Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Chinese Translation Browser Plug-In

Learn Chinese by browsing Chinese web sites.
  [vote for,

I'd like to learn Chinese. Although I lived there for nearly two years, my 'putonghua' is atrocious, and I'm Chinese-illiterate.

I do surf over to Chinese web sites once in a while, though, out of nostalgia for the place. Bi-lingual news sites, mostly, but due to the origin of the page, Chinese characters that nobody has bothered to translate are inevitably seen. Sometimes, when I rest my cursor over them, a small pop-up box appears, containing more Chinese text (this also happens with English-language web pages sometimes, with English text). This got me thinking.

Every Chinese character is unique. Each is pronounced as a single-syllable phoneme with one of four particular "tones", and can be written phonetically with the appropriate accent mark (this is called "pinyin"). For me, this is what makes Chinese such a difficult language to learn. The same sound, for instance "bi" (pronounced like"bee"), can be pronounced with a falling tone (sounds like "BEe," written: bì), flat tone (bee, written: bi, with a flat line over the "i"), rising tone (beE, written: bí), or what I call the boing tone (BEeE, written: bi, with a "U" shaped curve over the "i"). Of the four pronunciations of the sound "bi", I don't know two of them, one of them means "ink pen", and one of them is a rude word for the female genitals. This word, like many others, is not one you want to get wrong when trying to converse.

There already exist plug-ins that will allow your web browser to view Chinese characters. Since the computer already knows which character in a block of text has been drawn, it shouldn't be too hard to map the cursor position to a Chinese character on the page. A translator plug-in should be able to detect which character is being pointed to and, either immediately or after a short delay (you choose the setting), pop up the pinyin spelling of the character, along with a definition, if available*. Clicking on the character should play a sound file, or synthesized voice, demonstrating how the character is pronounced.

Of course, by itself, this product is not going to make you fluent in Mandarin Chinese (or Cantonese, depending on the software version). However, it should go a long way in helping language students to recognize different characters, and how to pronounce them properly.

Oh, and the reason I chose a web browser plug-in, rather than a dedicated software program for language instruction, is because the content on the web constantly changes. This would add variety to the lessons, and remove the chance that one would be actually reciting the lesson, rather than reading it.

*Some Chinese characters mean nothing by themselves, and/or serve to add meaning to other characters. Some characters can be combined with others to produce very different meanings than either would have by itself. This might make the translation of sentences difficult to do on the fly, as there are more than 6000 unique characters. Common combinations, of course, might be feasible to translate.

Guncrazy, Feb 05 2002

If English was written like Chinese http://www.zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm
The English spelling system is such a pain, we'd might as well switch to hanzi-- Chinese characters. How should we go about it? [LoriZ, Jun 21 2006]


       Nice notion, with the caveat you noted.
supercat, Feb 05 2002

       Well what's the point in just knowing how to pronounce the character when you don't know what it actually means? wouldn't it be more useful to get a chinese- english, english-chinese (with pinyin) dictionary, where you'll get to see what the pinyin is AS WELL AS an explanation of what the character actually means, so you'll know what the phrase means, when it's put together?
superspygirl, Feb 05 2002

thumbwax, Feb 05 2002

       tian xian bao bao, ni-hao [xiao bo]
po, Feb 05 2002

       Nice idea. Croissant. Or: how do you say that in chinese?   

       Why not use the same plug-in to detect and translate words in other languages. Sometimes you search the web, end up with a Hungarian site or so - what to do? Ideally it should also translate button texts, so that you at least know how to browse.
spekkie, Feb 05 2002

       this has already been done. u can buy such software in china already. i just haven't seen it elsewhere. the software is called jin shan ci ba (golden mountain dictionary or some such) it's basically a huge english-chinese chinese-english dictionary TSR that when u mouse over something will give u the translation. and it has pronouciation for a select subset of the words.
krystar, Feb 05 2002

       Nest to last paragraph of idea explains why he chose web browser plug-in
thumbwax, Feb 05 2002

       Nice idea. Have a pork bun.
snarfyguy, Feb 06 2002

       I lived in Taiwan for a couple years, and am familiar with about 1000 "traditional" characters (as opposed to the simplified ones used in mainland China). LOVE to surf for Chinese language news, chats, etc.   

       Have you ever used the mandarin annotator at mandarintools.com or its mirror at all-day-breakfast.com? Next best thing to a plug-in.   

       Good luck with your studies.
tharsaile, Jun 17 2002


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