Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grading Buttons in Chinese Reading Prompts

author photoAs an alternative to typing the pinyin to answer Chinese reading prompts, we've now added the grading buttons to those prompts. This allows you to use a more flashcard-like style if you don't want to type, or sometimes don't want to get your hands onto the keyboard for typing. Just use the show and grading buttons, or keyboard shortcuts and grading hotkeys, to plow through those reading prompts.

Because the usual shortcuts don't work on reading prompts, as they're needed to type letters, we've added two new shortcuts to go along with this mode. You can now press the up arrow for "show" and the down arrow for "correct". Combined with the left and right arrows to switch between prompts, you can now do all the study you want with just those four keys--they work during the other prompt types, too.

If you've been putting off Chinese reading prompts because you don't want to type pinyin, we hope you'll give this mode a shot, and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Export Starred Words

author photoNew feature just added last week ago: you can now export your starred words. This has been asked for a few times, has been on the to do list for a while, and is finally here! It's one of the options in the export popup, which you can get to from the My Words page.

By the way, the Skritter February Newsletter has gone out; enjoy the contest! (China link to newsletter)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CCTV New Year's Evening Gala 春节联欢晚会 (chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì)

author photo春节快乐! (chūnjié kuàilè, Happy Chinese New Year!) Happy year of the Rabbit!
Did you have a chance to check out this years' CCTV New Year's Evening Gala? Every year hundreds of millions of Chinese people sit down to watch this program, the largest media event of the year. The full name for the show is 中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会 (Zhōngguó zhōngyāng diànshìtái chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì). Watching the show is something of a must-do activity in China, sort of along the lines of the Superbowl in the US.

     The overarching theme of the evening Gala is clear: “It's great to be home with family”. Just glance quickly at some of the song titles and you'll be convinced: 过年回家 (guònián huíjiā, Going Home for Spring Festival), 想家 (xiǎngjiā, Missing Home), 家在心里 (jiā zài xīn lǐ, Home in My Heart),难忘今宵 (nán wàng jīn xiāo, Unforgettable Tonight).

     The CCTV New Year's Evening Gala is basically an epic variety show. It usually lasts about 4 and a half hours, ending a little while after midnight on the first day of the lunar calendar. Traditionally the show includes skits (小品, xiǎopǐn), xiangsheng (相声, xiàngsheng), songs and dances (歌舞, gēwǔ), acrobatics (杂技, zájì), magic tricks (魔术, móshù), and Chinese opera (戏剧, xìjù).

     This year the show included all of these things (check out the 2011 full list of events here). For me the highlights were:

1. Comic sketch: Midnight Callbox 小品《午夜电话亭》 This skit was pretty clever and funny. A young woman and a middle-aged male cab driver both want to use the public pay phone and a series of misunderstandings ensue. The woman speaks fairly standard 普通话 (pǔtōnghuà, Mandarin Chinese) and the cabbie speaks in a thick Beijing accent with plenty of 儿话音 (ér huàyīn, the infamous Beijing “r” sound).

2. Song:Missing Home (Sung by Ren Yueli, Xidan Girl) 歌曲《想家》演唱:西单女孩(任月丽). CCTV went for the sentimental tears on this one. The Xidan Girl explains that she moved from the countryside to Beijing in search of success with her singing career, and ended up performing in the subways of the Xidan district. Watch it to witness the pinnacle of her career in front of the largest audience imaginable.  To ratchet up the emotion an extra notch, CCTV went all out and had a live videocast of her family watching her as she performs.

3. Song: Orchid Pavilion (Sung by Jay Chou, Chiling Lin) 歌曲《兰亭序》演唱:周杰伦、林志玲(台湾地区). Watch this one for the Taiwanese star power alone. Jay Chou, possibly the biggest superstar (singer, actor, director) from Taiwan, flaunts it along with Lin Chiling, the glamorous model-turned actress.

4. Charming Chinese Opera 戏曲《薪火相传梨园美》. I was impressed by the power of these singer's voices! They really know how to wail.

5. All Men Are Brothers (Performed by Mark Rowswell and students from Confucius Institutes) 《四海之内皆兄弟》表演:大山、孔子学院5位学员 . You guessed it, 大山 the famous (in China) Canadian makes an appearance as usual, this time with the cream of the crop of his students from the Confucius Institute. The piece is an exhibition of these non-native Chinese speaking kids' language abilities. It will make you say “Wow!”

     I had trouble sitting through the Children's Song and Dance: Hug Me If You Love Me 儿童歌舞《爱我你就抱抱我》 The only place I can imagine encountering something similar in the media in the US would be maybe on Sesame Street, but even that would be a stretch. I guess Chinese people of all ages place a higher value on 可爱 “kě'ài, cute” than the average American does.

     During the past few weeks I asked all of my Chinese acquaintances what they thought of the CCTV Evening Gala this year in comparison to the years before, and there was a definite consensus that it was not very good this year. Some of my Chinese friends said that it was put together rather hurriedly and just didn't seem very original. A lot of Chinese Netizens have criticized the Gala as well. An article on the Radio Free Asia site points to CCTV using several internet slang phrases during the Gala which were particularly 红 (hóng, lit. red, but means popular) this year. They criticize the slang phrases' appearance in the show as a failed attempt to connect with the people, a cheap way to get a round of applause from the audience. See if you can find where these phrases make an appearance:

给力 (gěilì to give strength, [fig. helpful, cool, impressive])
神马都是浮云 (shénmǎ dōu shì fúyún, everything is as fleeting as the clouds)

(Thanks to Chinesepod for those definitions, drawn from the latest Advanced lesson about these slang terms: 给力)

     You can watch the entire program with English subtitles here on the CCTV website, or with Chinese subtitles here. There's also a CCTV specific streaming video accelerator you can download and install if you're using a windows operating system. Even with the 加速器 (jiāsù qì, accelerator) installed and the video quality toggled to the highest setting, I found it to be annoyingly pixellated and slow to load, so I resorted to someone's youtube uploads: Part 1 2 3 4 5.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Temporary Parts Study

author photoSometimes you just want to do writing prompts for a while, without having to switch gears and think about tones or definitions. Or maybe you want to minimize switching between keyboard and pen/mouse, so you want to turn reading prompts off for a little while, or get them all at out of the way. Perhaps you just have a giant review queue and you want to finish it as efficiently as possible. But when you go to turn some parts off in the settings menu while studying, then it messes up your word adding: new words are missing whatever parts you had disabled when the word got added to My Words. Now everything's messed up!

We've just made a couple changes to the way that menu works. We are renaming it to Temporary Parts Study, distinguishing it from the main options which are in the study settings portion of your account preferences. This temporary mode disables adding for you, so that you don't accidentally skip over parts of some words that you'll want after you turn those parts back on. It also lets you know what's going on with a hopefully-unobtrusive reminder at the top of your study area. I've been using it to clear all my writing reviews at once before moving on to the others, so that I don't have to put down my pen to do reading prompts as often.

The other way to go with this would have been to try to keep adding enabled, but add all the parts for each word despite not being able to review them until you turned this mode off. We weighed it, but it seemed dangerous to build up this backlog of new items which could easily overwhelm you, so this is what we came up with. Have a try, and let us know what you think--does it fit your needs?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Home Page Redesigned

author photoOkay, this is the last redesign for the time being, we promise! Don't worry, it's not too drastic anyway. We've shuffled things around in the home page a bit and moved in two orphaned tools: the bookmarklet and the reminders. These used to be in the vocabulary page until that was split between the new vocabulary list and my words pages, and so these tools have been lying despondent in the study page since then, not quite fitting in there. Now they have a proper home in the home page.

More interesting is the addition of the items reviewed widget in the upper right corner. This shows who is studying right at that moment and how many items have been reviewed since the beginning, giving you an idea how active things are. Show other Skritter users how much you're getting done!

Other than that it's pretty much the same home page of old, just a little reorganized to better accommodate everything we've added to it since it was last given an overhaul. Enjoy and let us know what you think of the new widget!

Also, with this redesign done, I'm cleared to start working on my next set of interrelated projects. My last mega-project was the site-wide redesign (the home page being basically the last piece), but all those changes only really involved reorganizing features we already had to make them more accessible. This time though, I'll be changing some of the underlying structure of the site, particularly for vocabulary lists. Lots of frequently requested features are going to be built, so this will be a busy spring! This will give you guys plenty of new improvements and features while we all eagerly await Nick's completion of the Skritter iPhone app. Stay tuned!