Chinese Hanzi has a vast writing system, encompassing approximately 50,000 characters and 10+ distinct structures, with a history dating back 3,000 years. The depth and complexity of Hanzi can present a significant learning challenge.
While many language enthusiasts turn to apps like Duolingo, fully comprehending the nuances of writing systems and their cultural associations is challenging to capture in a linear, digital format alone.
The absence of physical interactions, such as the act of writing, and tactile experiences poses a challenge in fully grasping the essence of Hanzi. Its origins as pictographs and ideographs were designed to represent tangible objects, an aspect difficult to convey through digital means alone.
In the era of digitalization, laptops and phones offer convenient alternatives to handwriting Hanzi. Yet, relying on Pinyin, the phonetic input method, bypasses the need to understand Hanzi's structure, leading to a phenomenon known as 'character amnesia.' Even native Chinese speakers find themselves increasingly reliant on digital aids for writing Hanzi.
Our project aims not only to provide a playful learning experience for absolute beginners of Hanzi but also to reignite the passion of native speakers for the tactile aspects inherent in our culture.
Our team has chosen to begin with two easily comprehensible Hanzi components. The first is '木' (meaning 'wood'), where the character's shape graphically represents a tree. The second is '口' (meaning 'mouth'), resembling an open mouth.
These visually distinct subcomponents are designed to help visitors understand that Hanzi's origins are in pictographs, created to represent tangible objects.
the meanings of '口' (mouth) and '木' (wood) extend metaphorically to the human body and nature, respectively. Their combinations give rise to a multitude of unique and meaningful Hanzi characters.
Both elements can serve as base characters that, when repeated, form new characters with related meanings. This tessellation aspect is particularly useful in facilitating graphical learning.
Traditional Hanzi calligraphy employs a four-grid base ('TianZeGe') to accurately position characters of varying structures.
To make the learning process more intuitive and hands-on, we've decided to utilize this grid system. It assists learners in assembling the subcomponents '木' (mu) and '口' (kou) into various characters. This tactile approach enables them to understand different Hanzi structures through touch
We've created two paths.
Path 1: When a player assembles an existing Hanzi on the grid, the interface reveals its meaning.
Path 2: If a player forms a new, non-existing Hanzi, they are encouraged to define this new character and can then view similar creations by other users.
We tested the concept and interaction flow using a paper prototype with 20 players from diverse cultural backgrounds. We began by introducing the background information, followed by allowing them to assemble Hanzi using the paper cutouts we had prepared.
click on each card to see the observations behind each insight.
"The project setup comprises two main parts:
1. The digital component, which displays educational information, and
2. The physical component, including a grid, base character elements, and a webcam, all designed for an interactive, hands-on activity.
We laser-cut the base components to suit various Hanzi structures while allowing ample creative space. Various materials and finishes were tested.
In traditional Chinese calligraphy, characters are typically rendered in black ink, so our first set was crafted using black matte material (set 1).
However, to enhance tactile sensation and ease the learning process, our second set employs glossy, complementary colors for '木' (mu) and '口' (kou). This approach visually distinguishes the subcomponents, making it more beginner-friendly.
I utilized a webcam to capture visitors' character arrangements and integrated code from Teachable Machine to recognize and interpret the results of their creations.
Portable Experience for a language museum
The digital component of our museum is now live on GitHub. Combined with the physical game kit, which includes a webcam, it can be played on a laptop or tablet at home, or even used as an educational activity in schools.see it on github