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
English Literature for a year at
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
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)