Practice writing Chinese on your computer

Over the past couple years of half-heartedly studying Chinese I’ve come across a good number of computer-based tools to help in my studies.

ChinesePod, Google’s IME, Adsotrans and Google Translator, Wenlin and a bunch of great freeware and Firefox plugins – just to name a few.

However, about two months ago I was casually browsing the local diànzǐ chéng and I stumbled on a little USB input device that allows you to write Chinese as an input method for your computer. I finally pulled it out of the box and played with it the other day.

Google Chinese IMEFirst, for those that haven’t attempted to input Chinese on their computers, there are several ways to do so. The most common method is to use a pinyin-based IME (of which I prefer Google’s). With an IME you simply activate it, type in the pinyin, choose the characters and it outputs the hànzì.

This works well for us laowai, but is a bit slow for Chinese typists. For them a similar method is used, but instead of inputing the pinyin and selecting the characters, they often use rather ingenious software that attributes strokes to the keys of a standard keyboard. By inputting the strokes of the desired character you are able to much more efficiently output Chinese (100+ characters a minute – faster than you can say it!) – that is if you can remember what the goddamn stroke order is.

usbhandpad01.jpgAnd now, for a mere 35 RMB, I have a third way. The little USB-powered tablet is about 6.5″ x 3″ with a small writing area where you use an included plastic stylus to write the strokes of Chinese characters. The included software then interprets this and outputs the proper character.

In my testing of it I was all over the dictionary with what characters it identified as what I wrote. However, when the steadier hand of Maggie gave it a go, it was bang on 100% of the time so long as she wrote the characters properly (Chinese tend to revere “messy” handwriting as “art” more than we do in the West).

It’s not fast. Or at least Maggie didn’t feel it would save her any time in ordering stuff on Taobao. However, for a student of Chinese, such as myself, it’s awesome. It is pretty unforgiving when it comes to stroke order and placement, forcing you to practice and remember how to write things properly.

Now PC tablets are nothing new, and if you’re not in China, you’ll likely be stuck buying one of the more expensive versions designed more for graphic applications than handwriting practice. However, if you’re in China and looking to improve your Chinese writing, with a $5 price tag, this is a great little tool.

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10 Responses

  1. Ryan-
    That’s fucking awesome! I always figured my Chinese writing would be 10 times better if I had hand written all those QQ conversations instead of typing them. I can’t imagine it would be too useful to a Chinese person, unless they simply refused to learn how to type, but it must do wonders for solidifying all those Chinese characters you are studying. I may have to get you to send me over one of those to the US.

  2. @Ben: Just let me know man. Though once shipping is brought into it – you can likely just get a low-end PC tablet (link in post) that does virtually the same thing. I can just send you the software 🙂

    @Matt: Definitely do. I’ve yet to see an electronic market that isn’t loaded with them. Just look at those little stalls that sell all the stupid things you can plug into your USB ports (mice, hubs, fans, flashlights, etc.).

    BTW Matt: in your portfolio, am I mistaken or is that photo of you in Suzhou on Shantang Jie?

  3. @Chris: The box says it’s just for Windows…of course, you must be used to that by now. 😛

    @Matt: I think “technically” Zhouzhuang is part of Suzhou. So maybe you’ve been here and didn’t even know it 😉

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