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