Free Hanzi Reader for your Smart Phone Camera

16gw-waygo-blog225Yesterday a friend showed me Waygo, an app that uses your camera to read hanzi off menus in restaurants, etc. (By the way, that feature is called an OCR = Optical Character Recognizer.) What impressed was that it’s free!

Here’s the catch: you get “10 daily translations” with an optional paid upgrade to “unlimited translations for life.”

Of course, I won’t be getting it because Pleco (my favorite cell phone dictionary) has a paid upgrade that includes an OCR (which I already bought and love). But I wanted to make sure to spread the word about the free one for those who might be content with only 10 translations per day.

By the way, does anyone else know of any other apps I should know about? Please let me know.

Video of Q & A Broadcast with Yangyang

google-hangout-01As I mentioned before, on July 17 Yangyang and I did a live broadcast answering viewers’ questions about learning Chinese. We had a GREAT time (and I hope the viewers did too).

Just so you know how the technology works: viewers type in their questions, and then other viewers can vote for the questions they like the best. Then, Yangyang and I just worked our way down the list of questions.

There were some technical difficulties at the beginning, so I’ve cued the video to 4:09 where it gets sorted out.


(blocked in China, but is cued to 4:09)


(works in China but has a minute of ads at the beginning, and I couldn’t figure out how to cue it)

Why I Love Laokang Lookup for iPhone

Yesternight, I was on the bus and saw this fairly typical sign:


I’ve taken this same bus lots of times, but never really paid attention to this sign. I found I could read every character except the one I’ve circled in blue. I also couldn’t use my usual trick of guessing from the context (because this is a kind of formal way of saying “get on and off” the bus).

So, zěn me bàn 怎么办? I could use Pleco’s awesome hand drawing thing and sketch in the 15 (or whatever) strokes. But I don’t do that as much anymore now that I have my friend Paul Condrell‘s beta version of Laokang Lookup on my iPhone. I was able to find the character in only 2 steps.

Here’s How it Works

laokang-luo-demo-1 laokang-luo-demo-2

Boom! Luo and behold, the first character in the result list was the very character I was looking for!


This is similar to (and is perhaps better than) my idea of Hanzi Craft. It’s certainly way better than the Dark Ages before smart phones, and even before online dictionaries, when I would have had to look up all unknown characters by radical in a paper dictionary.

I use the app all the time when I’m out and about. On the same bus trip, I saw a restaurant that specialized in  huàn (a kind of carp), which I couldn’t read. The Lookup app says that it’s in the top 6500 characters (very infrequent). But I was able to find it from the moving bus having only glanced at it because I knew most of the components (the first of which is just yú).

The only downside to this method is you have to learn all the components and their variations, and that takes some doing. But I like it better than radicals because the components seem to be bigger “chunks” of characters than radicals (although, some are the same as radicals).

More on this later, but for now, I just wanted to mention that I love the component search idea and can’t wait to see how the app develops.

Teachable Moment

Here’s the full text of the sign (click on the hanzi to see pinyin and translation):


Live Q & A Broadcast Tomorrow with Yangyang


I’m currently back in the USA for a short trip and Yangyang from Yoyo Chinese has invited me to do a live Google Hangout with her tomorrow. I’ve never done this before, but from what I understand she and I will sit in front of the camera and anyone who “tunes in” (how THAT works, I don’t quite know) can type questions to us. Then, everyone watching can vote questions up to the top of the list and I guess we’ll just start at the top and answer them as we go (I’ll follow Yangyang’s lead on that).

The time zone is hard to figure out so I suggest looking at the time zone conversions Yangyang has already worked out in the official hangout page on the right, look under the “Details” heading, click “Read more (33 lines)”.

Oh, and it appears there’s a countdown on Youtube if you’re in a country where that’s not banned, or even if you are and you have a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know-what-I-mean.

I’m excited to try this and see what kinds of questions we get asked!

Five Two Zero So Much

The month of May sports one of what I call (for the first time) “fakie-sounding pun-tastic number-slang days”: 5/20. (Here’s a Baidu link so you know I’m not making it up.)

May 20th, pronounced in Chinese as “wǔ èr líng” 五二零 is supposed to sound like “wǒ ài nǐ” 我爱你 (“I love you”). As best as I can figure out, it’s a sort of combination of Valentine’s Day and April Fool’s Day that young people use to biǎo bái 表白, or make jokes, or both.

When I wrote an analysis of the two supposedly similar-sounding phrases on the board for my Chinese students, it was easy to see that in only 3 syllables there are about 5 differences:

520 I love you Difference
wu3 wo3 “u” vs. “o”
er4 ai4 “er” vs. “ai”
ling2 ni3 “l” vs. “n”
ling2 ni3 “-ing” vs. “-i”
ling2 ni3 2nd tone vs. 3rd tone

I think those are significant differences, and therefore I downplay the cleverness of the day. My students strongly disagree.

Here’s why: I’m comparing it to what I consider clever puns and such in English, like “May the 4th” for Star Wars Day. “May the fourth be with you” and “May the force be with you” has only a single phoneme difference (“th” vs. “s”) for the whole phrase. And that lispy switcheroo (the technical linguistic term for mixing up “th” and “s”) has been known to occur independently of this fakie holiday (“the Wellth Fargo wagon is a comin'”). Therefore, I smile smugly and nod slowly when I think of “May the 4th” but I don’t smile and do shake my head slowly when I think of 5/20.

But my students are thinking: “There are no other numbers that are closer to wǒ ài nǐ, so it’s awesome!” It presupposes (for some reason that is mysterious to me) that numbers MUST sound like SOMETHING else! This is the same thing that happens with the number 8 being so lucky because “bā” sounds like “fā” (meaning “get rich”). It doesn’t REALLY sound like it to me. But hey! I admit “ba” sounds more like “fa” than any other number does.

But this may give us insight into the significance of tones to native speakers. That’s really the strongest link between these fakie-puns. The tones for 8 and “get rich” are identical, and two out of three tones from “May 20th” and “I love you” are the same (although, to get even closer they should equate it with “wǒ ài nín” 我爱您, but I see why that would be sillier for a different reason).

One last thing: the “l” vs. “n” switcheroo we see in “líng” vs. “nǐ” makes me wonder if this day originated in some region of China where the “l” and “n” sounds are allophones (like the South, perhaps?). Hmm… I wonder… Oh well.