Saturday, April 15, 2006

Chinese characters (and ZDT)

I wanted to learn Chinese characters so I could read Mandarin and just because they look cool. Trouble is they are hard work and I have little enough time as it is to learn Chinese. 怎么办? 没办法![Zěn me bàn? Méi bànfǎ!] When all is said and done they do look cool, now what about that tatoo?

I haven't mentioned Chinese characters before although they have begun appearing in a small way on my blog. I am not convinced that learning Chinese characters is essential to learning to speak Mandarin but I can see that they do open up new avenues and I do want to be able to read Chinese. I am still trying to investigate the best links for information on Chinese characters, the Wiki entry is probably as good as any to start from.

Chinese characters have the advantage of looking cool, in fact they can look so cool that people are prepared to use them even when they don't have a clue what they mean. See the site Hanzismatter to see what I am talking about. In fact talking about this site to anyone who has Chinese (or Japanease character tatoos) makes then uneasy, which can be fun if your bored. The chief disadvantage of characters is that they are going to take a long time to master, time that could be spent actually learning to understand spoken Mandarin 怎么办? 没办法![Zěn me bàn? Méi bànfǎ!] If you want to learn them you are going to have to step up to the mark and put the effort in.

Next problem there are two sets of Chinese Characters, simplified and traditional. The sets have many common characters but some characters have been simplifed to make them easier to learn. Mainland China uses the simplifed set along with Singapore. Taiwan and Hong kong (although this has probably changed now) use the traditional. I opted for simplified, because I am lazy and there seem to be plenty enough material out there.

My prime motivation with the characters is to learn how to read them I am not too bothered about calligraphy but have found that writing the characters is good way to start learning them. I take my cues from this online Chinese dictionary. When you get further information on a character you can click on a little brush and you are rewarded with an animated gif that shows you the stroke order and how to draw it. I have to admit that although I follow the correct stroke direction in almost all cases I do reverse a few because I am left-handed and some things are just not natural. Anybody who wants to hassle me over the odd stroke direction can join the queue with the old-fashioned English teacher who used to rap my knuckles to force me to write with my right hand. My parents sorted her out, but I am big enough to stand up for myself now so GRRRRRRRRRrrrr....Grrrr GrrrrrrRRRRr etc.

My key tool for sight-drilling characters (and pinyin) is the flash card system provided in the tool ZDT. This tool rocks. It includes an annotator and dictionary but the real reason I love it is that it is open-source and based on one of my favorite programming IDEs Eclipse. I could actully develop plugins for this (with a little learning) and it could in theory be extended in any direction.

Thats it for now more details on characters (writing, radicals, stroke order etc.) when I know more about them.


Chris said...

Hi Chris,

I'm the developer of the ZDT app and I'm glad you like it. It would be awesome if other people started developing plugins for it. Or even just coming up with new ideas. Let me know if you need any help.

Cara said...

About traditional chinese and simplified chinese characters... from my point of view, those who learnt traditional chinese would appreciate chinese character more, and would not give up traditional chinese characters just because the simplified chinese characters have less strokes. There are times simplified chinese characters make some words lost its original meaning.
For example, 发菜 (, in traditional chinese is 髮菜, where 髮is hair, so we can imagine that it should be a type of food/veggie similar to the texture and color of the hair. However 发 in traditional chinese should be 發.
When 髮菜 being written as 发菜, it lost the original meaning. The people who know this item as 发菜 would not know why it's named as 发菜, where in actual it should be 髮菜. This is just one example.
I'm not sure if you could understand.