Monday, September 29, 2008

Long Time No See

The phrase 'long time no see' is one of the rare exceptions where it seems that English has absorbed a little piece of Chinese. In this case, the grammar. The sentence structure of 好久不見 (hao 3 jiu4 bu4 jian4) is quite unlike anything else in the English language, and it has been posited that it actually came from China, although other people think it came from native Indians in North America.

Anyway, why am I writing this? I have been locked up indoors for two days, hiding from Typhoon Jangmi, slowly going crazy... and I decided to get back on the Chinese study horse, after a rest of a month or two. Need to work out some nice ways to get some decent study back in my programme, and the blog was the best approach - so, once again, I present Chinese Burn. Let's see if I can keep it up a bit better this time.

A map, showing the relative boredom levels of people stuck inside.

On its way to Japan - take me with you!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Taipei Times - Dictionaries for Learning Chinese

This month, I review two electronic learning aids developed for people learning Chinese. This time, however, they are produced by Asian companies.

Read the reviews here:

XCome Dictionary for Asus EeePC & Dr Eye Han Easy (html page) (pdf)


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Boring Pie

It has been a little while I posted anything outside of the Taipei Times, so that must mean that it must be time for ... Gratuitous funny packaging shot!

This is for Taiwanese brand 'Boring Pie' spicy rice crackers, which was hilariously funny, right up until someone pointed out the Chinese name '無聊派' means the same thing! Hilarity ensued.

"Digging into boring pie
Getting out of boring time"

The Taiwanese do see eating more as entertainment, and with packaging like this, who can blame them?!

Boring Pie

Please whoever checks English - never ever check this packaging.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology 2

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology

It's two in two weeks, as I am introducing the mobile section of my Chinese language review series.

I do aim to catch up with developments in my new job but I have barely had a moment to think thus far - it is making DEM seem like a holiday, so far. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology

It's been a wee while, but I am back on the writing bandwagon after a 'sabbatical' - or rather, a break while I got my head around changing jobs and going on holiday.

But here it is - and this is something I want to make regular - a focus on learning Chinese technology for those of us not blessed by having Chinese parents.

Tune in next week for mobile products!

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Taipei Institute of History and Philology

Our teacher, Austin, arranged a school trip for us today to visit the catchily-titled Taiwan Museum of the Institute of History and Philology. The name might not be world-class, but the exhibits certainly are, and they have a very nicely designed exhibition space. I was impressed.

The Oracle Bones

I was especially excited to see the 'Oracle Bones', since I have recently finished reading the book by the same name by Peter Hessler, which punctuates his observations of modern Chinese people and the changes taking place in the society with a history of archeology in China. The 'Oracle Bones' are the roots to the written language, and were used by priests to divine the future, based on the inscriptions that they marked. It's almost certainly worth another post, when I am feeling more academically inclined.

Walking around the museums in Taiwan makes me think back to my Grandfather, who was an amateur scholar of Chinese porcelain. I have no doubt that if he was still alive today I would have weekly requests to visit the museums and gather information. He never had the chance to visit Asia, and sometimes I wonder if I am in some way finishing off his work. Certainly, I wonder if my interest in Chinese culture indirectly comes from my childhood memories of his precious collections - especially the Ming dynasty vase that my Dad thoughtfully dropped me into head-first when I was but a wee nipper. Again, a story for another day.

Is there something we should know about?

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year everyone!


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Totally Wonderful Miss Plumberry

Here's the latest literature that is gracing my bed side table - a hard-hitting commentary on children in the modern educational environment. Written by the controversial and outspoken British author, Michael Rosen, it plots the fate of a small child who decides, one fateful day, to bring a small rock into class to show to her friends. Little did she know the adventures that would ensue...

Amazon link to the British version: Totally Wonderful Miss Plumberry

Link to the Chinese entry of this article here: Chinese Burn

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Chinese Burn

After many months of almost getting my backside in gear, I have finally got round to creating a blog in Chinese. Finally, I hope that this provides me with an easy way to enjoyably prepare written work for my Chinese teacher!

I want it to be a dynamic document, so if you are a Chinese speaker and have problems with sentences (which you will!) do let me know and I will keep it updated.

Let's see how I do!

Link: Chinese Burn

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Jonny the Voodoo Doll

I have never had migraine in my life before very recently, but in the last month and a half I have been having about one per week. I think this might be related to sleep and being anxious about one or two rather big things, but it is still unsettling when a machine (my head) suddenly starts developing a problem it never had before.

My Chinese teacher, Austin, suggested that she take me to see an Acupuncture specialist, and after a dizzy day of taking drugs prescribed last week, I packed myself into a taxi and out through the crappy weather. What she did not tell me, until afterwards, is that she has never had Acupuncture, and now I know why!

The guy was really friendly and listened to my problems. We both agreed that much is probably sleep related, so he took my pulse, poked me a bit and came up with a programme for me.

Now, this is the first time I have had Acupuncture. I am not particularly scared of needles, but of course what they neglect to tell you is that in every case they are trying to find the nerve. It's quite difficult to fully describe what the sensation is like, but I suppose it is a mixture of electric shock, and someone attempting to pull out your nervous system through a small hole.

In my case, I had four needles inserted, and every few minutes he would come in to twang and twist them, punishing me for sins I have yet to commit. Lord know what my friend Nick must feel when he has has fourteen inserted to treat his gut problems. It was painful enough when I simply moved my hand, so I hate to think what it must feel like in the event of an earthquake, with all the needles hitting your pressure points in unison.

I am now pretty sure that the logic behind Acupuncture is basically scare your body into not having the problem again, but I have to say that after the event, if not exactly refreshed, I feel relaxed. Quite literally, I wonder if it is like pressing the reset switch and 'flashing' the memory.


These ones hurt less.

Pin cushion.

This one was exceptionally painful. Twisted nerve.

This one was painful in ways I can hardly describe. My hole body reeling in agony... and I was just so close to kicking the doctor in the face! Next time.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

My Chinese System

I think it is worth talking a little about the technology I use, on a day to day basis, to learn Chinese. Some of it definitely does not work, some of it I think is very effective, and some is just fun. Also, after a while, I begin to forget what the actual systems are that I use when people ask, so writing this I hope could be useful!



I have been using Palms for the last two and a half years or so, and this is certainly my main centre of learning Chinese. Starting with a Sony Clié PEG-SJ35, and moving on to a Palm Tungsten T3, I am now using a Palm Treo 680 that is able to do everything I think I need, day to day.


Chinese IME: CKJOS
This is the system that allows the Palm to view and write Chinese. I can type using PinYin or ZhuYin or write with the stylus, but it does lack some of the predictive text capabilities of PalmDragon that I had installed on the Clié.

Dictionary: Dr. Eye
I use this everyday and this is one of the most important pieces of software that I own. With it, I can translate from English to Chinese, or vice versa. It only does one word at a time, so it is a little inconvenient, and it seems to be missing words quite often. Sometimes, things like copy and paste are a little esoteric, but on the whole it seems to work.

Flash Cards: Supermemo
This is the most used piece of software in my arsenal of Chinese learning tools. It drives me up the wall, is completely inflexible, but I have so much invested in it now that there is no turning back - and being honest I really enjoy it, treating learning cards more like a computer game. Using the intelligent flash cards each day, it ends up that it only ever tests me on the characters that I find really difficult - the way it should be, of course, but why not flatter me a little more?! On average, I get about 75 cards a day from a total pool of 3700 at the moment.

Other software: I have tried loads of other pieces of software over the years and in almost all cases I have been unimpressed. Please let me know if you have any more additions to the pile because I would be delighted to learn more!


Mac Software

Chinese IME: QIM
This seems to be much slicker than the standard PinYin input mechanism that comes as standard with OSX. You don't need to be so accurate with your tones, which is great some of the time, and completely infuriating the rest of the time when you are trying to learn. It's pretty decent, overall, and allows you to look at nice, big, smoothly rendered characters.

Dictionary: WenLin
I have yet to completely get to grips with this monster of a program, but I have been assured by several people that this is the way to go. I'll probably do another entry, specifically on that, when I do get around to learning it properly.

Dictionary: Wordlookup
This is a nice, simple dictionary that Markus showed me, and I use this most of the time for quickly looking up things. I like the way that returns the results, compared to some of the other products out there like Atomix Dojam (horrid).

Dictionary: TranslateIt
I tried this for a little while, but in the end I went back to the simpler Wordlookup, while waiting to get moving on WenLin. Seems okay though.

There is also an excellent summary of Mac software (along with some others) at the Yale University Council for East Asian Studies.

PC Software:

Chinese IME: Google PinYin
I love this. It's the best input system so far that I have found. I am pretty sure it is constantly checking with a server online to make sure the sentence is in context, and it really allows me to write entire swathes of text without needing to select a character from the list. It sometimes seems to be missing the most basic characters, though, hiding them deep within the selection list. Very impressive, overall.

Dictionary: Dr Eye
I have not used this in a while, due to the annoying little popup menu, but this is certainly the most popular system for Taiwanese people. I should reinstall it, really, and give it another chance.

Firefox Plug-Ins and Online

Dictionary: ChinesePera-Kun
I just installed this today and I am quite impressed so far. The basic idea is that it displays a wee little popup when you hover over a Chinese character on a website. There seem to be some neat featured, such as export.

Online Dictionary: Systran
I have not used this site in a while, because sometimes it bugs me to register, but it's not bad for those times when you need to brutally translate an e-mail or section of text.

Dictionary: Google Toolbar
There is an auto-translate function in here, but it only seems to go English-Chinese, so I got bored and disabled it today when I got ChinesePera-Kun up and running. Google being Google, I am pretty sure they will get it all up and running soon enough, and tie it all in with the IME - here's hoping.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

3000 Words in Chinese

I just learnt my 3000th word in Chinese! Kind of a magic number for me to reach, because they say I should be able to start reading basic newspapers now. We shall see.

I know this because I tap every word I learn into my trusty Palm, and use Supermemo software to give me daily tests. Strictly speaking, I guess I know 3000 English words; I am not sure exactly how that transposes into discrete Chinese characters but it is probably about the same when you average it out.

Out of interest, you can see when I passed the 2000 mark at the end of last September, here: 2000 Chinese Characters

So, over this 6 month period, that is over 40 new words per week going into my head! I just wonder what must be being shoved aside to make space. My French, that is for sure.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

2056 - Supermemo

Yesterday, I passed rather a milestone - I have now learnt more than 2000 characters!

I have not spoken a great deal about my learning Chinese, except for the occasional moments of frustration or amusing anecdotes. But, it does consume an enormous part of my free time here in Taiwan.

Six hours tutoring after work each work - strategically placed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 o'clock - plus about four hours again at the weekend, have slowly but surely raised my Chinese skills to a level at which I could perhaps compete with a five year old. A very stupid five year old.

I have been here for more than two years now and I can conclusivly say that learning Chinese has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is ridiculous. And I am positive that if if you were designing a language system, this would absolutely not be the way to do it. And yet... billions do. Amazing.

The other weapon / toy in my armoury is my trusty Palm. I went for 18 months with my old Sony Clie, and recently upgraded to a much cooler Tungsten T3 - with Bluetooth and higher resolution. On this is a piece of software called Supermemo, and into this I place all my vocabulary, including that from the text books. It gives me daily tests and turns the tedious process of learning thousands of characters into something more akin to a computer game, its algorithm intelligently learning which characters I am good (or more likely bad) at. Some relentlessly return every day, and will be tested again in over two years time!

So, every day over breakfast I am doing flashcards as I eat. Usually, I will have about 70 cards in total, but from the first book (about 950 words) I now get tested on about 10 per day - pretty cool. Furthermore, I have added almost 500 of my own characters - mainly related to work, design ... bike, babes and beer.

Palm T3

The geek factor - but we all know how much we love stats in sports. Same here.

An example flash card, showing the answer.

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