Crack the code!

November 17, 2011

The average non-Chinese person looking at Chinese characters may well think they are a mass of lines and squiggles which are  impossibly difficult to fathom.  According to Wikipedia there are 47,000 + characters in the Kangxi dictionary whilst this blog claims that there are in excess of 80,000 characters – a truly daunting prospect for a learner of Chinese.  Moreover, there is some disagreement as to the number you need to know in order to read a newspaper depending on which source you consult.  The HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – the People’s Republic of China only standardised test for non native speakers) at advanced level is based on approximately 2,600 characters giving a total vocabulary of about 5,000 words.

Learners of Chinese will know however, that  the characters are made up of building blocks or components called radicals of which there are just over 200, so what at first might seem impossible to fathom actually can be decoded more easily once these have been learnt.  I’ve just recently come across Cracking the code website which offers learners a useful way of getting to grips with characters and how they are built up.

This site breaks the characters down into components which are classified as being derived from humanity, nature, culture abstract or “other”.  These in turn are broken down into further subcategories.  “Nature” for example is categorised into ‘earth’, ‘heaven’, ‘plants’, ‘animals’ and ‘animal parts’, each of which is then further subdivided e.g. “earth” components include those for earth, field, gold, jade, stone, mountain, hill, cliff, cave and valley.  Clicking on one of these individual components then brings up a screen showing details of that component.  This includes the meaning, a sound file, the number of strokes needed to write it, its “radical” number for the purpose of looking it up in a dictionary and a list of characters where it is used in combination with another radical.  The learner can then click on one of these characters to get the sound file and an explanation of the breakdown of the character and how they combine with other characters to create new words.

The site is easy to use and would be particularly useful for a learner with a basic knowledge of the most common radicals wanting to increase their vocabulary.  The one thing it does not seem to have are animated characters showing the stroke order, but these can be seen on the Nciku dictionary site.

WWW or the wonderful world of Wordle

April 30, 2010


The image above is a Wordle of the importance statement of the MFL  programme of study.  It is a word cloud created by a free online application at  which randomizes text and displays the words according to the frequency of the words used (the more frequent the word, the bigger the word).  It has tremendous potential for use in the classroom in terms of developing language learning and thinking skills:

  1. As a starter – to introduce new vocabulary or topic.    At a simple level pupils can be given a wordle of vocabulary or text  from a new topic area and they can work individually/ in pairs/groups to identify which words they know, which ones they can guess (cognates) and which ones they need to use dictionary skills to work out.  At advanced level learners can be give a wordle of a text which they use as a starting point for a discussion trying  to predict the context.
  2. To apply their knowledge about  language to categorise the words in the wordle.  e.g. nouns/verbs/adjectives or to classify nouns by gender.
  3. As a plenary/tool for AfL – e.g. a wordle created of TL and English words which pupils have to match up or a wordle in the TL in which they demonstrate their knowledge about language  or phonics or their ability to use language creatively.
  4. To demonstrate understanding of phonics by classifying words by their phonemes/letter strings.
  5. As a revision aid – a summary of a particular topic or context or as an aide-memoire.
  6. To help pupils develop presentation and spontaneous speaking skills.
  7. To show the results of a class survey or poll or as a display.
  8. To promote creativity – pupils are challenged to create sentences/stories etc from words on a wordle.
  9. As a tool in a listening exercise – pupils cross out the words they can identify in a spoken text.
  10. To encourage self reflection (PLTS – reflective learners) and to  improve written work – the frequency count in a wordle will highlight words that can get over used e.g. “intéressant” or “lustig”.  A  wordle can also make it easier for pupils to spot their own mistakes (e.g. in the incorrect use of accents) as it breaks up the normal order of words, thus making it less likely that they will simply gloss over their mistakes.

These are just some of the few ways in which a wordle can be used and they are dead simple to create as you can see here:

View more presentations from lizfotheringham.