Computer Aided Learning

Has anyone bought any of the products by the “Far East Book Company”? What did you think?

Further I am interested if any of this modern teaching theory as mentioned by Ironlady can be distilled into computer programs? Would it be possible to build a software teacher?

The more I learn about how the brain learns language, the LESS technology I use or feel I need.

I taught the most successful year ever last year using NO computers, movies, filmstrips, PowerPoint presentations, CD-ROMS or anything. OK, I did use an overhead projector, but I could have gotten by without it.

I suppose if somebody had a way to give you COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT on a large scale without actually having a teacher present, then that would be a very effective type of instruction. The problem is that a computer can’t sense that confused look on your face like a real teacher can. The question, of course, is whether the real teacher really addresses the root of that confused look, or is in fact at least in part the cause of its presence.

Far East does have a rather newish dictionary out that I quite like – called “3000 Chinese Characters” or something like that. It has the character, stroke order, Pinyin and zhuyin, four or five words that contain that character (both as first and last element) and usually a four-character phrase containing that character, all with English translations. It would be useful for a “learn-to-write” book (although it’s not in frequency order but rather in alphabetical order) or as a way to review forgotten characters while learning some new compounds as well.

Far East also has a Palm dictionary out (competing with Oxford E<>C, I suppose). I have been using the Oxford and haven’t gotten around to installing the Far East yet to give it a test run. Since my opinions are free (that’s what they’re generally worth) of course I shall regale all and sundry with my review of this software when I finally get around to it.

One neat way to produce low-cost Web tutorials for reading is to use HTML code and use pull-down menus in the text (the first choice is the word in the language of the reading, and below that the next choice, visible only when the “menu” is pulled down, might be the English translation or the pronunciation or some note) or by using carefully chosen colors for HTML links (that is, clicking on a certain place will cause a translation or note to “light up” (originally the text was white, and when the link is ‘followed’ it changes color to something visible). It is a lot of work, though, and of course you have to have the materials in the first place…AARRGGH!!

(I feel much better now.)


To someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The relevance of this is that I am a computer programmer and am learning Chinese! Unfortunately I am not experienced in language acquisition as I forgot how I got the first one.

One use of computers I thought up with was for use in profiling stories. Previously you have mentioned that you only want to read stories or whatever with only x% new characters. If you told the computer which characters you knew it could sift through a database of stories (perhaps old news stories?) and present suitable items for your perusal. Also the characters that you don’t know could be hotlinked for instant reference in an attached dictionary.

Also in this thread you mentioned character frequency. Computers are excellent tools for generating a myriad of statistics, including character and (harder) word frequency.

A computer could also sift through stories, dictionaries or whatever for instances of a particular character you are interested in. For instance you could find every word in the dictionary that included the character … or perhaps every word that was top 10,000 in the frequency list and included the relevant character. Then you could pull up sentences or paragraphs showing the word(s) in context; of course referring to the list of characters you are familiar with to make sure you could understand the displayed sentence/paragraph.

These are some ideas I had but I haven’t got far with any implementation yet. Just have a little character practice program that speaks a charcter and you have to pick which one it was from a grid and some other less useful (and fun) items.

I think computer testing can give the computer some insight into your weak points and perhaps derive from your responses what an experienced teacher sees in your facial expression.

Word segmentation in Chinese is a pain since there are no spaces and a computer can’t tell two one character words from one two character word. That is a limiter on several otherwise decent ideas.

There is already a program available that will take a text file in Chinese and compare it to a list of your “known” characters, then give you information for everything else. It’s called “Bamboo Helper” by Carlos McEvilly (spelling?? pretty sure it’s right). I haven’t used it in some years but it was pretty good as I remember – plus it was FREE. Search for his name on any search engine and it should pop up.


Thanks. I thought I had already done fairly extensive web searching already on this topic but I still managed to miss “Bamboo Helper”.

OK, finally got around to taking a look at the FarEast Palm C<>E dictionary…unfortunately, from a foreign learner’s point of view, it’s two thumbs down.

First of all, I got a “bus error” message (that’s a bad one!) when I tried to install the program on POSE (the Palm Operating System Emulator) on my desktop computer. I usually use POSE to try out new software to avoid really screwing up my actual Palm device…don’t know what the problem was, exactly.

The documentation is completely in Chinese. To install the full version of the program would require over 6 MB of memory. For most people, who might have just 8 MB on board, that is excessive. The Oxford E<>C checks in at just over 3MB, which is more doable for most people. I don’t have the information on the exact number of characters in the Oxford vs. the Far East, however. Maybe that extra memory is really buying some vocabulary. FarEast does allow you to select “stripped down” versions with fewer terms and small file sizes, but I don’t know how comprehensive these are (couldn’t really run it as mentioned above.)

That having been said, a quick glance through the documentation shows that this dictionary was designed for native Chinese speakers, pure and simple. No Romanization, no pronunciation when you look up an English word to find out how to say it in Chinese. The word games are all for learners of English. Fair enough, English learners are FarEast’s bread and butter, but for that reason I would tell foreign learners that they would be better off with the Oxford, which is foreigner-friendly. I don’t think FarEast ever really intended this for foreign learners of Mandarin (at least I hope not!)

FarEast has a 30 day trial with required registration thereafter; Oxford has a free demo download that has only the “A” and “B” sections of the dictionary to give you an idea.

Just my NT$0.6, your mileage may vary.