Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

新HSK preparation course很厉害!

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

This week I’ve been taking part in a preparation course for the 新汉语水平考试 which will take place in October. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

When the first lesson started, I had a flashback to my time in Japan about which I wrote quite some stuff here. Anyway, the similarities were that I on the first day, I only understood about every third or fourth word the teacher said. On the second day, it was more like every third or second word but not because my listening skills were dramatically enhanced overnight but because the teacher spoke slower. And the listening exercices… I’m still no good at that. Grammar – I’m doing fine. Vocabulary  – I’m catching up.

This time I’m “only” taking level 3. I know, I know… for everyone else out there who has been studying 汉语 for several years and who has Chinese parents it’s a piece of cake. But face it, I’m working full time and my day only has 24 hours and five of them I need for sleep. Unfortunately, level 4 is too difficult for me because of the listening test, I’m pretty sure I’d flunk it. So I’d rather have a certificate on the wall to motivate me for another rather than having spent money and getting nothing in return! But one day, even level 4 will be possible for me!

I’ll let you know the result which should be available at the end of November!

UPDATE: After finishing the preparation course (which focused on 四级 only), I decided to take the level 4 test as well. All the tests are on the same day but at different times so unlike the JLPT you could try your luck at all 6 levels the same day. What an ordeal that would be. Fortunately, the fee for the 新HSK is not exorbitant, even if I wouldn’t pass level 4, I think it’s worth the experience… keep your fingers crossed for me ^_^


Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Finally a hopefully creative output as promised in the blog’s title. At least, I think so.

Sometimes buying a card for a birthday is okay, but often something self-made says “I spent a lot of time because you’re worth it!” In my case, it also says “I was in a hurry again and couldn’t buy you anything so here’s something I made myself”.

For the following birthday message, you need the following things:
-A colour printer
-Hole puncher
-Sticky tape
-Some present wrapping cords (human entrails might be an acceptable substitute in some cultures)
-Two bookshelves to hang this up in between (or pillars, candelabers, one-legged giants – whatever floats your boat)

Self-made stuff is the best!

First, write your message in LibreOffice. Define the page as landscape, make every letter a different colour, raise the size of the letters to 168 and print all the pages.

Then, use your favourite browser to head over to and download whatever clipart you like. If possible, save the graphics in .svg format (scalable vector graphics) because it’s the easiest format to resize the clipart. Print them as well.

Cut out the letters in whatever form you want. I went for hearts for this one, but stars are also nice. If your friend gambles, consider diamonds or piks. If you want to befriend a monkey, banana-formed paper would help your advancements.

Cut out the clipart and glue or sticky-tape it to approprate places.

Punch a hole to the left and to the right of each page you cut out. Tie a double-knot into some present wrapping cord and insert them through the holes from behind and let the rest hang down in front. Place another knot in the front to prevent the pages from sliding apart too much. Also, gravity will pull everything slightly down. Best image a wide half-circle when punching the holes, this will save you some aggravation.

Use the sticky tape to hang up this ornamental writing wherever it can be seen but where it won’t accidentally behead people who run into it a full speed and at neck-level.

很高兴!Chinese in TeX

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Recently, good things have kept on coming my ways (see my previous posts).

One issue that’s been nagging me for quite a while is outputting simplifed Chinese in .tex files. Given all the information I had collected I knew I was really close but it never completely worked… until I got Japanese working in TeX.

From then on, it was a matter of changing some fonts and trying.

In the end, I found even two ways to produce Chinese in tex files:

The first:

1) Download this template for Japanese in TeX:

2) Replace the following lines:


and the tags \begin{Japanese} and \end{Japanese} must also be
replaced with \begin{Chinese} and \end{Chinese}

3) Install the following packages:

4) Compile using pdflatex <file.tex>

Then, compiling with pdflatex works provided you have the packages

For some reasons, the CJKfamily “bkai” does not contain all the
simplified Chinese characters, so “gkai” (or an equivalent font
alternative) is required.

The second:

1) Download this sample file:

Unfortunately, the uploader created it on a mac where the fonts are
different. However, in XeTeX you can specify fonts that are available in
other programs and system-wide so you can just pick a nice font in
LibreOffice and specify that one.

2) Change the fonts in the .tex file to some different font. Use the complete name of the font as you can see it in LibreOffice’s font selection e.g. “AR PL UKai CN”.

3) Compile using “xetex <file>.tex”

4) Rejoice!

To be honest, this second template file is most likely a total overkill for a simple papers or some exercices as the output comes in vertical columns and must be read from right to left. But it’s awesome to see that such a thing is even possible in TeX!

大成功! Japanese in LaTeX

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Urgh… today is a proud day for finally I got Japanese working in LaTeX files! Can’t believe I got to live to see this day!

If you need to get this working, too, follow these simple steps in Ubuntu:

1) Install the following packages:

2) Download this tex example file:

3) Compile the using the following command:
pdflatex <file>.tex

4) Rejoice!

Some explanations:
texlive is of course the basic TeX distribution. The additional packages provide stylesheet files required by the example file (e.g. ucs.sty). Trying to compile without the package latex-cjk-japanese-wadalab results in the following messages in the log file:

LaTeX Font Warning: Font shape `C70/min/m/n’ undefined
(Font)              using `C70/song/m/n’ instead on input line 20.

! Undefined control sequence.
try@size@range …extract@rangefontinfo font@info
<-*>@nil <@nnil

Reason is, tex cannot find an appropriate font. Thus, the last package latex-cjk-japanese-wadalab must be installed which provides additional fonts for Japanese in tex.

One neat trick I learned during the process is the following:
If you get some warnings or error message about missing files in a tex log file, you can search for these file names on the Ubuntu packages page. Make sure you search in the content of packages! Sometimes this helps you to find which additional packages have to be installed!

But is it really worth it? Check out the following screenshot:

Comparison between TeX and PDF from LibreOffice

The pdf in the back is the compiled tex file, the one in front is a pdf file exported from LibreOffice. To be honest, the Japanese part look absolutely the same to me. Ergo: If you don’t have to deal with large documents and mixed texts, LO should do the trick as well.

Many thanks to Lucas for his help and the link to the example file! His article on TeX can be read in the 50th issue of the Ubuntu magazine “Full Circle
Thanks also to Simon whose help on TeX is always invaluable.

大失敗だ! A (somewhat) typical example of Japanglish

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

During a recent stay I found the following signboard in a (upperclass) Onsen/hotel:


The text in Japanese says 客室 (kyakushitsu) which means “guest room”. Unfortunately, the English translation says “GUWST ROOM”.

This is very vexing due to the following factors:

1) It’s a dictionary word, not a grammatical problem and can be found in a dictionary.
2) According to the Japanese way, nothing can be decided by a single person. I’m pretty sure there were meetings and comittees who had to decide on an appropriate text. Meaning, no one was aware of this mistake the whole time. I don’t even think there are words containing this particular combination of letters.

It just leaves a kind of bitter aftertaste…

やった! IBus Input Method Preference finally working

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Ever since I started using my study needs pre-supposed that I was able to input English, Deutsch (German) and 日本語 (Japanese). Lately, 中文* (Chinese) has been added to this list as well.

Recently Ubuntu 10.10 (Codename “Moody Mastodon” – or was it  “Maverick Merkat”?) was released and since I usually test Beta releases, I went through the usual installation routine including additional software installations at the end.

At the moment, these installations include mnemosye, anki, vlc, audio cd extractor and torcs. Interestingly enough, GIMP seems to be back by default.

Lanugage customizations include adding German, Japanese and Simplified Chinese. After SCIM was deprecated, I switched to IBus as Input Method (either seems to work, so I don’t mind).

One thing that I never got to work so far was the combination for the next input method, which is Alt-Shift_L by default.

I suspect (but don’t have any conclusive evidence) this is due to this ominous Shift_L key. Is this supposed the left shift key?

Anyway, the following seems to work for me:

Configure the input method

1) Select the default Alt+Shift_L method
2) Get rid off it by clicking “Delete”
3) Click to add a new key combination
4) If your favourite modifier have not been added, check them (by the way, the “Windows” key or “Super” key as it’s called on Linux might work or not depending on your distro. Also: text the key combination before specifying it e.g. Ctrl+Alt+L will lock your screen which takes precedence over IBus key combinations.
5) Click on “Add” to have it added to the list
6) Close the window by clicking on OK.

Your screen should now look like below:

Screenshot-IBus Preferences

Screenshot-IBus Preferences

Start an application e.g. OpenOffice Writer or Gedit, kick off IBus by pressing Ctrl+Space and input cryptic writing at your heart’s desire.

IBus in Gedit

IBus in Gedit

I think this made my day 🙂

*Did you think it was 汉语? I think that refers more to the spoken language. Correct me if I’m wrong. Heck, even both might be correct.

麽杵成针(mó chú chéng zhēn)

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

… ist ein chinesisches Sprichwort und bedeutet wörtlich “Schleifen und zerstampfen wird zu einer Nadel”, was man etwa mit “Mit Durchhaltewille kann man alle Hindernisse überwinden” übersetzen kann. Der Ursprung dieses Sprichwortes ist in der folgenden Geschichte festgehalten. Die Übersetzung stammt von mir. Zur Zeit benutze ich das Langenscheid Handwörterbuch Chinesisch (ein nicht so “handliches” Buch, aber gut). Bei den Feinheiten half mir Han, meine Tandempartnerin.
Zahlen in Klammern sind Bemerkungen, welche am Ende des Textes aufgeführt werden.
Sämtliche Fehler beim Abschreiben, beim Übersetzen und in den Bemerkungen gehen auf meine Kosten *Asche aufs Haupt streu*

1b. In der Tang-Dynastie lebte ein sehr berühmter Dichter namens Li Bai, der im Alter von 10 Jahren schon viele Bücher gelesen hatte.

2b. Li Bais Vater war ein reicher Händler, seine Familie hatte viel Geld. 3b.Li Bai hatte von klein auf die Gewohnheit viel zu spielen, aber er konnte sich beim Lesen von Büchern nicht konzentrieren. 4a. Immer nachdem er kurze Zeit etwas gelesen hatte, legte er gleich das Buch nieder und ging draussen spazieren.

5b. Eines Tages, wieder beim Lesen kam in Li Bai wieder diese Nervosität hoch und sogleich ging er nach draussen. Auf dem Weg erblickt er eine alte Frau, die just in diesem Moment eine Eisenstange schliff.

6b. Li Bai empfand diesen Anblick als sehr merkwürdig und fragte: “Ehrwürdige alte Frau, was machen sie denn da?”

7b. Die alte Frau hob den Kopf, erblickte Li Bai an und antwortete: “Kind, was ich hier mache, ich schleife offensichtlich diese Eisenstange bis sie zu einer Nadel wird.”

8b. .Li Bai empfand das als sehr seltsam und sagte: “Aha, sie wollen diese dicke Eisenstange zu einer Nadel zu schleifen, ist denn das möglich?” 9b. Die alte Frau lachte und sagte: “Wenn ich nicht aufhöre, dann kann ich mit schleifen fortfahren, und diese Eisenstange wird immer dünner, am Ende wird sie fast sicher durch Schleifen zu einer Nadel werden, wieso soll man das nicht können?”

11b. Li Bai hörte dies und es regte ihn an, so dass er beschloss Bücher zu lesen. 1b. Schlussendlich wurde er zu einem grossartigen Dichter



(1) 问道: Dieser Ausdruck wird nur schriftlich benutzt und verstärkt in diesem Falle den Frageaspekt. Andere Anwendungen sind 说道 (sagen). Im mündlichen Chinesisch wird weggelassen.

(2) : Am Satzende benutzt bedeutet das Zeichen nicht “wo” wie sonst üblich, sondern bezeichnet eine rhetorische Frage. In der Übersetzung versuche ich diesen besonderen Aspekt durch “offensichtlich” wiederzugeben. Es scheint, mir als sei das im schriftlichen Deutsch gar nicht anders möglich. In der gesprochenen Sprache wird das grundsätzlich durch die Betonung wiedergegeben.

(3) 越来越细: Diese “yuè … yuè …” Konstruktion gibt es in zwei Varianten: Einmal mit “lái” dazwischen wie in Bemerkung (3) welche auf Deutsch mit “wird immer +Adjektiv” (hier: ) wiedergegeben werden kann. Die zweite Konstruktion entspricht dem bekannten “je … desto …” z.B. 越多越好 (“je mehr desto besser”).

(4) 一定会: Dies drückt eine sehr hohe Wahrscheinlichkeit (99%) aus, welches ich durch ein nicht sehr elegantes “fast sicher” wiedergegeben habe.


Thursday, February 25th, 2010






私の答え:最初の印象なら、そう思ってしまう人もいると思いますが、実は違います。何故かというと、悪口というのは、ただ悪い言葉集めただけの文章だと思います。ですが、私が書いた記事の中で、はっきり「良いことを期待します」、または「私に駄目な国か?」と書いてあります。それだけではなく、解決の方法も提案しました。さらに、「Go die in a fire」のようなクダラナイ提案ではなくて、ちゃんと考えを入れた解決の方法を提案しました。

















私の答え:最初の印象なら、そう思ってしまう人もいると思いますが、実は違うです。何故かというと、悪口というのは、ただ悪の台詞を集まって文章だと思います。ですが、私が書いた記事の中で、はっきり「良いことを期待します」、または「私に駄目な国か?」が書いてあります。それだけではなく、解決の方法も提案をしました。さらに、「Go die in a fire」のようなクダラナイ提案ではなくて、ちゃんと考えを入れた解決の方法を提案しました。










Thursday, February 18th, 2010


















HSK level woes

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Another day, another failure…
In my quest to conquer another language I started learning Mandarin two years ago. I’ve taken an introductory course two years ago and am working on a second textbook which will soon be finished. So it was time to find a new textbook and I’ve decided on a textbook based on the HSK curriculum – but the research prior to acquiring the textbook was not sufficient.

What happened?

Taking a quick look at HSK in wikipedia I grabbed the info that there was a Elementary level. Thinking this level might suit me fine I ran off to a bookshop to order a textbook because I couldn’t find anything appropriate on Amazon. They ordered the book for me and I picked it up this weekend. By the way, between ordering the book and handing it over to me, the price was raised 5%. I think I will call them about this… Anyway, thumbing through the book I felt somewhat intimidated – the content looked quite tough. Many unknown words, long sentences – this is Elementary? I thought, suited for beginners (association: elementary school)

Some more googling revealed the following: HSK is divided into four levels: Basic, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced where as Elementary and Intermediate are grouped into one. Unfortunately, the lowest level is not Elementary but Basic.

Looks like I’ll have to get a different book…

For the time being, from this page you can download vocabulary for the different levels in different formats, even pre-formatted for Mnemosyne, my favourite educational vocabulary tool: