Chinese Toolbox: free software for learning to read Chinese

Learning to read Chinese for an adult is not a piece of cake (and writing is worse). The constant look-up of the meanings of characters is a killer. After a few years in Taiwan, I began working on writing a computer program to address the frustrations I had as a student of Chinese. The result is Chinese Toolbox FREE (http://www.chinesetoolbox.com). This program is a free Chinese reading assistant, and it is very helpful in reading online (and offline) Chinese documents. I am currently working on the development of more advanced software for learning Chinese. I invite you to try Chinese Toolbox FREE. Whether your impression is positive or negative, I would love to hear from you.

This looks like just what I want. Unfortunately it cannot be installed on Vista 64 bit, according to the installation file.

Ok, I downloaded it and opened the program after installation. Now what? Can’t figure out how to copy and past Chinese text, or even how to use the program, let alone importing or exporting dictionaries etc…

Sems like a nice idea, though. Perhaps I can figure it out later when I have more time…

I’ve release a new installer for Chinese Toolbox FREE 9.1.2 that allows installing on 64-bit versions of Windows. Please refer to the new web page and follow the instructions there: http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Download_64-bit/download_64-bit.htm. I hope this works for you.

[quote=“bismarck”]Ok, I downloaded it and opened the program after installation. Now what? Can’t figure out how to copy and past Chinese text, or even how to use the program, let alone importing or exporting dictionaries etc…

Sems like a nice idea, though. Perhaps I can figure it out later when I have more time…[/quote]

Like studying Chinese, learning to use Chinese Toolbox FREE will require a little bit of time investment. Once you understand how to use the program, the payoffs should be great. The whole point of the program is reduce the amount of time you need to spend learning to read Chinese.

The basic techniques in using Chinese Toolbox FREE are pretty simple: copy and paste. First, from any source (usually your browser) select and copy the text you want to read. Second, click in the reader frame and paste the text (Ctrl-v). The text you previously copied should appear in the reader. I’ve written a tutorial just for what you want to do. I hope you can find a little time to check it out. It’s located at http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Documentation/User_Guide/Tutorial_1–Importing_and_Read/tutorial_1–importing_and_read.htm. If you need any other help feel free to write me at ats@chinesetoolbox.com. If you’re in Taiwan you can also give me a call.

Looks great. I can’t wait for the linux version :pray:

[quote=“atsherrill”][quote=“bismarck”]Ok, I downloaded it and opened the program after installation. Now what? Can’t figure out how to copy and past Chinese text, or even how to use the program, let alone importing or exporting dictionaries etc…

Sems like a nice idea, though. Perhaps I can figure it out later when I have more time…[/quote]

Like studying Chinese, learning to use Chinese Toolbox FREE will require a little bit of time investment. Once you understand how to use the program, the payoffs should be great. The whole point of the program is reduce the amount of time you need to spend learning to read Chinese.

The basic techniques in using Chinese Toolbox FREE are pretty simple: copy and paste. First, from any source (usually your browser) select and copy the text you want to read. Second, click in the reader frame and paste the text (Ctrl-v). The text you previously copied should appear in the reader. I’ve written a tutorial just for what you want to do. I hope you can find a little time to check it out. It’s located at http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Documentation/User_Guide/Tutorial_1–Importing_and_Read/tutorial_1–importing_and_read.htm. If you need any other help feel free to write me at ats@chinesetoolbox.com. If you’re in Taiwan you can also give me a call.

Best wishes,

A. Todd Sherrill
Author, developer, and publisher of Chinese Toolbox software
http://www.chinesetoolbox.com
Email: ats@chinesetoolbox.com
Cell (Taiwan): 0910-092-454[/quote]
Cheers mate. I’ll check out the tutorial when I have the time. The concept seems a good one, though. If I run into any problems I’ll give you a call…

I’ve just downloaded it as well and is it just me or does this thing only read single characters?

The other issue I had was that after I managed to paste a text, I couldn’t scroll down to look at the other parts of the text, just the top 10 or so lines.

[quote=“Dr Jellyfish”]I’ve just downloaded it as well and is it just me or does this thing only read single characters?

The other issue I had was that after I managed to paste a text, I couldn’t scroll down to look at the other parts of the text, just the top 10 or so lines.[/quote]

No, it’s not just you. The program currently supports only character reading. The included dictionary is a character dictionary. As such, it is a preview of what is to come. Believe me, no one wants full support for an extensive word (multi-character) dictionary more than myself. I planned for the inclusion of a word dictionary quite a long time ago, but what you see in Chinese Toolbox FREE 9.1.2 has kept me busy until the present. I am now working on some more advanced features, one of which is the word dictionary. My Upcoming Release page (http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Upcoming_Release/upcoming_release.htm) provides a little more information as to what’s coming in the Fall.

Answer to your second question: The reader frame (contained in the Reader and Search Results window) presents the reader text in multiple pages. It’s not in one long scrollable page. To see the remainder of your text, press the Page Down key. The left hand side of the Reader and Search Results window indicates the current page number and the total number of pages. Press Page Up to go to the previous page. Press Home to go to the first page.

Hope this helps.

Thanks. I can’t make any promises, but I will take some time to look into the feasibility of doing a Linux version. I did find an implementation of the Windows API for Linux, called libwine. Don’t know how good it is, but I’ll check it out.

[quote=“atsherrill”][quote=“Dr Jellyfish”]I’ve just downloaded it as well and is it just me or does this thing only read single characters?

The other issue I had was that after I managed to paste a text, I couldn’t scroll down to look at the other parts of the text, just the top 10 or so lines.[/quote]

No, it’s not just you. The program currently supports only character reading. The included dictionary is a character dictionary. As such, it is a preview of what is to come. Believe me, no one wants full support for an extensive word (multi-character) dictionary more than myself. I planned for the inclusion of a word dictionary quite a long time ago, but what you see in Chinese Toolbox FREE 9.1.2 has kept me busy until the present. I am now working on some more advanced features, one of which is the word dictionary. My Upcoming Release page (http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Upcoming_Release/upcoming_release.htm) provides a little more information as to what’s coming in the Fall.

Answer to your second question: The reader frame (contained in the Reader and Search Results window) presents the reader text in multiple pages. It’s not in one long scrollable page. To see the remainder of your text, press the Page Down key. The left hand side of the Reader and Search Results window indicates the current page number and the total number of pages. Press Page Up to go to the previous page. Press Home to go to the first page.

Hope this helps.

A. Todd Sherrill
Author, developer, and publisher of Chinese Toolbox software
chinesetoolbox.com
Email: ats@chinesetoolbox.com
Cell (Taiwan): 0910-092-454[/quote]

Thanks, the page up/page down thing is handy.

At the moment I have a pretty good electronic dictionary, all I need to do is type in an English word or draw a Chinese character and it will give me their meaning - it also gives me an extensive list of all the other characters it could be combined with to make other words. The attraction of your software was that you could just cut and paste texts from the net without having to mess around with dictionaries for too long, the main issue I have is that you just can’t read Chinese character by character it doesn’t really make sense as the majority of words are actually made up from 2 characters. If your software could be altered to identify multiple character words or meanings or even be able to get the Bo Po Mo Fo up next to each word, then that would really be something.

I totally agree with you. Characters are important, but most words are made up of multiple characters. Hence the importance of integrating a word dictionary. Check back at http://www.chinesetoolbox.com in the Fall or later this year. What I’ll have available then will, as you say, really be something!

In the interim, you may want to experiment with the Chinese Toolbox FREE review system. That is one other significant aspect of the program. The review system that I have for characters will eventually be there for words, as well. I’m planning to make additional improvements to the review system for the next release. If the review system I’ve design is faulty, I’d like to hear about it. Until recently, I’ve been virtually the only one using the program for the last few years, so I guess I have a little bit of tunnel vision. I need a broader perspective, and that’s where you and other users come in. This is actually an educational experience for me, and it will help me to produce better software in the future.

The current review system is documented at http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Documentation/User_Guide/Tutorial_2–Reviewing_by_Level/tutorial_2–reviewing_by_level.htm and http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Documentation/User_Guide/Tutorial_3–Reviewing_by_Date/tutorial_3–reviewing_by_date.htm.

A tutorial describing how to use Chinese Toolbox FREE to look up words is provided at http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Documentation/User_Guide/Tutorial_5–Looking_Up_Words__/tutorial_5–looking_up_words__.htm

Thanks for your feedback. I really do appreciate it.

That would really be amazing if you could do that, it would make browsing the net in Chinese so much more accessable for the intermediate + Chinese student.

There was another thing I was wondering about: would it be possible to have a function that would put the bo po mo fo next to the characters? One of the most annoying times I’ve had with studying Chinese is finding decent reading material for the adult intermediate + learner, the majority of books with bo po mo fo are for kids and tend to be overly cute and off-putting, I know the Bo Po Mo Fo wasn’t really your focus, I was just wondering whether it would be possible?

[quote=“Dr Jellyfish”]That would really be amazing if you could do that, it would make browsing the net in Chinese so much more accessable for the intermediate + Chinese student.

There was another thing I was wondering about: would it be possible to have a function that would put the bo po mo fo next to the characters? One of the most annoying times I’ve had with studying Chinese is finding decent reading material for the adult intermediate + learner, the majority of books with bo po mo fo are for kids and tend to be overly cute and off-putting, I know the Bo Po Mo Fo wasn’t really your focus, I was just wondering whether it would be possible?[/quote]

One of the reasons I began writing this program is for the very reason you mentioned. I want to learn to read Chinese by reading what I want, not children’s materials. There is so much Chinese text available online. What if all this text could become learning material for students of Chinese? Wouldn’t that be fantastic!

Regarding BoPoMoFo, do you mean can it be displayed vertically directly to the right of the character as seen in children’s books in Taiwan? If this is your question, the answer is a definite YES. It’s just a matter of time; it takes time to programmatically code this into the software. This one feature would occupy about two weeks of my time. Actually, I had not even thought of this, and this is exactly the kind of feedback and ideas that I’m looking for.

If this feature (bopomofo next to the character) would make the program for useful, then I will gladly code this into the software. It’s just going to take a little time.

[quote=“atsherrill”][quote=“Dr Jellyfish”]That would really be amazing if you could do that, it would make browsing the net in Chinese so much more accessable for the intermediate + Chinese student.

There was another thing I was wondering about: would it be possible to have a function that would put the bo po mo fo next to the characters? One of the most annoying times I’ve had with studying Chinese is finding decent reading material for the adult intermediate + learner, the majority of books with bo po mo fo are for kids and tend to be overly cute and off-putting, I know the Bo Po Mo Fo wasn’t really your focus, I was just wondering whether it would be possible?[/quote]

One of the reasons I began writing this program is for the very reason you mentioned. I want to learn to read Chinese by reading what I want, not children’s materials. There is so much Chinese text available online. What if all this text could become learning material for students of Chinese? Wouldn’t that be fantastic!

Regarding BoPoMoFo, do you mean can it be displayed vertically directly to the right of the character as seen in children’s books in Taiwan? If this is your question, the answer is a definite YES. It’s just a matter of time; it takes time to programmatically code this into the software. This one feature would occupy about two weeks of my time. Actually, I had not even thought of this, and this is exactly the kind of feedback and ideas that I’m looking for.

If this feature (bopomofo next to the character) would make the program for useful, then I will gladly code this into the software. It’s just going to take a little time.[/quote]

Yes, that’s exactly what I mean :thumbsup: , having the Bo Po Mo Fo next to each character would be amazing as that way you can read at your own pace, if you get a character you’ve forgotten (happens a lot with me) then by having the Bo Po Mo Fo next to it you may be able to remember it from it’s pronunciation, either way you’re getting a tonal work out at the same time which is always great.

These days I mainly just work my way through Chinese newspapers and novels, though I often lose interest as I often find myself constantly checking the dictionary to see if it’s the right tone/pronunciation :aiyo: .

I really wish you the best of luck with your project, when you’ve got it up and running - if you need anyone to try it out or give more feeback I’d be happy to help.

On July 1 Chinese Toolbox FREE 9.1.2 was re-released with the 64-bit restriction removed from the installer. I have tested the program on Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit edition and everything looks fine. Enjoy.

You champion, thanks. I’ll take a look tonight (sorry I haven’t had time to check it out yet).

Well, tried it today, haven’t checked out every detail, but what I saw can’t really convince me. I think there is much better software than this for reading Chinese texts.

Using NJStar Chinese WP for years now (njstar.com/cms/njstar-chinese-word-processor). It’s not free, but worth the price.

Or do I miss any big advantage of “Chinese Toolbox” (except that it’s free)?

[quote=“EagleNT”]Well, tried it today, haven’t checked out every detail, but what I saw can’t really convince me. I think there is much better software than this for reading Chinese texts.

Using NJStar Chinese WP for years now (njstar.com/cms/njstar-Chinese-word-processor). It’s not free, but worth the price.

Or do I miss any big advantage of “Chinese Toolbox” (except that it’s free)?[/quote]

I respect you opinion, but I do have some questions and comments. Is NSStar a program for learning to read Chinese? I checked out their documentation, and from what I can see, NJStar is a word processor for the Chinese language. Years ago I saw the ads for NJStar. I checked out NJStar then as I did tonight before writing this post, and to me it just doesn’t appear to have anything to do with learning to read Chinese. NJStar is about writing Chinese. There is a market for writing Chinese, and as far as I’m concerned, NJStar is welcome to it. That is not what my software is about. Comparing Chinese Toolbox FREE to NJStar is like comparing apples to oranges. They are totally different and they target entirely different markets.

Regarding any big advantage of Chinese Toolbox, as you say, all I can do is recommend the Chinese Toolbox documentation (http://www.chinesetoolbox.com/Documentation/documentation.htm). I have written about Chinese Toolbox FREE as thoroughly as I know how to do. Learning Chinese is not easy, as I’m sure you know. It takes lots of time. Likewise, learning Chinese Toolbox FREE takes a little time. A quick run of Chinese Toolbox FREE will not leave you with much impression of the depth of its capabilities. Some of the functionality is not so obvious in the interface. The only way you’ll know what Chinese Toolbox FREE can do is by digging into the documentation.

I do not claim that Chinese Toolbox FREE is the best software for reading Chinese, but I do claim that it is a very good contender. Chinese Toolbox FREE represents my best effort only up to this point; far more is in the works. It is merely a start, with some indications of what is yet to come.

I have checked out the competition, and in some respects, they’ve got me beat, but I’m not out. I would not have spent so many years developing this software if I didn’t feel I could make a reasonable contribution to the community of Chinese learners. I understand that as a Chinese reader some fundamental and very important features are lacking in Chinese Toolbox FREE. But as Charles Howard says in the book and movie, Seabiscuit, “This is not the finish line; the future is the finish line.”, so also this is not the finish line for me. I promise you, more integrated tools for learning Chinese are yet to come from the forge of Chinese Toolbox.

Finally, beyond this post I am not willing to argue the pros and cons of specific products. Different products are better suited to different people. Actually, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who would be considered my competitor. Each developer who has produced a Chinese learning product has invested a huge (in some cases, truly unmeasurable) amount of time in developing their products. Developing good software is not easy, and anyone who can do it gets my respect. What is more important to me is that developers find ways to collaborate, bringing together each one’s experience and expertise, to develop great software to make Chinese a easier to learn. I’m hoping to focus some effort in this area in the near future.

After more than 10 years of development, Chinese Toolbox READER is finally available, and it’s free through the end of 2009. Built on the foundation of Chinese Toolbox FREE, Chinese Toolbox READER adds support for a community supported word dictionary, CC-CEDICT from MDBG.net.

For some, basic verbal communication in Chinese may come without too much difficulty. But reading and writing are entirely different matters. Before the advent of the Internet, finding the meaning of characters was a time-consuming process. Now, Chinese Toolbox READER takes you to a whole new level. With two built-in dictionaries (character and word), definitions appear automatically as you read. With Chinese Toolbox READER, not only can you use the text of your choice to study Chinese, but all multi-character words are clearly delineated in the text. It’s obvious where one word ends and another begins, which is not the case in “normal” reading of Chinese.

I began the Chinese Toolbox project based on my own difficulties in learning Chinese. Though there’s so much more to be done (currently 80 items on my to-do list), I do believe you’ll find Chinese Toolbox FREE or Chinese Toolbox READER to be useful to you. Chinese Toolbox FREE will always be free, and Chinese Toolbox READER will be free until the release of version 10.0.0.0 in 2010. If you try out one of these products, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what you like or don’t like about the programs. This will help me to design better programs in the future.