“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:

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

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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:

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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:

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

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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!

[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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「萌典」Free ChineseChinese Dictionary (iOS/Android)

moedictSince I first wrote this post there have been two updates to the app I’ve updated the post accordingly. (3/6/2013)

By chance I came across a new dictionary app for iOS and Android devices called 「萌典」(you can also find it by the English name “MoeDict”). It’s sourced from the Revised Chinese Dictionary put out by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education(教育部「重編國語辭典修訂本」)so it has official support. Let’s take a look at this brand new dictionary! Pictures are below the break at the end of the post.

What’s Good

Overall, it’s a very nice looking app. It’s bright, not too cluttered, and presents plenty of useful information. It’s retina-screen friendly if you’re in the need for that. Each entry has the pronunciation in both Zhuyin and Hanyu Pinyin, as well as the radical and number of strokes. The dictionary entries have some example sentences, much of which is pulled from classical literature or other historical documents. I like that because it provides some interesting historical and ancient context, which is helpful in some of my own research.

I really like just how simple it is. There’s no excess of information, no excess of graphics. Just a button for information and another button to clear/go back (admittedly this button’s use can be a bit unclear; sometimes it goes back, sometimes it clears the search bar). You get the information you need and that’s it. Slick!

Another great feature is the ability to click on and look-up words within the definitions themselves. While this is limited to selecting either single characters or phrases, it is still a quick way to get a better understanding of the entries themselves. To clarify, you can’t click and drag the cursor like in many other apps to select single or multiple characters to copy. And, while it does have a copy feature within the dictionary entries, it only copies the link to the internal dictionary and not the character itself. However, you can copy the character from the top of the entry; just not from the definitions themselves.

One thing that surprised me the most was the ability to use the dictionary online and offline, without needing any large downloads. I was quite impressed with that.

In a recent update, they’ve also added some new search features:

  • Like most searches, you can add an asterisk or two periods between two characters to search for related phrases:見*萌 見..萌(will return 見微知萌)
  • In addition, you can also search with a space after or before the character to search for phrases with that character either at the beginning or end of the phrase: 見<space> or <space>見

What’s Not So Good

Now the downsides. First of all, there’s no audio pronunciation for the entries. However, with great resources like MDBG, Skritter, and Pleco, you can easily find the audio elsewhere. Also, if you’re using a pure Chinese dictionary, you’ll likely be at the level where you won’t be needing the audio anyway. And, as this was meant for native speakers, so it isn’t surprising that it lacks audio.

Secondly, and this one is a little more annoying, is that the app seems slow. I ran it both on my iPhone and iPad (both fairly new devices, purchased within the past year). On both devices it was a bit slow. It would take a few seconds for some presses to work. I found myself hitting things more than once, thinking it hadn’t registered my press, when I just needed to wait. This, while frustrating, is a minor issue and likely to be worked out in a future update.

Indeed this has been fixed! The app moves a lot faster now, I’m quite impressed. The updates came fairly quick, too.

Conclusion

As this is still a fairly new app (released February 19th, 2013) there’s plenty of time and room for some of the little glitches to be worked out. That said, it’s a fantastic dictionary. It works offline, is universal for both iPad and iPhone, and has an Android version as well. While it lacks some of the more powerful features of, say, Pleco, it does provide a nice free alternative to their Xiandai Hanyu Guifan Cidian(現代漢語規範詞典).

Overall, there’s some minor annoyances and weird interface choices, but it’s a lovely free dictionary that will work well for you.

Related Links:

Online version:http://www.moedict.tw/
Android App:https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.audreyt.dict.moe
iPad and iPhone App:https://itunes.apple.com/app/meng-dian/id599429224

Images below

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Skrittering Away in Japanese

Quite happy to say that the next installment of Skritter‘s iOS presence is here! The Japanese app is finally available in the app store. You can read more in their official announcement post. Now let’s take a look and see if the Japanese app stacks up to the Chinese app.

Welcome screen

After seeing the above welcome screen, I knew  was in for a treat. The app definitely feels polished, and the syncing issues I mentioned before have been taken care of (in the Chinese app as well). I could actually look at that scene all day just to relax, but then I’d never get any Skrittering done!

Gettin’ your study on

The study interface is, more or less, the exact same as the Chinese version. For kana-only entries, from what I have observed thus far, you will get cards providing the English definition and asking for the phrase, or you will get the Japanese phrase and have to provide the English translation. At the very least, it isn’t limited to kanji-only and seems it can also be used for kana-based entries, though to what extent I am still not clear.

Add as you go

Another feature that I love–while, perhaps, not entirely refined yet–is the ability to add to lists on the fly from within the app. I find this extremely useful in the Chinese app, and am happy to see it just as useful in the Japanese one as well. I’ve been able to add words from Japanese restaurants I’ve gone to in Taiwan, and be fully prepared to read the kanji on the next visit. I’ve also used it was (currently) my primary source of Japanese. It’s been very handy, and surprisingly helpful when reading through books or articles. Still, grammar and example sentences you’ll have to look for elsewhere.

The app itself is gorgeous and suffers from very few bugs. It’s definitely recommended if you’re a Skritter user already, though if you’re not yet, definitely take advantage of the trial period to see if it is for you.

If anything, the Japanese portion of Skritter may seem to suffer from a lack of attention; that is, it seems to pale in comparison to the Chinese portion. Not surprising, as Skritter was initially envisioned for Chinese. However, the one great thing about Skritter is that it is also community run–so, if you think Skritter is perfect for learning kanji, though feel the Japanese is lacking, can use more content, etc., then there’s also the opportunity to add content yourself and share it with others. (I’m a big proponent of community based learning if you can’t tell :P).

Anyway, if you’re learning Japanese, give it a shot!