Use your PC to Master Japanese and Chinese
About the Vocabulary Lessons
Most of the time, you will use the word processor to create your own lessons
based upon a textbook lesson or a specific article that you are reading. The
example practice lessons include beginning lessons which teach the alphabetic
Chinese bopomofo and Chinese pinyin, and assume no prior
experience. Intermediate lessons consist of Chinese hanzi plus unusual
words courtesy of the Smart Characters User's Group.
The beginning bopomofo or pinyin lessons could ruin your Chinese or Chinese
speaking career, because they teach pronunciation according to English
equivalents, which are not really equivalent!
Traditional Chinese and Bopomofo
Chinese pronunciation must be learned by listening. Chinese contains
many sounds not found in English, and the pinyin pronunciation rules are
very different from English. To further complicate matters,
pronunciations vary enormously according to region.
The Advantage of Bopomofo
We recommend that beginners learn the bopomofo (
alphabet because it is exact and cannot be confused with English
pronunciations. Because bopomofo is used in Taiwan, most Chinese never learned
it, but have learned and can use pinyin. Smart Characters supports both
methods, which you choose from a setup dialog.
Remembering the Hanzi
When learning hanzi (Chinese characters), it will pay off to learn to
recognize the various radicals and other elements that make up the
character, rather than recognizing the shape of the character as a whole. If
you don't care to learn the traditional names for the radicals, use the English
names, or make up your own, to the horror of your traditional Chinese teacher.
The point here is that memorizing the shapes of the characters as a whole may
work well for the first hundred or so, but later you may find yourself unable
to distinguish characters which differ more subtly. Although it is directed at
Japanese students, we recommend the 100 percent English names and explanations
found in Remembering the Kanji Volume I by James W. Heisig, as an
excellent way to explore these beautiful and mysterious symbols.
is a list of characters, words, or phrases in vocabulary lesson format. Smart
Characters can convert any dictionary or word list containing pronunciations
and glosses (short translations) into a vocabulary lesson on request. You can
use the newly created vocabulary lesson and discard it, or save it to a
vocabulary lesson file for later retrieval and practice.
The Vocabulary Command
The Learn | Vocabulary command processes the contents of the currently
active and open (not minimized, not an icon) document window, looking for
vocabulary entries. Alternatively, if no window is active and open, the command
asks you to select an existing lesson.
Start by opening an existing lesson. Although you can open a lesson like a word
processing document then apply the Learn | Vocabulary command, for
practice, let's start with a clean window:
- Select Window | Close All to close all the non-permanent open
document windows, then click the Minimize (down arrow) button to
minimize each remaining open permanent windows so that no window is active and
Retrieving a Vocabulary Lesson
Decide which lesson to practice. The bopomofo lesson is in a file named
Bopomofo.cv0, while a beginning Chinese lesson can be found in
Lin01-11.cv0. To open the lesson:
that the File Name specification reads *.?v*, which means all
files with file extensions ending in any character followed by a `v'
optionally followed by another character. This is the convention for Smart
Characters vocabulary files.
- Select Learn | Vocabulary with no active file to invoke the Open
Document dialog. Specify files of Type Vocabulary, and change
Directory to c:\sc\chi. Observe the directory of example
File Name Wild Cards
If the asterisks, periods, and question marks look like gibberish to you,
welcome to the world of computers! Briefly, a period separates a file
name and a file extension (a special part of a file's full name
which indicates its type). An asterisk (*) means match any number of
characters, and a question mark (?) means match any single character. These two
characters are called wild cards.
Narrow the list to files beginning with either a "B" (first letter in
Bopomofo.cv0) or an "L" (for Lin01-11.cv0) by inserting a "B" or
an "L" in front of the first asterisk:
Because the file name is ambiguous
(contains wild cards), the OK button simply displays a (much smaller)
list of matching files in the list box under the file name. Make sure you
understand how they match. Open the lesson file:
- Select the File Name by clicking with the mouse, or pressing Alt+N,
then press Home to position the
to before the first asterisk.
- Press b or l to make the file name read "b*.*" or "l*.*" then press Enter
to activate the OK button.
- Double click with the mouse, or press Tab then Down to highlight the
desired file name. Notice that the File Name entry tracks the highlight,
which is typical behavior for the Windows combination box type of
- Observe that the OK button has a dark border around it, compared
with the Cancel and Help buttons. This means it is the
default button, which will be activated if you press Enter. Press Enter.
Because the file name is no longer ambiguous, the Open Document dialog
will now open the file.
The Vocabulary Window
Observe that the main frame window has been covered by a new window titled
Vocabulary Lesson View, that the new window contains its own menu, and
that three additional child windows are visible.
The flashcard window displays a word or phrase and its answers. The
history window (titled Recent Trials - Worst Scores) shows the
four most recent trials on the left, and the words you find the hardest on the
right. The status bar shows statistical information regarding this
drill, including the number of words selected for drill.
Check out the Setup Menu
Observe the vocabulary menu selections: File Drill Setup. Before you
jump in, look at Vocabulary | Setup.
The number of words
selected is limited to 34 in demonstration mode. See Registering Your
- Select Setup | Selection to invoke the Setup Vocabulary
Lesson dialog, which controls the parameters that shape the lesson plan.
For now, just note the From and To Range (0-999) and the number
of words selected. Press Esc to cancel the dialog.
Note the FlashCard Zoom group. These controls set
the size of the characters used in the flashcard window, and the Chinese
- Select Setup | Tutor to invoke the Vocabulary Tutor
Preferences dialog, which controls the personality of the tutor. Note that
the tutor will try to get you to identify these words in an Expert
fashion under 2 seconds, and that as a Dunce, you will run out of time
after 15 seconds.
- Set Roman Style to Bpmf or Vowel (or another pinyin
mode) depending on your preference (if you are learning the bopomofo lesson,
you must set Roman Style to Bpmf), then select OK to
accept the dialog.
The Vocabulary Menu
Use arrow keys: Next Word Previous Rescore Wrong Direction
- Select Drill | Forward. Note the vocabulary drill
The menus are optimized for rapid keyboard and mouse activation. The need for
typing skills (pressing the right key) is eliminated from the drill in order to
achieve reliable measurement of response times under 1/3 second. We do not want
to waste any time searching for the right key. Consequently, the vocabulary
menus work differently than you are accustomed to. In particular, you can press
a letter key to activate a vocabulary drill menu item without pressing the Alt
key. Additionally, any key will activate the menus, not just the ones
underlined. The idea is to reduce fatigue by allowing you to use the keys you
feel most comfortable with, and to change them during the course of the drill.
The Vocabulary Drill
The vocabulary drill consists of many trials each consisting of three
stages. Each time you press a key, the tutor moves to the next stage.
See Beginning the Drill. Because
quick reflexes are essential(6-
we will start by practicing the keyboard.
Practicing the Keyboard
Practice just pressing a key (use the SpaceBar, or any key) in response to the
flashcard, without trying to recall or score any words.
Try again. This next time,
select Correct instead of Incorrect. What happens to the scores
in the vocabulary history window and status bar?
- Press the x key over and over again to cycle through a series of
Incorrect trials, and observe the window.
How fast can you go? How fast will the computer go?
Find the limit.
- Press SpaceBar or the c key to do a Correct trial 50 times,
observing the window.
Develop the Rhythm
We want the computer to measure the time we take to remember the vocabulary,
but the computer only knows how quickly we can press a key after it displays a
new word on the flashcard. This time consists of our recall plus verbalization
and visualization times, plus our physical reaction time.
The tutor will become more precise as your physical reaction time improves with
practice. To achieve near-zero physical reaction time scores, you should aim to
complete about 60 trials of three key presses per minute. Each key press
corresponds to a stage of the drill. The first stage (recalling the word)
should take approximately two thirds of the time. The answer and scoring stages
should be disposed of as quickly as possible, although it does help to study
the answers occasionally. Practice the following drill to develop the
necessary tempo and rhythm by tapping your finger and repeating the following
Take the time to practice this rhythm, and
get it right.
- Repeat Tennessee, Two, Three over and over again in equally
stressed syllables, tapping your finger as you say the "T" in each word. If you
prefer numbers, say 1 2 3 4 5, and tap your finger as you
say 1, 4 and 5.
Reset the Lesson
All this pressing of keys has destroyed the initial scores in the
either by setting them too high, or too low. You may reset the lesson in one of
two ways: retrieving the lesson again without saving it, or using the
Vocabulary | Setup | Reset and Scramble functions:
- Press any key until the select word menu (Next Word Previous
Rescore Wrong Direction Quit) is visible. Select Quit. Note the
vocabulary menu (File Drill Setup).
- Select Setup | Tutor. Note the Vocabulary Tutor Preferences
- Change Expert to four seconds. We are just beginners. Change
Scrambling to 0 (zero) to indicate no additional time to add.
Select OK to close the dialog.
- Select Setup | Scramble and Add Times to reset the time scores.
Note that the times of the Worst Scores (2nd column of numbers) start
around 799, which is just under 8 seconds. The time score reads in
hundredths of seconds.
- Select Setup | Reset Trials to reset the trials to zero. Note that
the number of trials (first column of numbers) has been set to zero.
Learning the Lesson
Now that you have some familiarity with the tutor, practice the lesson for the
next ten to fifteen minutes. The following discusses three possible scenarios:
giving up, getting the answer right, and getting it wrong. First, re-enter the
select word menu:
- Select Drill | Forward to begin the forward vocabulary drill.
Don't Know the Word at All
It happens frequently that you don't know the vocabulary word at all. Rather
than wasting time trying to figure it out, you may wish to stop the process
early, learn the answer, and go on:
- Select Next Word to begin the drill by pressing any key other
than those underlined for other selections.
- Press any key to stop the clock, show the answers, and display the
Score Your Answer menu.
- Say the word aloud (or mutter it to yourself). This is important.
- Visualize the meaning. Avoid simply memorizing the English
- Select Incorrect by pressing any key other than c, z, or
SpaceBar (e.g., "x"). You could also use the mouse or the Alt+ arrow keys, but
this takes extra time.
You Know the Word
The most frequent occurrence is that you know the vocabulary word, but the
tutor is trying to confuse you. Frustrate the tutor by answering quickly and
correctly. Minimize the time between stages 1 and 2.
Note the clock in the lower right hand
corner of the window. If the time is under 2.0 seconds, you are on track. Under
0.3 seconds means you have it down cold. Times under this are masked by
physical reaction time.
- Select Next Word.
- Verbalize the word. This is critical.
- Visualize the meaning. Then verbalize the English translation.
- Press any key to stop the clock, show the answers, and display the
Score Your Answer menu.
- Select Correct by pressing c, z, or SpaceBar, using the Alt+ arrow
keys, or the mouse.
You Forgot the Word
Spend the fifteen seconds you have to concentrate and bring up memories (of the
word!) as best you can. Try to guess the answer, and don't forget to verbalize
your guess to make it "firm."
- Select Next Word to begin the drill by highlighting Next
Word then pressing any key.
- Try to remember the word for fifteen seconds until you get the answers,
and the Score Your Answer menu.
- Select Incorrect by pressing any key other than c, z, or SpaceBar.
A Typical Lesson
If you know the material very well, you can complete about 60 trials per
minute. With new material consisting of hanzi compounds, you should average
10-15 trials per minute. As a rule of thumb, 5 to 10 trials are required to
memorize a word or phrase fairly well. This means that a 100 word vocabulary
list can be memorized in about 700 trials lasting about an hour.
Keep going. As a beginner, you should be able to complete the sample lesson of
about 50 words in about an hour. Keep going over the initial "hump" of
resistance to your strict computer tutor, to an alert and painless state of
consciousness as the computer, keyboard, and screen disappear from awareness,
leaving your mind focused on the goal of learning the vocabulary lesson. You
want to know this vocabulary, and you want to be able to recall it quickly,
accurately, and without effort, so keep going.
Review Your Lessons
Because the tutor teaches quick recall, the quality of memorization is quite
high, but it now resides in short term memory. To fix it more in long term
memory will require repeated exposure to it. For this purpose, re-reading the
lesson from which the vocabulary was derived is sufficient: there is no need to
re-learn the lesson unless you have forgotten a significant number of words. In
that case, the vocabulary review drill will be quite rapid.
Don't Forget to Read
Please remember that the purpose of the vocabulary drill is to learn new words
and phrases so that you can read them from the page, so don't forget to
practice reading from the page. You'll find that remembering the words is a lot
easier when they are in the context of a sentence (which is one explanation for
why memorizing the words and phrases in the context of one lesson does not
adequately train you to recognize them in another).
Switching between Pinyin and Bopomofo
You can display either pinyin or bopomofo pronunciations in a
Use the same control as in the Format | Annotations dialog:
- Quit the vocabulary drills to the vocabulary menu (File Drill
- Set Vocabulary | Setup | Tutor | Roman Style to Bpmf and practice a
few trials. If you wish, return it to Pinyin, or don't save the file.
Listing the Lesson
There are several ways to list and print the vocabulary for further study. One
involves the Vocabulary | File | List function, and the other uses the
word processor. We will preview a further lesson of making your own
by examining the lesson you just studied in the word processor:
Scroll through the vocabulary words you have just practiced. The
numbers on the left are the number of trials and the score in one hundredths of
a second followed by the chapter and page of the book the lesson came from. The
word or phrase (including the pronunciation) and its meaning finish the line.
If the vocabulary view window is still active, you cannot add text to the
window, and most commands do not work.
- If you have a high resolution screen, slide the vocabulary window out of
the way to expose the underlying document window. Adjust the size of the
vocabulary window, if necessary.
- Otherwise, select File | Close (to WP) to close the vocabulary
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Last Modified: March 23, 1996
Copyright © 1996 Apropos, Inc.