Building a Better Way to Teach and Learn Chinese Characters
3 researchers based in Taipei look for funding for their innovative new dictionary
Outlier Linguistic Solutions of TaipeiThrough a deep understanding of linguistics, paleography and software engineering, Outlier Linguistic Solutions is distilling data from cutting-edge research into game-changing, easy-to-use products for teaching how Chinese characters actually work. These products range from a set of innovative electronic dictionaries to be sold on iOS and Android through Pleco, the #1 mobile app for Chinese, to data licensing, workbooks, posters and language learning apps and they all meet Outlier’s high standards for both content and form.
The team: non-native learners of Chinese turned expertsCollectively, the team has 30 years of experience living and working in Chinese-speaking countries, including 18 years at universities in Taiwan — 91 hours of undergraduate coursework and 120 hours of graduate coursework — with Chinese as the language of instruction. They’ve studied the origins and development of the Chinese language and writing system at the graduate level with some of the world’s leading experts on the subject. Additionally, Ash has two degrees in electrical engineering with 8+ years experience in engineering and software development.
Innovative new learner’s Chinese character dictionary for Pleco (on iOS/Android)Outlier Linguistic Solutions in Taipei is launching an innovative new Chinese character dictionary for learners designed to greatly increase learning efficiency by explaining how Chinese characters actually work. This is done by revealing how characters work as a system. Each character a student learns is a building block for understanding this system, keeping the amount of learning to small, manageable chunks. The logic behind this system is a powerful tool for learning new characters, remembering old ones and being able to make intelligent guesses about unfamiliar characters.
Why is it important to understand how characters actually work?Similar parts, like 艮 and 良, often confuse learners. By understanding that these parts often represent sound, learners can use their pronunciations in order to know whether they need to add a dot on top of 艮 or not. For example: If you know 艮 gèn can also represent ken, hen and 良 liáng can also represent lang, niang, nang, so if you want to write gēn “root” then no dot: 根; if you want to write làng “wave”, then you need the dot: 浪. Even for irregular sounds like, yín “silver” you can be fairly certain there’s no dot: 銀. There are at least 33 other pairs like 艮 and 良. Beyond this, sound clues are also useful for things such as jogging your memory for characters that you haven’t written in a long time or by helping you predict possible sounds and meanings of characters that you haven’t even learned yet.
Outlier has been endorsed by world-renowned experts in teaching ChineseDr. David Moser, Academic Director at CET Beijing, describes Outlier’s dictionary as “easy to use, user- friendly, very clear, but also correct and comprehensive,” while Mike Love, founder of Pleco, says “I think it’ll be a really great addition to Pleco. It’s going to help people get into where characters come from, what they mean, how they work — really at a much more linguistically rigorous level than it’s ever been done before.” John Pasden of AllSet Learning says that it “enables a strong understanding of the system of functional components behind characters…” Even learners are excited — Jack Perry tweeted, “I learned more from @OutlierLinguist’s demo than from months compiling a radical dictionary using online sources.”
Ash Henson: Co-founder, Technical Director, Lead Researcher. Formerly an electrical engineer at NASA, currently a PhD candidate in the Graduate Institute of Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University with a research focus on Chinese paleography, and historical phonology. Avid language learner with proficiency in 5 languages.
Christian Schmidt: Co-founder, General Manager, Researcher. Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Political Science from National Taiwan University. The business and financial mind of the company. Has lived, studied, and worked in Chinese-speaking countries for 15 years.
John Renfroe: Marketing Director, Researcher. Studied Chinese palaeography at the Graduate Institute of Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University. Currently living in Tokyo, studying Japanese and working with Outlier remotely.
Photos & Videos
Under the Williamsburg Bridge after meeting with Mike Love from Pleco in January
On the campus of National Taiwan Normal University