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This page describes a flashcard program that can be used as a study aid along with the book "Practical Chinese Reader", Books 1, 2, and 3.

News: This version of the flashcards program includes a vocabulary editor and the ability to export vocabulary to the Palm.

News: A version of the flashcards program for the Palm Pilot is available. Click here for more information.

News: A beta version of a flashcards program is now available that can take advantage of the improved display on Palm Tungsten modes.  It also contains a vocabulary reader.  Click here for more information.

When I first started studying Chinese, I started with a set of flashcards that I bought in a local bookstore. These worked well at the start, but as time went on there were words in our book for which there wasn't a card. In addition we were starting to get multi-character words that have specific meanings that aren't always obvious when you look at the meanings of the individual characters.

There are a couple of existing flashcard programs out there. Some of them are web based which can be really slow. Another major drawback is that they don't divide up the vocabulary the same way as was done in the book we used, which often leaves you wondering whether you should even know the character that pops up on the screen.

The main pre-requisite to using the flashcard program is that you need is to have Chinese fonts on your system. There are a couple of ways to get this, and the procedure depends upon what operating system you are using. I strongly prefer the fonts and IME that Microsoft provides, as these will work with standard versions of Internet Explorer and Office 2000, and as an added benefit they enable you to browse Chinese web sites.

For information on how to install the fonts and IME on your system, please see this page. For an explanation about how to use an IME to compose an email message that contains Chinese characters, please see the IME tutorial.

To download the flashcard program, click here . This version is fully functional on all Windows platforms.

I put the thing on my desktop so that it is easy for me to find whenever I want it. To use the thing, just run it. It looks like this:

 

A separate version of the flashcards program for the Palm Pilot is also available. Click here for more information. Here is a screen shot that shows what the Pilot version looks like:

 

There isn't much you need to know in order to use it - the program will display one "word" which may consist of multiple Chinese characters. To see the Pinyin pronunciation, click "Pinyin" (as if that wasn't obvious). Same goes for the definition of the word. The "OK" and "Oops" buttons move onto the next character, use "Oops" for words that you missed (however you define missed), and "OK" for words you got OK. The only real point of differentiating is that words that you consistently miss will start to appear more often, while words that you consistently get right will start to appear less frequently.

The Windows and the Pilot versions of the program are both used in the same way.

Clicking "Characters" on the menu bar allows you to select simplified or traditional characters.

Under "File" you can select "Font" - this would allow you to make the Chinese font larger if you wanted to. You can also change the color, put it in italics, etc.

There are two sets of definitions that are included. The first set is from an online dictionary that I found on-line - there are often a number of definitions, and perhaps only one of them is relevant to the lesson in question. The second set is the definition from PCR - in this case you are presented only with the definition from the book for the lesson(s) you are studying, and none of the others. To change which definition is displayed, you can select "Definitions" on the menu bar (the picture above is an old one, taken before I had more than one set of definitions available).

The definitions that are in there are taken from the online Chinese dictionary that I found online. Frequently there are a number of definitions, and perhaps only one of them is relevant to the lesson in question. I was too lazy to reduce the definition to the one specific definition used by the lesson in question.

There are a couple of boxes where you can select the starting and ending lesson. When you use these, words will only be selected that are within the range you specify. If you set them both to 24, then you will only get words that appear as part of the vocabulary in lesson 24. Currently I have vocabulary from all of books 1 through 3 (lessons 1 through 50 from books 1 and 2, and lessons 1-15 from book 3). As I progress further in the classes, I may include the vocabulary for books 4-6.

It is possible to clear the statistics for number correct/number wrong by clicking on the "File" thing in the menu bar.

The default mode is that it picks out cards at random from the set you specify. The ones you consistently get right eventually stop showing up, and the ones you get wrong will show up more often. Once you get each card right more often than you got it wrong, you will get a message to that effect, and it will start over again.

There is also a random play mode where it just picks cards in a more or less random order, with the probability of each card coming up depends upon how many times you have gotten it wrong and how many times you have gotten it right. I don't know whether this is the best way of doing it or not - I may add other modes of "play" later on once I figure out what they should be.

Finally newer versions also include support 'pinyin' and 'definition' modes which show you the pinyin or definition.  In these modes, there is a 'Hanzi' button, which will cause the hanzi to be displayed.  In my own experience, I use the pinyin mode with a pad of paper and a pen, and test myself to see if I can remember how to draw the character.  In fact I have found that I have become so dependent upon the computer that I had actually forgotten how to draw most of the Chinese characters that I have learned in the past.

I also found an online Chinese dictionary that comes in quite handy as I enter vocabulary for new lessons - this is essentially where I have drawn the definitions used in the flashcard program. This thing has close to 23000 entries so it is pretty thorough. I was thinking along the lines of writing a lookup program to search the thing (the web version is too slow). I can add links to this thing if people are interested. The names "Gubo" and "Palanka" are in the dictionary, so it is a good bet that someone has been through this before.

There are two major new features in the 2.0 version of the flashcards program.  One of these is a vocabulary editor which allows you to enter arbitrary words which you can drill yourself on, and the second is the ability to export this vocabulary into Palm OS databases such that you can drill yourself on this vocabulary with the Palm version of the flashcards program.

Other features of this version include:

Ability to import vocabulary from CEDICT vocabulary files.
Ability to export a 24x24 font for the Palm.
New display mode - 'single' which always shows the cards in exactly the order in which they appear in the vocabulary editor.
The names of the open user vocabulary files are now saved preferences when you exit.
A problem with characters that could not be converted from Unicode to codepage 950 has been corrected.  Unfortunately it appears that there are several extensions to the Big5 encoding, and not all of them are compatible with each other.  For that matter, codepage 950 is clearly missing some of them.  The solution (at least for now) was to make up a Big5 encoding for those characters - this will work on the Palm as long as you aren't using CJKOS.
There were a few missing characters in the mapping between simplified and traditional characters used in the vocabulary editor.  Note that there are simplified characters which can map to more than one traditional character, and vice versa.

For more information about the vocabulary editor, please click here.

There is an accompanying beta for the Palm version of flash which supports a vocabulary reader which will be of interest to intermediate and advanced students of Chinese.  Click here for more information.

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This page was last updated on 08/17/03.