I think it is worth talking a little about the technology I use, on a day to day basis, to learn Chinese. Some of it definitely does not work, some of it I think is very effective, and some is just fun. Also, after a while, I begin to forget what the actual systems are that I use when people ask, so writing this I hope could be useful!
I have been using Palms for the last two and a half years or so, and this is certainly my main centre of learning Chinese. Starting with a Sony Clié PEG-SJ35, and moving on to a Palm Tungsten T3, I am now using a Palm Treo 680 that is able to do everything I think I need, day to day.
Chinese IME: CKJOS
This is the system that allows the Palm to view and write Chinese. I can type using PinYin or ZhuYin or write with the stylus, but it does lack some of the predictive text capabilities of PalmDragon that I had installed on the Clié.
Dictionary: Dr. Eye
I use this everyday and this is one of the most important pieces of software that I own. With it, I can translate from English to Chinese, or vice versa. It only does one word at a time, so it is a little inconvenient, and it seems to be missing words quite often. Sometimes, things like copy and paste are a little esoteric, but on the whole it seems to work.
Flash Cards: Supermemo
This is the most used piece of software in my arsenal of Chinese learning tools. It drives me up the wall, is completely inflexible, but I have so much invested in it now that there is no turning back – and being honest I really enjoy it, treating learning cards more like a computer game. Using the intelligent flash cards each day, it ends up that it only ever tests me on the characters that I find really difficult – the way it should be, of course, but why not flatter me a little more?! On average, I get about 75 cards a day from a total pool of 3700 at the moment.
Other software: I have tried loads of other pieces of software over the years and in almost all cases I have been unimpressed. Please let me know if you have any more additions to the pile because I would be delighted to learn more!
Chinese IME: QIM
This seems to be much slicker than the standard PinYin input mechanism that comes as standard with OSX. You don’t need to be so accurate with your tones, which is great some of the time, and completely infuriating the rest of the time when you are trying to learn. It’s pretty decent, overall, and allows you to look at nice, big, smoothly rendered characters.
I have yet to completely get to grips with this monster of a program, but I have been assured by several people that this is the way to go. I’ll probably do another entry, specifically on that, when I do get around to learning it properly.
This is a nice, simple dictionary that Markus showed me, and I use this most of the time for quickly looking up things. I like the way that returns the results, compared to some of the other products out there like Atomix Dojam (horrid).
I tried this for a little while, but in the end I went back to the simpler Wordlookup, while waiting to get moving on WenLin. Seems okay though.
There is also an excellent summary of Mac software (along with some others) at the Yale University Council for East Asian Studies.
Chinese IME: Google PinYin
I love this. It’s the best input system so far that I have found. I am pretty sure it is constantly checking with a server online to make sure the sentence is in context, and it really allows me to write entire swathes of text without needing to select a character from the list. It sometimes seems to be missing the most basic characters, though, hiding them deep within the selection list. Very impressive, overall.
Dictionary: Dr Eye
I have not used this in a while, due to the annoying little popup menu, but this is certainly the most popular system for Taiwanese people. I should reinstall it, really, and give it another chance.
Firefox Plug-Ins and Online
I just installed this today and I am quite impressed so far. The basic idea is that it displays a wee little popup when you hover over a Chinese character on a website. There seem to be some neat featured, such as export.
Online Dictionary: Systran
I have not used this site in a while, because sometimes it bugs me to register, but it’s not bad for those times when you need to brutally translate an e-mail or section of text.
Dictionary: Google Toolbar
There is an auto-translate function in here, but it only seems to go English-Chinese, so I got bored and disabled it today when I got ChinesePera-Kun up and running. Google being Google, I am pretty sure they will get it all up and running soon enough, and tie it all in with the IME – here’s hoping.