Monday, March 30, 2009

Learning Chinese: Idiomatic Expressions

Every language on Earth contains idiomatic expressions. Some idioms are specific expressions that pertain to customs of the culture correlated with the specific language, other idioms are universal and relate to the general development of moral fiber. Idioms (成语) are the most commonly used speech forms in Chinese. They are commonly used to describe situations, tell stories and are most essential in teaching young children proper manners and developing their understanding of the goings on of the world.

Starting now, to conclude each blog post I will leave you with a random idiomatic expression. Today I will start will a simple one...

千里之行始于足下 (qiān lǐ zhī xíng shǐ yú zú xià)
(The journey of 1000 li(0.5km) is started by taking the first step)

The meaning in essence is that every long journey has a simple but very necessary beginning... AN INITIAL ACTION. Regardless of planning, your plans are just plans until you initiate an action. If you have a long way to go, standing still won't get you there, you have to take the first step. Every road has a beginning.

Like many idioms, one can derive multiple meanings, regardless of how simple the translation can be. Just something to think about.

Until next time, my friends.

-Mike Redus

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Learning Chinese: Resources - Wenlin 文林

Wenlin is Chinese learning software developed by Wenlin Institute, Inc. for the purpose of providing both Chinese learners and natives with dictionary and learning resources to expand their knowledge of language and culture. The feature that I find most useful is the dictionary. The dictionary result for each character contains its standard Pinyin, stroke order, and what is most interesting is that it contains the romanization for Cantonese pronunciation as well. Below is a list of all of Wenlin's other features taken from their official website.

Dictionary Interface

* High speed customizable and expandable Chinese dictionary
* Over ten thousand characters, over 200,000 words and phrases
* Instant "point to" vocabulary look-up
* Click access to essential vocabulary info
* Extensive character descriptions and cross-referencing
* Pictures of ancient and modern forms of Chinese characters
* Desktop access to important Chinese scholarship and literature
* Click access to all words that contain a character, including definitions, ordered by frequency of usage
* Character look-up by component, including groups that share components
* Fast automatic search access to huge selection of literature, for finding examples in context
* Character lists arranged by stroke-count and pronunciation
* Automatically updated listing

Text Editor

* Reads, writes, edits, and prints Chinese documents
* Supports Unicode format, the most widely recognized world standard, as well as GB, Big5, UTF-8 and HZ
* Built-in selection of Chinese literature, current new media included
* Word-wrap, undo, cut, copy, paste, search, and replace
* Unlimited document size
* Characters and words entered using phonetic conversion or handwriting recognition
* Instant dictionary integrated with text editor
* Combines simple and full form Chinese characters, pinyin, and English in one document
* Compatible with other Chinese language applications, pen/tablet tools

"Flashcards" System

* Automated drill and review
* Interactive testing, multiple-choice and composed-answer
* Scoring and tracking
* Dictionary access while memorizing vocabulary
* Simultaneous display of documents, definitions, lists, and flashcards


* Animated Stroke-By-Stroke Display
* Instant Handwriting Recognition
* Audio-CD quality studio recordings of all Mandarin syllables

If you are serious about studying Chinese, this is one of the most useful resources you can have. Try it out, it's definitely think its worth it.

Type Chinese Part 2: Typing in Chinese with Windows IME

Windows provides keyboard input methods for various languages including multiple types for Chinese. The main method is labeled "'CH' Chinese (PRC)". Just like with NJStar, this method uses standard Pinyin for entry with a QWERTY keyboard. This method of entry can be used with all standard Windows applications and text fields both on and offline.

To activate this feature access your toolbar (either through your control panel or taskbar) and enable the language bar. Once you've enabled the language bar, open the language bar settings and click "Add" to open a list of available languages for input in your OS. Find "Chinese (PRC)" add it, and you are good to go.

First and foremost, there is no dictionary (the software is only for input purposes), so you have to be completely sure that you are entering the correct characters. When you are entering characters you will see a broken underline beneath the words, that underline means that the current string that you are typing may be altered either at your discretion or as the program itself sees fit. To change characters that you have entered, hit the back arrow on your keyboard, that will bring up a list of possible entries for a word or phrase. To remove it and continue typing, hit the forward arrow. To begin a new string after entering a phrase that you have already entered as you desired, hit the spacebar twice. The broken underline will disappear and you can continue with a new phrase from there.

This input method is solid but takes some getting used to. Try it out, become familiar with it and master it. It's the most common and possibly the most useful input method available (it's also FREE!).