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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hi everybody. Welcome back to Chinese Class 101.
Victor: And I'm Victor. 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo).
Amber: And today we’re back with our All About Chinese lessons. Today is Lesson 11 and what’s it going to be, Victor?
Victor: It’s going to be helpful tools for learning Chinese.
Amber: That’s right. So today we’re going to tell you the best tools to help you learn Chinese, besides us, of course. We’re the one in two tools, right Victor?
Victor: These are the supplements for you.
Amber: Yeah, so think of these tools like your hammer, nails, glue, all these things that are going to help you to build your Chinese. Build it into a nice, big Chinese pagoda of language strength, right Victor?
Victor: Once you have these tools, imagine what you can do, right, Amber?
Amber: Right. The tools, some are slightly tacky and others are just tried and true methods. So things that we’ve tried and used, that we found helpful so we wanted to share them with you guys.
Victor: Alight so make sure that you do use the tools and I think you’ll find them really helpful.

Lesson focus

Amber: So first we’ll give you a little peek at what the top five tools are. What’s number one, Victor?
Victor: That’ll be a Chinese dictionary.
Amber: That’s so boring. That’s kind of anticlimactic, we know. It sounds like it’s not that exciting, but we promise it is exciting.
Victor: Yeah, and it’s very necessary too.
Amber: Yes. We have some new forms of dictionary we’ll tell you about.
Victor: So, Amber, what is number two then?
Amber: The number two tool is actually a website resource and it’s called Adsotrans. We’ll tell you more about it, it’s exciting. You can translate on there, you can look up characters, you can even convert characters to pinyin.
Victor: Oh, that’s a lot.
Amber: What about number three, Victor?
Victor: Number three is a really strange sounding one. It’s called the Chinese pera-kun.
Amber: Yes. And we’ll tell you more about what that is. It’s something that helps you when you look at Chinese websites. Number four is kind of an old standby, but one of my favorites, Victor. They helped me a lot. That was flashcards.
Victor: Yeah, flashcards.
Amber: But these are flash cards somewhat reinvented that we’re going to tell you about.
Victor: Ok, Amber. So what is number five?
Amber: Well, last but not least, there is some character writing software for your computer that is really good for people like me who are very calligraphy challenged, let’s say. Ok, so those are the top five tools. Let’s go back to the first one, Victor, the one that maybe people thought was not so exciting.
Victor: The most essential.
Amber: The most essential, a Chinese dictionary. This is like the hammer, you need it. Ok, so we know you’re probably thinking obviously you learn a language, you need a dictionary. But we’re going to give you a few tips about what we think are the best ones and maybe some specialized forms of Chinese dictionaries you’ve never heard of.
Victor: Yeah. And of course, you can always choose the paper form.
Amber: Yeah, but the one thing about using a paper dictionary in Chinese is that looking up characters can be… well, a little bit tedious, especially manually because you have to count the strokes, find the radical, all these things. Right, Victor?
Victor: Right. It’s kind of a lesson in itself to learn how to use a Chinese dictionary. Although, eventually, I think it’s really helpful if you can do that.
Amber: Yeah, I mean it does help you learn, definitely, the makeup of a character. But there is something to make it easier for people on the go. It’s a lot lighter than a heavy dictionary.
Victor: Right. If you just need to look at something really quickly.
Amber: Yeah, it’s called the Pleco dictionary. It’s for those palm pilot thingies, you know Victor?
Victor: I remember using it when I was learning English. So it’s like the Chinese version of it.
Amber: Yeah, basically there’s a program you can use where you can handwrite characters into your mobile device and it will look them up for you. You can find the meaning, the pinyin, all those sorts of things, even if you don’t know what the character is. So that’s for mobile devices. But if you don’t have one of those – like me, I'm sort of old school – you can use a very similar computer program which is called Wanlan. And it’s available online or in Chinese book stores you can find it, it’s for desktop PC, and basically you can mouse over characters and see the pinyin, the meaning, all those sorts of things. It will help you to be able to look up characters you don’t know.
Victor: Right. And the Pleco version also has handwritten character recognition.
Amber: So yeah, say, for example, you’re staring at your restaurant menu very blankly, Victor, you don’t know if it’s chicken, cat, frog, what you’re eating. Just use your finger finesse and you just sort of copy the character.
Victor: Copy the character down.
Amber: Yeah, it’s very forgiving. It can tell you what you’re going to be eating which can be a blessing, a real blessing.
Victor: Right. Better than the paper dictionary I guess.
Amber: Yes, especially if you have an impatient waiter. He probably doesn’t want to wait while you look up the characters. Ok, so also speaking about these two devices Wanlan and Pleco dictionary, the interesting thing is that the source dictionary they use also comes in paper form, for those paper puritan types, but it’s a very good dictionary to use for learning Chinese. It’s called the ABC Dictionary. Have you heard of it, Victor?
Victor: No, I have not.
Amber: What’s interesting, compared to most Chinese dictionaries, is that the entries are listed alphabetically by pinyin, not by character, although it has the character. So how that helps – and it really helped me a lot to learn a lot of vocabulary was – if you’re outside and you hear someone say a word, by the time you’re getting to this point where you can recognize words, you definitely know pinyin, the phonetic system to look up Chinese. So what you do is you, maybe, write down the word or look it up quickly in the ABC Dictionary and you can find the word very easily. And it helps you to learn a lot of vocabulary.
Victor: Definitely. That makes things a lot easier that way. So tool number two is an online help.
Amber: Yeah, it’s a website actually. It’s called Adsotrans, you can find it at www.adsotrans.com. It’s spelled A-D-S-O-T-R-A-N-S. And inevitably, Victor, just like everything these days, some part of your learning process is going to be online.
Victor: Yes, you can’t really avoid it.
Amber: Yeah, so when you’re faced with characters that you don’t know on the screen, just remember there’s help. What you can do is open another window, at Adsotrans.com, and basically you can just paste in any Chinese text and let the website analyze it, and it will pop up with some results, and what you do is you mouse over the results. And what it will do is it will show you the Chinese character. It will also show you the pinyin and it will also show the English translation so that you can know what these words are, that you’re trying to analyze, trying to read. And also how to pronounce them.
Victor: Right. And you can also use Adso to translate text directly from Chinese to English.
Amber: Yeah, and also a good thing about it is it has very thorough definitions. And even there’s a lot of slang or more current terms that other dictionaries might not have, because it’s constantly being updated by the users.
Victor: And this is great to use when you want to decipher some text in Chinese or to add pinyin to your Chinese.
Amber: Yeah, I use it all the time. Ok, speaking of the internet, tool number three is also a tool to use on the internet, Victor.
Victor: And it’s Chinese pera-kun.
Amber: Right. So can you imagine, Victor, what could be cooler if you could – actually, never mind, you can. But for me, that I could go into China, basically, with the internet, we can go on to a website right from China, read Chinese newspapers, Chinese blogs, we can even use the Chinese eBay 淘宝 (táobǎo), Even if we can’t read Chinese.
Victor: That sounds a bit crazy. Tell us more.
Amber: And we’re not selling it, but it is quite exciting because if you download this plugin for Firefox and you can do this, because what will happen is you could go to any Chinese language website and it will show you the English and the translation for what you were looking at.
Victor: Right. And this tool is available at the Mozilla Add-ons website.
Amber: So if you go to the Mozilla Add-ons website and you search for Chinese pera-kun. It’s P-E-R-A, dash, K-U-N, you can find the plugin that you could download for that.
Victor: So those tools are great so far.
Amber: Yeah, but I think, Victor, we need a little techy tools, right? I'm totally not techy. I'm more arts and crafts-y.
Victor: I'm more of the unconventional side, I think. Enhance your memory the best.
Amber: Yeah, so I kind of went old school when I learned Chinese. And one of the old school tools that I used were flashcards.
Victor: Yes, flash cards.
Amber: So I think basically, Victor, there’s no better way to burn Chinese into your brain or to reinforce what you learned visually than to look at these flash cards. Basically, Chinese characters need to be burnt into your brain.
Victor: Right. The more you look at it, the better it is. So in this case, you can choose the old fashioned way or the modern way.
Amber: Yeah. So you can buy a lot of books in the book stores that have ready-made flash cards. Maybe starting with the 500 most common characters and work your way up, or you can practice making some on your own, which will also practice your writing skills.
Victor: Right. The more you write, the more you practice and the better you know it. This is the very Chinese philosophy of learning.
Amber: Thank you for sharing.
Victor: Yeah, but for the more modern tools, there are a lot of them. And including iPhone applications.
Amber: Ok, so any spare moment you have, my recommendation is to use this tool. Maybe you’re on the bus, on the subway, whatever. Just flip your flash cards and you will learn Chinese characters a lot faster.
Victor: Yes. And the last thing is we’re going back to the computer. But in this case, the computer is a real help.
Amber: Tool number five is…
Victor: The Google’s character writing software.
Amber: So basically what it is is a very convenient way of typing Chinese that Google has come up with. There’s different methods that you can use to download to your computer to enable you to use pinyin or strokes to type Chinese characters. But the Google one, we find, is very intuitive, very easy to use. And if you don’t have it yet, you can find it. We’ll tell you the link.
Victor: And it’s www.google.com/ime/pinyin
Amber: Yes. Trust us, it’s worth going there and getting it. It will help you in learning Chinese a lot. Ok, well, all these things, Victor, are very great. Top five tools, I’ve used them all. But I do have to say there’s one last thing that I want to mention that maybe people get so into these high flying, high fluting tech tools. There’s one thing, don’t forget to use.
Victor: And what is that?
Amber: That is the humble notebook and pen. Because, honestly, every time you hear a word, a great tool, a great method is to write it down in a little notebook and just go back, revisit it, as many times as you can. And you will learn a lot of vocabulary that way too.
Victor: I agree.
Amber: And another tip I have, too, is that any times you are trying to make a sentence and you don’t know the word, you’re missing the vocabulary, write down the English word that you’re missing the Chinese for and later go and ask someone. Cause chances are it’s something pretty common that you’re going to want to know how to learn and it’s going to speed up your Chinese learning as well.


Victor: Right, just have a little bit of helps when you first start.
Amber: Ok, so all these tools, they’re going to take your Chinese to the next level. We promise.
Victor: If you have other resources you’d like to share, you can always stop by ChineseClass101 and share it with the community.
Amber: Yes, whether you’re like the Bill Gates of learning Chinese or like the arts and crafts-y type, like me, you’ll definitely find some learners who have your same learning style.