Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The 2014 Sensible Character Challenge

author photoI just wanted a take a moment to let you all know that Olle Linge over at Hacking Chinese is in the process of organizing the 2014 Chinese Character Challenge. Last year he got over 100 people to participate and talked a lot about character learning theory in the process. I think that anyone looking to boost their character learning should give the 2014 challenge a go!

Update (2014/03/20):
Details about the challenge have now been posted on Hacking Chinese. Check out the link (here) for details about the challenge, prizes and more. Also, be sure to post your milestones, goals, and public commitment in the post comments!

What's the challenge about?

The goal of challenge is two-fold, and perfect for any level of language learner-- write a ton of characters, and go about it in a smart and sensible way. Participants will spend 101 days working toward specific milestones that are designed to reach a final goal.

Over the course of the challenge, Olle will be raffling off some cool prizes from Hanzi WallChart, and even giving away some extra Skritter study time for some of the top participants and those who meet their milestone marks. Not all the guidelines are live yet, but to kick things off he's got seven great articles about learning characters the sensible way, which include:

  •  How to learn characters as a beginner
  • Learning the 100 most common radicals
  • Memory aids and Mnemonics
  • Spaced Repetition Systems
  • Diversified Learning Strategies 
Unlike rote-memorization, all of the things discussed above focus on a more active and comprehensible approach to character learning, and relate a lot of studying Chinese with Skritter. Using a lot of these methods last year during the challenge, I saw some pretty excellent results and ended up putting a lot of characters into the long-term memory bank. For a summary of the main idea of each point, and a direct link to full articles, check out the Character Challenge post here.

When does the challenge start?

The challenge will be begin on Saturday, March 22nd and last through the end of June. Details for the challenge will follow on March 19th or 20th, and I'll try and update this post at that time as well. Participants will be able to sign up and commit to their goals on the Hacking Chinese. I've also made a forum post so Skritter users can submit their goals. The direct link to the post on the Skritter forum is here. I've still got to figure out what my goal will be, but I'm certainly looking forward to the challenge.

Best of luck to all and we hope you all learn a ton of characters in the process!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Expressions in Japanese ⑤

author photo
 ...And even more expressions in Japanese leaving off from last time!

一期一会 (いちごいちえ)
Lit: One period of time, one meet
A once in a life time experience; an opportunity you should take advantage of because it might not come again. 

Ex: 出会いは一期一会だから大切にしないと
You only have one chance to happen upon this so you must treat it preciously.

誤解を招く (ごかいをまねく)
Lit: Inviting misunderstanding
To ask for a misunderstanding; to lead to/cause misunderstanding; This one almost reminds me of the expression "asking for trouble", used in situations where something probably shouldn't be done or said, because it would only lead to misunderstanding.

Ex:  そういう発言は誤解を招きやすい
Such a remark is open to misunderstanding.

お陰様で (おかげさまで)
 Lit: By (means of) the shadow of the gods/mystical forces; thanks (to); thanks to you; thank the heavens; This is an old expression used to show gratitude, not necessarily for something that someone has done directly, like how ”ありがとう” would be used. For instance, if someone asks if you are 元気, you could respond with "おかげさまで元気です。"

Ex: おかげさまで何とかやっていますよ.
I'm getting along somehow, thank you.

相変わらず (あいかわらず)
Lit: Without change
Just as always; the same as ever; This is used to imply that nothing has changed. For even more emphasis it can be said "相も変わらず”.

Ex: 相変わらずだね?
You never change, do you?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mandarin Companion: Guided Readers for Chinese Language Learners

author photoAre you a beginning Chinese language learner who is tired of using traditional textbooks? Are you trying to find fun and interesting content that is targeted at your current level? Are you looking to simply read MORE Chinese? If you said yes to any of the above, we hope you'll be happy to learn that a new series of guided readers, a project between Mandarin Companion and AllSet Learning, has now been promoted to "textbook status" on Skritter!

Character updates add a more Chinese feel
Mandarin Companion was created by Jared Turner and John Pasden in Shanghai, China and aims to help increase the number of suitable reading materials written for beginning and intermediate language learners. You can read more about the project on the About page. Unlike many other intro-readers on the market, Mandarin Companion drew their inspiration from western classics, and made them their own by creating entirely new characters. Just take a look at their Sherlock Holmes story (Holmes is now the super 帅 Gao Ming), and you'll see what I mean . To learn more about why they chose a western classics with a Chinese feel, check out what All Set Learning had to say on its News Feed.

Books in the Series: 

All books in Level 1 (above) are "designed around Mandarin Companion's core set of 300 basic character ensuring that most vocabulary will be simply, everyday words, composed of characters that the learner is most likely to know." The books also include a Key Words index at the back, and story adaptation notes that help you jump right in to the story. Digital editions are available through Kindle, iBooks, and kobo, and run for $9.95 USD. To find out more, or purchase the books directly from the site here.

From the site--"Mandarin Companion creates books you can read! This series offers Chinese learners enjoyable and interesting reading materials to accelerate language learning. each book uses characters, words, and grammar that a learner is most likely to know at each level based on in-depth analysis of textbooks, education programs, and natural Chinese language. Every story is written in a style that is easy for a learner to understand and enjoyable to read."

Where to find them on Skritter:

Word lists for all five stories can be found in the Textbooks section of Vocabulary Lists by searching "Mandarin Companion," or by clicking the direct links on the book titles listed above. Each word list on Skritter was sorted in a descending order according to highest frequency and divided into 100 word sets. It should be a great way to add more context to your study sessions on Skritter, and increase enjoyment of the stories as you breeze past all the words you've just mastered!

The Skritter team is glad to help spread the word on these awesome, comprehensible study materials, and are happy to be able to provide our users with these wonderful, high frequency, vocab lists. We hope you enjoy! 

Have questions or comments? Be sure to leave them below. Until next time, happy skrittering!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Expressions in Japanese ④

author photo
Yet again here are more Japanese expressions, this time all following a similar theme. 始めましょう!

瓜二つ (うりふたつ)
lit: Melon two

To resemble each other, for instance a kid and his/her parent; This is a lot like "two peas in a pod". The origin is said to be that when you cut a melon in half, the two sides will be resemble each other. Why a melon was chosen is unknown since other fruits can be the same way, but it is what it is!

Ex: 見れば見るほど瓜二つ。 
The more I look at them the more they look alike.

馬が合う (うまがあう)
lit: Horse fits/matches

To hit it off well with someone; To get along well; Like a horse being a good match for it's rider. The origin comes from horseback riding, where a horse would kick the rider off if they didn't suit each other well (for instance breathing not in sync), and the opposite when they did. It later became an expression used for how people get along with one another.

Ex: 彼らはぜんぜん馬が合わない。 
They don't get along at all.

以心伝心 (いしんでんしん)
lit: By means of heart/mind transmit heart/mind

To think a lot alike; to understand (each)others feelings; to be able to finish (each)others thoughts/sentences; telepathy; If you know someone that you connect with really well and seem to think the same way, often with a mutual unspoken understanding, you share "以心伝心". As a note, 心 means "heart" but can refer to the "mind", which is interesting since westerner's usually point to themselves in reference towards the chest/heart, versus when Japanese point to themselves towards the face/nose, (which is close to the mind)!

Ex: 以心伝心って知っている? 
Do you know of ishindenshin?

意気投合 (いきとうごう)
lit: Feelings/idea spirit agreement

To hit it off with someone; To have a mutual understanding; This is  much like 以心伝心, describing how you get along with another. I wasn't able to learn the origin of this one, so if you happen to know it please fill me in!

Ex: 初対面から意気投合した。 
We hit it off since first meeting. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Culture Corner: 革命尚未成功,同志仍須努力

author photoOften times the new year comes with lots of self-reflection, the desire to do more, and to be greater. Once the ball drops and we start scratching out 2013 to write 2014 in our checkbooks something magical happens. Almost without skipping a beat, the airwaves are filled with the battle cries of change and success... otherwise commonly referred to as New Year's resolutions. With any luck, this will be the year to eat healthy, exercise more, and (finally) learn Chinese.

Making a resolution is easy. Keeping a resolution, however, can be tough work. So where do we turn when the going gets tough and we need some inspiration? One place we can look is 1911 China. On the brink of ending 2000 years of imperial rule, Chinese revolutionaries fought for the Republic and the Three Principles of the People. It was during this time, that Sun Yat-sen (孙中山) said these famous words:

Gémìng shàngwèi chénggōng, tóngzhì réng xū nǔlì
The revolution isn't over yet comrades, keep making great efforts

Keep fighting they did, and in 1912 Sun Yat-sen took his place as president of the Republic of China. A New Year's resolution isn't war, but it be revolutionary to you, and these are certainly words we can appreciate and live by. Against all odds and all hardships, we can face and meet our goals and resolutions but not giving up, and by fighting for the things we want in life. 
Sun Yat-sen's famous words beautifully written in his memorial hall in Taipei, Taiwan. 
This phrase is beautifully balanced and complex enough to make a Chinese teacher smile if one can find the right time to use it. Don't think that because of the subject matter, you can't use this for daily events. Don't be afraid to joke around. I've certainly used it in a joking fashion and gotten laughs from my classmates. Got a report coming up? Filling out job applications... you get the idea, right? Have fun with it, and be sure to practice speaking the phrase in a deep, booming voice for best results! In order to better understand what we're dealing with, let's take a look a word breakdown below:
  1. 革命:gémìng::revolt; revolution
  2. 尚未:shàngwèi :not yet
  3. 成功:chénggōng :succeed; success
  4. 同志:tóngzhì:comrade 
  5. 仍須:réngxū :still require
  6. 努力:make great effort
Now that you're armed with the perfect phrase for 2014, we want to know what your resolutions and goals are. Post them in the comments below and stay tuned for more from the Skritter blog. 

A (late) 新年快樂/新年快乐 to all and happy skrittering!

Have questions, comments, feedback, or a topic you want covered on the Skritter blog? Please send them to: jake@skritter.com

Monday, December 16, 2013

Skritter for Android--Alpha Preview

author photoIf you’ve wanted to use Skritter on your Android device since time immemorial, then rejoice, for your wait ends today! An open-source, HTML5-based, Android-compatible Skritter client has just opened its doors for alpha testing. Read on for details.

We (Scott, George, and Nick) have always had our hands full maintaining the Skritter Flash and iOS versions, so when y’all asked politely / encouragingly / desperately / incredulously for an Android app, we started looking for a champion hero to face the challenge. So when longtime Skritterer Josh McFarland reached out to us in May about making an Android version, we gave him our source code and put the might of the Skritter API at his disposal.

History of Skritter Clients

Fueled by 土豆丝 and 咖喱饭, Josh retreated into his Beijing coding lair for seven months, emerging today with his cross-browser, cross-platform, open-source, Android-compatible, HTML5-based Skritter client alpha preview. Now, you can use it to study, but it’s not finished yet--Josh needs your help to test it and give him feedback. You can use the Skritter forum, the GitHub issues, or email him directly at josh@skritter.com. In particular, it works on the Android devices he has tested so far, but it may not work on yours yet, so try it out and let him know.

Try it now at html5.skritter.com and send Josh feedback!

You should use the latest Chrome Beta for Android, as it works much better than other mobile browsers. You can also test it with a desktop browser. It doesn’t work in iOS yet (but that’s what the iOS app is for). Eventually, this will include all major Skritter features running on Android, Blackberry, iOS, and Windows. Known issues are on GitHub, but the two big ones so far are needing the latest mobile Chrome Beta and optimizing performance.

We’re excited about being able to finally bring Skritter to Android and other platforms. As you may have seen, George, Scott, and Nick recently launched CodeCombat, a multiplayer programming game for learning to code, and as interest in that game has exploded, they’ve been focused away from Skritter, leaving it to the trustworthy hands of Jake, Evan, Jeremy, and Josh to keep Skritter moving forward.

In other news, the long-awaited Skritter iOS app 2.4.0 update has today made it through its six-week app review journey. In addition to bugfixes, tons of new sounds, and text-to-speech, we're pleased to offer auto-renewable subscriptions. Apple has now allowed us to match the renewable subscriptions we use on the website in the App Store, so look for the more-convenient renewable 1-, 6-, and 12-month subscriptions, or save big on the non-renewing 24-month subscription.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

(Even More) Expressions in Japanese ③

author photoI'm not sure if it's a heightened awareness due to studying Japanese closely that makes me feel like there are a ridiculous number of expressions versus nonchalantly learning English and gradually picking them up my whole life, or if there really are a great number in comparison. At any rate, here are a few more of them.

lit: Become a neck

Sometimes gestured with a motion of  slicing the neck with your finger, this means "to get fired" or "to get sacked" from a job. This originates from when decapitation was a form of punishment, like in the Edo period, for instance.

lit: Neck not turn

Here is another "neck" related expression, which means to "be deep in debt". Imagine someone who is so deep in debt as if it were physically all around them that they cannot turn their head at all (by rotating the neck) to look around. It's not funny to be deep in debt, but this expression is.

lit: Sideways(misdirected) liking

From the full expression "下手の横好き", this means to love doing something but at the same time be terrible at it. "横", in addition to meaning "horizontal" or "sideways", can be used in other expressions like 横車を押す (to have one's way against all reason) or 横紙破り (act illogically), and carry the meaning of something like "misdirected/wrong" or "against logic". The word 横好き isn't really used outside of the expression 下手の横好き, so just using 横好き will trigger the meaning.

lit: Roasted mochi

Besides it's literal meaning of roasted mochi, this means to be jealous. There's a "good" word for jealous in Japanese: "羨ましい(うらやましい)" which is more like envious, and then there's "焼き餅". There's another word for jealousy too, 嫉妬(しっと)、and it's said that the word 焼き餅 was first created from 妬く気持ち or やくきもち literally meaning "jealous feelings" (which uses the second kanji in 嫉妬 for the word jealous in 妬く)and became a play on words to say 焼き餅 and eventually came to mean "jealousy". There's also another thought that when jealous, one's face takes on a sulky look resembling roasting mochi (which expands and gets gooey). I had actually always thought it was because when you see people roasting mochi you get jealous of eating it. The full expression is "焼餅を焼く".