Reading Chinese Books with Hanping Chinese Camera

Hanping Chinese Camera is the Optical Character Recogniser (OCR) app for Android devices that accompanies Hanping Chinese Dictionary. The app lets you snap photos of Chinese text and view the definitions for words contained within. It’s become an integral part of my Chinese study routine that I can’t do without. Here’s how it fits into my Chinese reading workflow:

Capture Text

I usually read with my phone in one hand, Hanping Chinese Camera already open, and my book in the other, then when I come across a word I want to check I position my phone over the page and capture it. There’s a horizontal line that should be positioned over the sentence that contains the word in question. Hanping will then auto-focus on the text while trying to recogise the characters, after some of the text is successfully recognised a photo is automatically captured. I can then select the word by touching it, with the definition appearing in the pane below.

Hanping Chinese Camera

Hanping’s great advantage comes from the ability to pan around the photo once it’s been captured, so you can view the definitions for as many words as you want, rather than re-capturing on a word-by-word basis.

Save Words to Lists

To record the new words I have learnt I use the Tags feature of Hanping Chinese Dictionary. Clicking on a word in the Chinese Camera definitions panel at the bottom opens the full Hanping Chinese Dictionary app. From there I click on the menu button, then tags, and select the tag I want to apply. Usually I make a new tag for each book or chapter of a book, so it’s easy to remember where the words came from, reenforcing them in my memory. If you don’t want to create tags for each book you can just press the star button and save the word to your favourites list, though I find when doing this I rarely review them as the list becomes too big and unwieldy.

Hanping Apply Tag

Export Definition Lists

Conveniently, you can also export the list of words to a Tab Separated Values file (TSV) that contains the Chinese, pronunciation, and English definition. Using this feature you can create some custom, lesson-type learning materials. This is essentially what we had in advanced Chinese class – a Chinese text accompanied by a list of important keywords, the only difference here is that you know each of the words is important to you, because you created it yourself.

To export a word list, go to the ‘Starred’ tab on the main screen, then long-press the desired tag until the menu with the option to ‘Export to TSV file’ appears.

Export List - Hanping Chinese Dictionary

Here’s my exported word list from chapter 3 of Rework 工作大解放

Exported Definition List

Conclusion

After using Hanping Chinese Camera to read Chinese, it’s difficult to go back. The time saved looking up words means that you can enjoy the text for the content, while at the same time recording words for study. In the past, when attempting more difficult texts, it was easy to become disheartened or frustrated by the long breaks in reading spent referencing words, but this cuts all that out. It’s worth noting, though, as with any OCR app, that you shouldn’t overly rely on it. That’s why in my workflow above I don’t capture a photo then read the complete text from within Hanping Chinese Camera, instead only checking the app when encountering a difficult section of text.

Hanping Chinese Camera is available in the Google Play Store.