First date opens lock to language mystery
By David Porter

I started learning Chinese on my first date with my future wife, a Chinese
student I'd met through a mutual friend while I was in graduate school in

She was a very inspiring teacher: Within a month of that first lesson I had
signed up for a first-year Chinese language class at my university, and
within a year we were married.

In August of 1992, we moved to Beijing where I'd been invited to teach
English Literature for a year at Peking University. I continued with my
Chinese language studies on my own, and like many students before and since,
found the process of learning so many new characters time consuming and
often quite frustrating.

I was intrigued, however, by the structural relationships among the
characters on my flashcards: The more commonly used radicals and phonetic
parts seemed to offer a "key" to the mystery of the characters, possibly
making them much easier to learn.

So I set about compiling long lists of characters I encountered that shared
the "xin" radical, for example, or the "xiang" phonetic. These character
lists multiplied so quickly that I soon needed to create new lists of all my
lists, which of course took away time from actually learning the characters.

When I returned to America the following year, I began writing a simple
computer program to help me keep track of the new characters I was learning
and the many useful relationships among them.

So, for example, when I clicked on a new character that I'd learned, I could
instantly view a list of all the other characters in my database that used
the same radical or phonetic part, as well as a list of all compound words
that used this character.

The program gradually grew in complexity, as I built in a Chinese text
reader, a flashcards tool, dictionary search functions, and audio features,
and I eventually realized it might be helpful to other learners of the
language as well. In 2002, I launched a website to market the software,
which I now called Clavis Sinica, which means "key to the Chinese language."

(China Daily 12/23/2006 page10)