully, in order of my preference. There’s also another one that removes ads embedded within the videos, which is pretty nice too. Anyway. The video downloader is actually really nice, and does an excellent job. I like doing this for loading onto a mobile player, when I don’t have internet, or set them to be executed via one of Khatz’s many, many, sexy batch files.

The HTML Ruby one I just recently (as in minutes ago) added on, so I can’t speak for usefulness, yet.

I also like the Mini Wikipedia because I can quickly look up articles in Chinese/Japanese/English (gasp!) without having to switch languages around.

image

I still use this tool to download the Youtube audio as well (I like being able to have it in a variety of formats).

This Christmas, make it an eReader

…please, really, I need one!

Anyway. Yes, while I do not actually own an eReader, I’ve come across a lot of great ways to use an eReader to your language studying advantage!

First, let me direct you to the entry that started all of this, it’s right here. Read it, I’ll wait. Seriously, go read it! It’s genius!

All done? Okay, well, I don’t have much more information to impart on you, but after following the directions for Mangle, I was immediately satisfied with the results. I have two of my favorite mangas (in Chinese!) all in handy little PDFs ready for my (future) eReader.

Now, for you Chinese learners:

Those of you who may be using Haodoo (好讀) for Chinese literature (highly recommended! See my post about iPhone apps for some more information, specifically the cBook Lite section). By now, you should also have Calibre installed. Now, if you’ve tried to download books from Haodoo, they’re in a very finicky format (pdb) that most programs can’t open. But, luckily, someone came alone to fix that!

Meet Haodoo for Calibre! It takes no time at all to install, and once it’s in, you can easily change those pdb formats to a format of your choice!

Anyway, I hope this was useful!

UPDATE 12/9/2010: I just found a really good online store for purchasing ebooks in Chinese from Taiwan, called Pubu. Be sure to check it out!

Safari’s Top Sites

I recently downloaded Apple’s web browser, Safari, for use on my laptop. Mainly I just wanted to play around with it. I made sure to download it in Chinese, of course!

When I opened the top sites, I found to my pleasant surprise this:

Safari Top Sites

It already had a great collection of localized (to Taiwan) websites!

Might be worth a shot in your target language, too. I don’t know if it was going off my IP (Taiwan) or my Windows (Chinese—traditional, Taiwan) but if it works for you, let me know (plus that’d be fantastic news too!).

Chinese (Taiwan): http://www.apple.com/tw/safari/

Japanese: http://www.apple.com/jp/safari/