Can you describe how your method works in just a few words?
It uses translation and dictionary programs to
translate Chinese text into English. Text on printed materials
(books, magazines, street signs, etc) needs to be captured using a
scanner or a camera, and then recognized using an OCR (Optical
Character Recognition) program before translation. Electronic text
(web pages, email, text files etc) can be fed to the translation
Please refer to the process flow diagram for a detailed description about the overall
I am under the impression that machine translation is
still immature for practical use. Can I really count on it to do the
I have watched very closely with the Chinese (to
English) machine translation technology for many years. There has
been quite a lot improvement with translation software recently. The
machine produced result still cannot compare with output from human
translators. The sentences are still primitive, and hard to read
sometimes. However, for the purpose of understanding the meaning in
the source text, the technology is sufficient. There are many rough
edges and pitfalls that need to be watched out for. This is exactly
where the book comes into help.
Do I have to know anything about Chinese language
to follow this process?
No, the book assumes that you don't have any knowledge of
the Chinese language. Chapter 2 of this book, containing 28 pages of
descriptions of the basics of Chinese, serves the purpose of an
introduction to the language. Any existing backgrounds in the
language are certainly helpful, but they are not
required. In any event, you should still read Chapter 2, which
covers topics that are specific to text reading and computers.
Do I need to know anything about using a computer?
Only the very basics. You should know how to run
setup to install a program in Windows, navigate the Internet using a
Web browser program, etc.
Does your process depend on a certain computer
The process itself does not depend on a certain
computer platform (PC/Windows, PC/Linux, Apple, etc.) However, the
book covers many details of using software programs. Web-based
programs are platform independent. All other programs described in
this book are for PCs that use Windows 2000, XP, and Vista systems.
To read text from printed materials (books, magazines, street signs,
etc), you need to use a Chinese OCR program to recognize the text
before translation. All the descriptions about OCR programs in this
book are for Windows system only.
If you only intend to read electronic text (text from websites, e-mail, files), there are many
web-based translators available, which can run from any system.
Does your book come with any software?
What tools do I need and how much do they cost?
To read electronic text (websites, e-mail, text
files), you can get translation and dictionary tools free of charge,
which are really all you need. There are also
other programs you can buy or subscribe, and they cost from $50 to a few
To read text from printed materials (books, magazines, street
signs), you need a scanner and/or a camera, and also an
program and an image editor program. You can get a free image editor
program, but the OCR program costs $250. These should be sufficient
for reading text from printed materials.
There is also a hand-held device that can scan, recognize, and
translate Chinese text, which cost from $180 to $250. However,
please consider the hand-held device to be a supplement to the
scanner/camera/regular OCR, instead of a replacement.
Does your process cover both simplified and
Yes. A lot of the discussion is related to properly
setting things up in the software programs for supporting the two
different character sets. There is also a dedicated section
describing how to distinguish text from the two sets.
Is there any limitation with your process?
It cannot be used to read hand-writing Chinese text,
due to the limitation of the OCR programs. With our current OCR
technology, the successful rate for recognizing hand-writing Chinese
characters is too low for our application.
Will your process be helpful if I do intend to
You will learn many techniques for self-studying
Chinese. They can certainly help you in learning to read Chinese. If you
only wish to learn the spoken language without reading or writing,
then they will not be very useful.
What else can I lean from the book if I already have a very good understanding about
your process and tools?
This book recommends the proper tools to be used in
each stage of the process, and provide step-by-step guidance of
using these tools. The most valuable thing offered in the book is
that it describes techniques to deal with issues which occur in the
real-life situations. For the overall process and all the tools
used, you can easily see them from the
process flow diagram and TOC.
Nevertheless, the most critical thing in here is actually in the
details. For example, text generated by a translation software may
read very differently from regular writing. What do you do when the
translated result is insensible or incomprehensible? How about when the output from
the recognition program contains incorrect characters? How do you
know if a document is written in traditional or simplified Chinese
so you can properly set up the tool? Only by
putting all the little pieces together will the whole computer-aided reading process
I am already using some translation programs on
the Web helping me read Chinese. Why do I need to read this book?
This book recommends the proper tools to be used in different
circumstances, and describes techniques to deal with issues when
they occur. A lot of people I talked to have used the translation
tools offered from the large Web sites. They became frustrated when
they read results that are incomprehensible and concluded that the
technology does not work. The truth is there are some detailed but
critical techniques that one needs to learn for the process to
Your book title says: "Read Chinese Without Knowing Chinese". Are you trying to tell people not to learn the language?
I am just stating that there is another alternative of understanding Chinese text besides learning it. This alternative exists because of the advance in our technology. I am certainly not trying to discourage people from learning the language.
I have two sons that are born and grown up in the US. My wife and I have done our best to have them learn Chinese. Unfortunately, after many years of learning, their knowledge still does not reach the competence level of being able to read regular documents. As the second choice, we tell them to at least learn a few techniques so they can use to read.
Actually, dictionary and translation software can be very helpful if you do intend to learn the language. Just think of them as more tools for you, instead of using them as excuses for not learning.
Is Chinese really difficult to learn?
data published by the US State Department, Mandarin
(Chinese) is one of the toughest languages for an English speaker to
learn. As for the reading and writing part of the language, it is
not only difficult for English speakers, but for native Chinese as
Does it really take children 3 to 6 years to learn to read Chinese?
Yes, this is the time needed for Chinese children to
learn to read a regular document, such as a magazine article or the
Why is the reading and writing part of Chinese
Chinese is very different from Latin style languages. The text in
Chinese does not consist of alphabet letters; instead it is made up
of characters. The character is the most basic element in the
Chinese language. It is built from strokes written in a virtual
rectangle box. To read and write Chinese text, one needs to memorize
the shape of more than 1,000 characters.
How many total characters are there in the Chinese language?
That's hard to say. The most comprehensive Chinese dictionary,
A sea of Chinese characters, has a collection of over 85,000 characters.
However, most of these characters are rarely used. The most
frequently used 1,000 characters cover about 90% of the usage. If
you know 3,500 characters, the estimated number of characters an
educated Chinese adult knows, the coverage rate reaches 99.5%.
How many characters do I need to know to read Chinese?
To read magazines or newspapers, you will need to know about 1,500
to 2,500 characters.