Help direct our development

One of the fun challenges at WordSwing is that we have a mile-long development to-do list. But rather than let our (perhaps misguided whim) dictate what gets done when, we want to involve our students in the process.

Now you can help direct our development priorities by voting on cards on the WordSwing Development Board. You can also participate in a discussion surrounding each card in the comments.

WordSwing development board

And if you have ideas for cards you'd like to see added, please email us.

You'll find several lists of cards, each with a different purpose. There's a list for bite-size ideas, one for massive projects, and then there are several lists that allow you to follow your favorite feature through the development process from active development, to testing, to release.

You can also subscribe to cards, lists, or the whole board, which will send you email updates about changes. This will let you get notified when a new feature lands so you can go check it out. A good place to start is the card explaining how the board works.

We hope this will enable us to better serve your learning goals by developing the parts you most need earliest.

Hope to see you on the WS Dev Board!

How do I get started practicing with WordSwing?

You've just signed up to WordSwing, now what?

The fastest way to get started practicing Chinese is to dive in and try and an activity.

Some of the activities will work well right off the bat, without providing the learning machine any information about your knowledge of Chinese. These activities include:

Preamble / Follow-up: You're given a sentence in English that provides some situational context for what you're about to read. This is the preamble. Then you can read the follow-up in Chinese. This is a sentence that you might expect to hear in that situation. The idea is the preamble will prime your expectation of what you might hear, and because you need to work to figure out what the sentence means, and make some educated guesses, you will be more likely to learn from the process, rather simply reading a provided translation. You can also learn more about any given character or word by [Drilling down](https://wordswing.com/help/drill_down). Many of the follow-ups have audio recordings, so you can also practice your listening comprehension.
Asking Directions: Ever felt like you needed to ask for directions but had trouble understanding the reply? This activity will give you ample practice parsing and interpreting responses. Each step along your route, you will hear one set of instructions and need to make a choice about which way to turn. Think you can reach your destination? You can either listen to the audio or try reading each directional step.
Fill in the Missing Tones: The tone of a syllable is an essential distinguishing characteristics of a syllable. Need more practice challenging your ability to recognize spoken tones? In this activity you listen to sentences and fill in the missing tones. You can tune the difficulty of the sentence to however challenging you want to make it.

Other activities work best once the learning machine has had a chance to get a sense of which words you know and don't know. The learning machine will learn this in the ordinary course of using WordSwing. But you can effectively jump-start the process by using the rating tool to quickly rate a bunch of words, giving WordSwing an early glimpse of you language knowledge.

Once you have rated a bunch of words (maybe 30-40), you'll be ready to try out the activities for which exercise proposals are more closely based on your precise knowledge of Chinese. These include:

Character Combinations: Think you know characters well? Try recognizing, out of context, which two characters out of four can form a valid word. This activity forces you to reach back into your head and dig around for whether you've seen certain characters in combination.
Pronunciation Recall: A good test of whether you really recognize a word is whether you can write the pinyin given just the written Chinese. Practice this to your heart's content.
Character Similarity: Think you really know that character? It's one thing to recognize a character with a bunch of context. It's another thing entirely to see two visually similar characters and see if you can tell which is which. This activity will not only build your character knowledge, but it will help you build general pattern recognition skills that will improve your overall ability to quickly identify and remember characters.

Want step by step instructions?

You can select which activities you want to study by clicking on Select on the navigation menu:

Navigation bar screenshot

You will get a bunch of activity choices:

Select an activity screenshot

Here you can toggle which activities will show up in your learn stream. A mixture of all the selected activities will be included. In the above screen shot, three activities highlighted in blue are enabled. To practice just one activity, double tap on that one and only it will be selected.

When you're ready to practice, hit the play button (or on the navigation bar):

Go practice screenshot

In addition to the small activities that can be combined into your learn stream, there are also dedicated study activities:

Focus study activities screenshot

These fit less well into the learn stream and so are available as independent activities.

Have fun practicing Chinese!

What does knowing 575 characters mean?

A while back we announced a gadget to estimate how many characters you know.

Well, that gadget simply gave you a number, like 575 characters. But what does 575 characters mean?

In an attempt to provide some context for what some level of character knowledge means, we have produced some visualizations to follow up the estimate.

Here's an example:

Plot of relationship between known characters and fraction of typical text comprised by these characters

The curve illustrates the relationship between the number of characters one might know and the fraction of typical text that is comprised of those characters. Because a small number of common characters make up much of every-day Chinese, the curve is quite steep. The blue point gives the location of the estimate for a student who knows 575 characters.

Try it out

How does it work?

In each case, the summary is based purely on our estimate of your overall character knowledge and not the exact characters you know. If you have tried out our knowledge estimator, you will have noticed that we only ask you whether you know a few characters. Then based on your responses we estimate your overall character knowledge.

We don't know exactly which characters you know, just about how many overall. Nonetheless, by sampling sets of characters that someone who knows 575 characters plausibly knows, we can figure out overall what fraction of text is comprised of such characters.

What are other implications of knowing 575 characters?

But why is knowing those characters useful? Well, Even with not very many characters, you can form an awful lot of words. With 575 characters one can form over 10,000 words. That's quite a good size vocabulary. Now you just need to learn those words!

Plot of relationship between known characters and number of words that can be formed using these characters

This plot (above) illustrates the relationship between the number of characters one might know and the how many words can be formed with just those characters. The idea is to give you some sense of how many words you could learn with just the characters you know. Many of these words are probably ones you already know!

But what sort of words do I likely know?

We also provide a breakdown by HSK level:

Pie graphs indicating fraction of words in each HSK level that can be formed with known characters

Here we show a pie graph for each HSK level. The shaded portion indicates what fraction of words at that HSK level could be formed by characters you probably know.

Go see how many words you know

Introduing slower audio

Ever feel like your brain can't quite keep up with all the mental processing that must occur to understand native-speed Chinese speech? That's perfectly normal. Your brain is actually doing a tremendous amount of work. It must segment the incoming aural data stream into words and phrases, recognize words and retrieve the meanings from memory, and identify the syntatic, semantic and contextual relationships that comprise the big-picture meaning.

Natural-speed Chinese speech is about 3.5 characters per second. This means you have less than 290 ms to process the information contained in each character and place it into context. Well, to give your brain an easier time of all this processing, we now offer audio playback at 75% natural speed. That's an extra 95 ms per character for your brain to search for meanings, analyze structure, or 休息一下. It actually makes a big difference. The new audio player looks like this (just a picture, not the actual audio player):

Dual-speed audio player

The play-back speed can be toggled using the 快 (fast/natural) / 慢 (slow) links. Try it out on one of the Asking Directions exercises.

So what's going on? Well, it's really simple. We're just playing back the same recording at a slower rate, but adjusted in such a way that the pitch stays the same. While it would be preferable to have all our recordings spoken slowly and at natural speed to begin with, this is nearly as good, and much easier.

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Learn a language by swinging up to ever higher levels of proficiency by effectively using the language you've learned so far. wordswing.com

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