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Play it again, Sam... AB repeat apps for studying Chinese


TheBigZaboon

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One of the reasons I came out of lurker mode was that I'd searched the forums for threads asking about Android and iPhone (iPad, iPod) apps that are useful for the study of Chinese. Almost without exception (anki and dictionaries such as Pleco, etc.), the answers tend to center on something that is specifically aimed at studying Chinese, or contains Chinese content.

 

Also, since I've signed up, there have been a series of posts from beginners and intermediate students who have found it hard to get started or have reached a plateau in listening to or understanding dialogues or narrated Chinese. In this thread, I want to address a class of software/apps that can be used on a mobile device by beginners and others as tools to use for listening and repeating (shadowing and chunking). I feel this kind of app has been overlooked because they are not specifically Chinese-oriented.

 

The most important features this class of apps offer are an A-B (point to point) repeat function and a variable speed adjustment function on a player often designed specifically for language learning. Windows Media Player provides all of this, and more, on your computer, and Audacity is a long-time favorite on this site that offers a plethora of editing features, as well. But mobile (and simple) is the focus here. Many, many music players have some of the same functionality mentioned above, so I hope others will chime in and nominate their favorites while specifically addressing some of the concerns and problems I've found with the kind of apps I introduce.

 

Audacity is obviously the audio material manipulator of choice, but it can be intimidating for some, so I want to suggest ways that simpler apps can help in learning Chinese without the learning curve and input of time that Audacity requires. I hope to suggest some very simple techniques, sometimes just involving a pencil and paper, or a notation in a textbook or a graded reader, that coupled with a feature common to the tools I introduce will allow people to get some benefits up until now only available with Audacity or Windows Media Player. I will also touch peripherally on things like shadowing and chunking, but those are techniques that I think deserve their own threads.

 

I would like to introduce two apps for Android and one app for the iOS system with specific functions for language learning. The iOS-based app also has the added benefit of effectively managing podcasts. But as I have no iOS toys, I would hope that others would chime in with more iOS apps, and some stories of how they use these functions with their iPhones or iPads. So I will use the Android apps as the basis for my explanation of the simple techniques I suggest.

 

In the future, I would like to expand this topic to video apps. Roddy had a thread a while back that asked about a video player with 5 second delays, and quick repeats, but it got only one reply, and hasn't engendered much interest since.

 

Let's get started.

 

The first order of business is to introduce a pair of Android smartphone apps. These apps are actually a subclass of music players, and may also be found by searching for podcast players, although neither one specifically handles podcasts per se. However, they are advertised as apps for language learning, with the actual language unspecified, so a search with "Chinese" in the search term might not turn them up.

 

Android:

Repeat Player, developed by Darby (free on the Play Store)

 

 

Screen shot:

I'm having trouble uploading a screen shot.

 

There are a fair number of other apps with some form of the phrase "repeat player" in the name, but I have had very good luck with this one, and my remarks only apply to this specific player. There are a number of small but potentially crippling problems that have to be addressed for an app of this kind to be useful for the study of Chinese. All comments on the Play Store site concerning this app are from people writing in English, so I think it will work on both single byte and double byte systems.

 

Repeat Player is extremely simple. It provides a number of standard music player-style functions: repeat, rewind, fast forward and AB repeat functions, for mp3 files, no more, no less (i.e., no speed adjustment). It is an app developed and offered for free from a person whom I think is Korean, so there are no help pages or instructions available. Fortunately, if you fiddle around with it, you can figure it out easily enough.

 

Its primary selling point for me is that it will manage all types of file names and album folder names in the three languages I need, English, Japanese, and Chinese, on my Japanese Android smartphone from inside the app. It doesn't always display them correctly on the screen itself, but you will be able to easily choose within the application from files with other language names in the Android My Files listing when you backtrack on the little file icon on the top left of the screen.

 

The potential deal killer for any other perfectly good player is when it cannot read the Android file names system correctly inside the app for some reason. This is an important issue for us in that sometimes, when a file name has been added by a Chinese publisher, even though it appears in a perfectly readable English format on a Windows computer or in an Android file list, the Android My Files list of album/folder names may not display correctly in the selection screen inside these players. If you can't read the file name from inside the player, you have to open the file from the My Files list, and then choose the app from those offered, and check the Just Once button to avoid freezing out the use of your other audio players.  This makes it hard to use the player unless you find out what the player is objecting to, and change your file folder/album names to accommodate the specific problem. Not as easy as it sounds

 

Repeat Player allows you to repeat one file in a loop, repeat all of the files in a folder, etc., all pretty standard. However, the feature I appreciate most is one that allows you to easily insert and erase start and end points for repeat (AB repeat). It will do this within one file at a level that will deal with one sentence from a paragraph, one sentence from a list of sentences, or one paragraph from a chapter. It will do it with phrases if the size of the file is not too big. It will hold a set of start/end points when you close the player with a particular audio file on the screen, but if you close that audio file, the start/end points are lost. There is a simple finger drag-able tab allowing you to move back and forth in the file. Simple as Repeat Player is, it allows you to deal with one long audio file like a cassette with multiple chapters on it that you have copied to a single mp3 file, or the massive DeFrancis files that were copied from cassetes without editing by the Seton Hall audio lab. It is also handy for dealing with the Chinese textbook developers habit of providing one audio track per chapter, no matter how many discrete items are included in the track. There is no need for editing a file via a program like Audacity (although doing so may provide other obvious advantages).

 

The only potential pitfall here is the size of the file and the granularity of the display on your smartphone or tablet. In other words, if the file is a long one, then it will be harder to drag the tab to the exact spot on the slider where the start or end point is located. There are ways to work around this. Going through the audio file as you work your way through on the first pass, making notes, for example on the page in your graded reader on in your textbook of the start or end times of things like the main text, the new vocabulary, the example sentences, or the listening practice passages will allow you to queue up the section you want whenever you want. You can key up the relevant time point by finding a point before the desired start point, starting playback and hitting the button on the screen display to insert a start point when you reach the relevant time point. Hit the end point button when the desired end point pops up. You can then repeat the segment as often as you like. Closing the file with the points in place will retain them, erasing them before you close will mean you have to repeat the process next time.

 

Repeat Player is too primitive for a bookmark feature, but as a language player/tool, it works, and works well. In addition to the advantages this ability to handle large files as-is provides the beginning student, a simple audio app like this is also perfect for shadowing and chunking for more experienced users.

 

The second Android app is a far more sophisticated player, probably well-known among music fans. Maple, developed by sqr5 (http://android.sqr5.com) is free, but a paid version without advertising is available for a few dollars (US). All of the features (and more) available in Repeat Player are available in a more full-featured way in Maple. Maple also seems to handle the display of file names inside the app extremely well. Display on the screen of the app can still be a bit of a problem, but it is only a minor irritant.

 

But an additional feature Maple offers that is most useful for language study is an easy-to-use function to slow down or speed up the playback of a segment without distortion. The advantages of slowdown are obvious, but those of speedup will be addressed in a different thread on shadowing and other techniques.  A further advantage offered is that this player will accommodate landscape display of its slider, Repeat Player displays only in portrait. Using this app in landscape mode makes it a bit easier to adjust the granularity of the start point when you try to find it with your finger.

 

iOS

Speedup Player Lite (free), pro (around $3.00 USD). Available in the iTunes store.

 

Next, I want to suggest an app from the iOS world. As I said before, I have no iOS toys, so I have no hands-on experience with this one. But everything I said above with respect to Android apps should be equally true.

 

This player is available with an English interface, and it offers menus and screen layouts more in line with what you expect from music and podcast players. I heard about it in the Japanese community studying Korean, and so it should be able to handle Asian language file names and fonts, if necessary. It has been featured as useful in a magazine for studying foreign languages, so the free version is certainly worth a try. You can always uninstall it (and give me a forum-based kick in the pants to express your displeasure).

 

In addition to a full featured interface allowing you to handle your audio (and documents, by the way) based on the album, artist, play list rubric, it also allows you to manage audio by podcast and audio book. However, for our purposes, the most useful features offered by Speedup Player are that it allows you to adjust the playback speed from .5x to 2.5x without sound distortion, and it allows AB repeat. This means that in addition to the primitive but immensely useful features available on my favorite Android apps, with Speedup Player, you can also select an audio segment of a file that you can't quite catch, slow it down, and listen to it over and over again, until you can discern what the speakers are saying. Then you can practice it at the slower speed, and gradually work your way back to normal. I have not tried a lot of podcast players, but the ones I did try only offered playback.

 

I hope others will try out these relatively low tech apps (compared to Audacity, for example) for themselves and provide feedback. Also, please introduce any similar apps that you may be using that you feel others may find useful. Music players and podcast players will obviously provide these features, but the name music player or podcast player may mislead the beginner into thinking you need to subscribe to a particular podcast or music service to use it, and so deprive them of a useful tool.

 

More to come...

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Great thread!

 

I've been using Parrot Player (iOS only) for a while. US$1 on the iOS App Store. It's stable and easy to use, and it handles my Chinese-tagged MP3 files without issue.

 

This is how you use it:

 

1. Add an MP3 file to the app.

2. Play the file, tapping [+] every time you want to create a new A–B point.

3. Keep tapping [+] and creating additional A–B points.

 

I don't think you can rename or renumber your A–B chunks, but they do stay in sequence.

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