“Relationship Calculator” – An App To Help Keep Those Familial Terms Straight

One of the biggest challenges many learners face is in trying to learn the different ways of addressing family members. I remember what pretty much amounted a general look of confusion around the classroom as we went over the multitude of combinations. Of course, we were told “well, just parents, siblings and close relatives matters” to which everyone replied:

OK

Still, it wasn’t quite enough. This class was in Taiwan and a general walk down the street, chat with the local breakfast shop owner, or even stories from local friends made it painfully obvious that we needed to know more.

Flashcards are great, but what if you needed to know on the fly? What if, suddenly in conversation, you forgot and had to remember that estranged aunt or the cousin you’d really rather not talk about?

Now, of course, there is an app for that. It’s called “Relative Calculator”, or「三姑六婆—親戚稱呼計算機」. The name of the app itself obviously says more than “Relationship Calculator” and is definitely due an explanation.

The first part, 三姑六婆(sāngūliùpó)is an idiom which means “women in an illegal/disreputable profession”, and it can also mean a “woman who likes to pick fights”. There’s likely a good reason for choosing this, so if anyone has some thoughts throw them out in the comments below. Anyway the less said about this the better, so let’s move on.

The second part, 親戚稱呼計算機 is pretty straightforward. It is literally “Relative Naming Calculator”:

親戚 (qīnqi): relatives

稱呼(chēnghu): to call/address as

計算機(jìsuànjī): calculator

One nice thing, too, is that this app is for both iOS and Android, so we’re covered either way! The interface for both versions is pretty much the same, aside from platform specific differences. Still, this app is Chinese-only and you’ll want to have a dictionary nearby if you need to look any pronunciation or meaning for any of the characters.

First and foremost, after opening the app, it will ask you to select your sex then the relationship, and finally hit enter to get the results:

Screenshot_2015-09-01-20-31-45

You can also use the「的」key to chain phrases together when building a relationship tree:

Screenshot_2015-09-01-20-35-19

Sometimes it will come across situations where you need to pick the relationship based on age, and choose whether or not they are older or younger than you:

Screenshot_2015-09-01-20-39-09

There are times, though, you’ll come across a relationship that it doesn’t have information for and it’ll tell you 「暫時沒有資訊」and you’ll need to hit the CE button and start over.

In some of the testing I did, it seemed to work pretty well, although there are some weird cases that may be worth double checking unless you’re 100% confident you know what it means and how to use it. Also, it takes a little getting used to as far as navigating the different relationships, but once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty smoothly from there on out.

Still, it’s a fun app and definitely worth taking the time to check out.

Download Relatives Calculator for iOS here.

Download Relatives Calculator for Android here.

And of course they have a Facebook page which you can check out here.

Chinese Learning Apps for Android Roundup

This post is a follow-up to the New Chinese Learning App Roundup post, but this time we’ll be focusing on apps for Android!

While messing around on my Android phone, I went through and grabbed what seemed like the most useful apps from the Google Play store for Chinese study. Check out the list of apps after the jump!

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Ninchanese – a new comer to the online Chinese language learning arena

I had been following the progress of Ninchanese for a little while. I joined the beta program a while ago, and it was a few months ago that I received news that the beta was ready. I’ve gone in and played around a bit, and thought it might be worth taking a look at and giving a brief introduction into this new Chinese language learning resource!

Ninchanese’s Goal? Learning Chinese Should Be Fun

Ninchanese focuses on the idea that learning Chinese should be a fun experience. And to reach that goal, they’ve created this adorable little world with characters and stories that guide the learner through Chinese. It has a trailer video, which outlines a bit of this story:

A Little Background

I had the chance to talk to one of the founders not too long ago to get an idea of what their backgrounds were, what inspired them to work on Ninchanese and more. Here’s what they had to say:

We’re a small 3 person team passionate about Chinese. My partner and I started imagining Ninchanese because we couldn’t find the resources we wanted to keep learning Chinese. So we decided we’d create our own Chinese learning app. It’s been quite an exciting adventure since our first mockups on paper, and it gave us the chance to work with some pretty great people, ones who joined the team. We’re proud to have reached a stage where we can invite other learners in. It makes us really happy to see learners use Ninchanese, progress and send us extremely positive feedback on it (and great suggestions!). The more we work on Ninchanese, the more we realize what else it needs to be a strong, entertaining system with which to learn Chinese and that’s why we decided Kickstarter was a good place for Ninchanese!

I was surprised to find out that it’s only a three person team behind all of Ninchanese. It’s pretty impressive considering what they’ve managed to build up in the past couple years, and their passion for Chinese does show through in their efforts.

The App Itself

Now with that introduction all set, let’s take a look at the app itself, keeping in mind that it’s still in beta stages and could change.

The interface is sleek and modern, and upon login, the user sees a dashboard that provides a plethora of detail about their current progress and where to go next:

Ninchanese1

Also listed on the dashboard are the different lessons that, as you progress, unlock one by one:

Ninchanese2

The lesson organization itself is pretty well done, and goes in an order that makes sense to a new Chinese learner. One nice thing too is the grammar lessons are spread out pretty evenly, and there is a focus on dialogs and situations than just grammar points. There is a story line that is interwoven throughout the lessons, and is displayed in a instant messaging style format:

Ninchanese3

The “training” is also not lacking. There’s quizzes where you input the Pinyin, the English and character training. These are called ‘time attack” trainings, and you can see how well you do in a given amount of time. There’s also audio for each and every character and phrase you’re working on. One of my favorite trainings, though, is the drag and drop sentence structuring training. I think this is a fantastic way to learn the sentence structure and get immediate feedback:

Ninchanese4

It’s also nice, being a modern web app, that you can sign in and learn from pretty much any device–including tablets. Not being restricted to a single platform does make a world of difference if the the itch to study and keep progressing with the story crops up when you least expect it.

Gameification is also a big part of Ninchanese, and using the app is encouraged through fun badges you can earn:

gameification

You’re also given stats to see your progress, including how many points to the next level, skill progression, and scores:

stats

There’s a huge social aspect as well, where you can add friends and challenge them, as well as share progress through Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it’s a modern, colorful and fun way to learn Chinese. There’s friendly competitions you can have against other students, and so far it seems like there’s more than enough content to get yourself started learning Chinese. I would even argue this can actually be a great learning tool for kids.

That being said, it’s definitely very cute, and at times very kiddish, so more serious learners may be slightly put off but the cartoony story and characters. Still, I can definitely see these elements really pulling in people as they immerse themselves in the world, and for that it is very effective.

The beta is still invite only, but if you’re interested you can head here and sign up.

They also have a Kickstarter campaign going, as it turns out, which you can check out here.

SwiftKey for Android Now Supports Chinese!

Every so often I switch the default keyboard just to check out the third party ones. I don’t use them often, but I was happy to see that SwiftKey (one of the first third party keyboards I downloaded) finally supports Chinese input. And, perhaps just in time for Chinese New Year, they’ve also introduced a special theme just for the holiday.

After getting the app, you’ll need to go in and Add Languages. The Chinese input methods are listed by their Chinese names, so you’ll need to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list to add them.

Screenshot_2015-01-29-17-20-49

The update brings the following support:

Simplified Chinese

  • QWERTY Pinyin input method
  • 12-Key Pinyin input method
  • Stroke input method

Taiwan Traditional Chinese

  • Full Key Zhuyin (Bopomofo) input method
  • 12-Key Zhuyin (Bopomofo) input method
  • Stroke input method

Hong Kong Traditional Chinese

  • Cangjie input method
  • Quick Cangjie input method
  • Stroke input method

I’m still on the fence with third party keyboards, but I think it’s nice to finally see Chinese language support rolling out to them. The typing experience isn’t bad, either, and the predictive text was fairly accurate, too:

Screenshot_2015-01-29-17-22-37

Although it would be nice to see a Pinyin input method for Traditional Chinese, hopefully a future update will bring that along!

You can find SwiftKey on the Google Play store here. If you happen to check it out, let me know what you think of it in the comments below!

McDonald’s Taiwan Goes to Japan

Okay so I have a guilty pleasure:

Whenever McDonald’s comes out with a new and unique burger in Taiwan, I can’t help myself but go and try it.

Mostly because, really, you’ll never get to see these things stateside.

This time around, McDonald’s has decided to go to Japan with a tonkatsu-esque pork burger and a teriyaki marinated beef burger.

Let’s take a look!

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[App Review] Mandarin Companion Graded Readers – A Complete Immersion Environment

Personally, I’m a huge fan of graded readers: not only do I use them in my own Japanese language studies, but they also play a large role in my graduate school research. However, I find that for Chinese learning, there’s far fewer selection of graded readers to come by. Recently, Mandarin Companion has started releasing  Graded Readers to fill in this gap.

Jared Turner from Mandarin Companion approached me and graciously offered me The Secret Garden and The Monkey’s Paw to take a look at, and below are my thoughts on these two books and Mandarin Companion in general.

These books are put out by both Jared Turner and John Pasden (the one behind All Set Learning and Sinosplice). Both Jared and John are strong believers of Extensive Reading, which was the source of their inspiration for creating a series of graded readers. Jared wrote up a post about his own experiences uses Extensive Reading, which is worth checking out. They also provide a great explanation for using Graded Readers on their website, too.

About the Readers

In the Level 1 Readers, which is the only level currently available, contain a core set of 300 characters that have been picked by Mandarin Companion. This level is intended for readers with a decent reading ability in Chinese, as they say:

If you are able to read this book without stopping every sentence to pull out a dictionary to look up a character, then this book is probably at your level.

I would say, practically, this equates to probably being in your second or third year of Chinese language education, depending on the pace of your program.

In each reader, new characters and words that fall out of the range of the level of the story have numbered footnotes, which links you to the the Key Words section at the back of each story. Each entry has the character, the pinyin, the part of speech and an English translation.

Keywords are provided at the end of each book.

Keywords are provided at the end of each book.

In addition, there is a section at the end of each book with discussion questions on each chapter, provided at the end of each book.

Currently the following stories are available, which are all Level 1 Readers:

  • The Secret Garden (《秘密花园》) by Frances Hodgson Burnett;
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Red-Headed League adapted into “The Case of the Curly Haired Company” (《卷发公司的案子》) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Monkey’s Paw (《猴爪》) by W.W. Jacobs
  • The Country of the Blind(《盲人国》)by H.G. Wells;
  • The Sixty-Year Dream (《六十年的梦》) which is based on “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving.

You can read full descriptions of each book on the Mandarin Companion website here.

In this post, I’ll be looking specifically at two of the Level 1 readers, The Secret Garden (《秘密花园》) and The Monkey’s Paw (《猴爪》). I won’t dive much into the stories themselves, saving those for the reader to enjoy, and instead will just focus on interesting tidbits about each one.

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An Authentic Taste of Japan Hidden Away

I usually don’t get into food or restaurant reviews on this blog, but I really wanted to showcase this particular Japanese restaurant. I’m admittedly a huge fan of Japanese food, and this place bills itself as “Japanese home cooking” (日本家庭料理). I’ve always been more of a fan of a good home cooked meal, something local, something warm and authentic. 藏王日本家庭料理 (Zangwang Japanese Home Cooking) hits all of these points for me.

My personal favorite dish overall is the braised pork and onion, which is served with a shredded cabbage salad that is happily topped with a decent dollop  of Japanese mayo.

zangwang_porkonion

They have a lot of other great selections of food, including chicken karaage (から揚げ; fried chicken), grilled fish, steak, beef and potatoes, and more. The side dishes that come with the set are always different, so you’re guaranteed to get something new each time. Their main dishes are always well seasoned, and of the many times that I’ve been there, I haven’t been disappointed by my meal.

The main dishes are all great, but Zangwang offers something else that is worth the trip: Oden. So, I also wholeheartedly recommend trying the Oden (おでん) if you can. The boss has his own special house wasabi mustard that goes perfectly with it. The soup is also good, too! One of my favorite items is the hanpen (はんぺん ・ 半ぺん) which is basically a soft white fish cake. Sorry to say, 7-11 can’t compete with this!

zangwang_oden

Wasabi mustard on the side, delicious white fish cake (hanpen) on the top.

The atmosphere is nice and quiet, often the boss is shooting the breeze the many Japanese customer that come in. The boss himself is Japanese, and speaks very little Mandarin. The staff can, though, so don’t worry about ordering! They also have a selection of sake and beer to compliment the meal, too.

Expect to spend around 200NT+ on each set. For two people, including Oden, the bill could run you around 500NTD for the meal, but I would argue it’s worth it.

Transportation

As I mentioned before, this place is really out of the way. Nestled in a suburb of Taoyuan County, the best way to get out here from Taipei is by bus, taking either 國光 or 亞通客運, getting off at EVA (長榮) and walking back. Inconvenient as it is, if you’ve ever in the mood for really good Japanese home-cooking, I definitely recommend taking a trip out here. You won’t be disappointed!

Address and Hours

藏王日本家庭料理
桃園縣蘆竹鄉南順六街29號1樓
1F No. 29 Nanshun 6th St., Luzhu Township, Taoyuan County
週一至週六下午四點到晚上十一點;週日公休
Monday to Saturday, 4pm-11pm; Closed Sundays.