Chinese language learners often rack their minds searching for the right word. By the time they shuffle through a dictionary the moment has passed and conversation has moved on.
Chinese student and Harvard graduate Michael Love was so frustrated by the experience he came up with his own solution, which has earned him a small fortune.
His Pleco program based on Palm or PPC is a two-way dictionary program that includes both English-Chinese and Chinese-English explanations.
By typing in pinyin, Pleco will show a list of all the Chinese words that fit the pronunciation. After the selection is made, more details about the word are revealed. Compared to similar electronic translators the pinyin word search function is helpful.
For English-Chinese searching, Pleco gives a few Chinese phrases and sentences to explain the English word.
Pleco is also equipped with a handwriting recognizer to input Chinese characters and the software has been bought by more than 20,000 users.
"I carry my Pocket PC with me everywhere I go," says Laura Renner, an MBA exchange student from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, studying at Guanghua School of Management of Peking University.
"When I'm speaking Chinese, I use Pleco to look up words I don't know or remember how to say or ones that I haven't heard before when listening or reading."
Love's connection with China started when he was only 12. That year, his middle school principal father started a Chinese program.
To support his father, Love selected Chinese language course, which was competing with French and Spanish.
He was one of first group of Chinese students in Rhode Island, USA.
"It seemed more interesting than the others," he says.
He admits that he can "draw" Chinese characters very well, but can only speak Chinese "decently".
"You don't get a lot of opportunities to practice living in the US."
Love says his creation was sort of accident.
Before that, he was quite into a Palm program called KDIC, which can allow him to play with its basic Chinese-English dictionary and a handwriting recognizer program called WisdomPen Lite. But the limited vocabulary and explanations do not satisfy his needs.
Love came to China in 1999 and attended School Year Aboard program. While staying with the host family and studying at the No 2 High School attached to Beijing Normal University he had a lot of chances to speak Chinese. But he was really annoyed by the time he wasted looking up words in a regular dictionary.
From 2000, Love spent more than a year developing his dictionary software.
Love says the software will be updated to be able to correct grammar mistakes and be more accurate in choosing the most appropriate Chinese words.
(China Daily May 5, 2008)