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Learn characters more efficiently with this revolutionary, easy-to-use dictionary. Discover how Chinese characters actually work!
Learn characters more efficiently with this revolutionary, easy-to-use dictionary. Discover how Chinese characters actually work!
Learn characters more efficiently with this revolutionary, easy-to-use dictionary. Discover how Chinese characters actually work!
1,461 backers pledged $91,474 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters

$91,474

1,461

Benefits of Learning with Outlier

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Rather than just telling you all about it, we've put together an interactive demo — you can actually use it for yourself! Note that the formatting isn't set in stone — it's just intended to show some of the features that will be included in the final product. We're working on how to lay out the information in the most useful way possible. Click the image above to check out the demo on our website!

Note: The dictionary will be released through Pleco, so the demo is designed to look and feel like Pleco. However, since it's just a demo and not the full app, there is some functionality normally available in Pleco that doesn't work here. Rest assured that all the usual Pleco functionality will be available in the official release!

Contents

There's a lot of info on this page, so here's a handy list of what's here:

1. Stretch Goals
2. About the Dictionary
3. For Beginners
4. How it Works — All About Functional Components
5. Two Flavors
6. Who is this dictionary for?
7. Which version is right for me?
8. The Poster
9. What people are saying about it
10. Who are we?
11. Rewards
12. Timeline

Stretch Goals

$90,000 — The Workbook!

We'll be collaborating with Olle Linge of Hacking Chinese and John Pasden of AllSet Learning on a workbook which includes an explanation of our system, some exercises to reinforce your knowledge of how Chinese characters work, and tips and tricks you can use to memorize characters more effectively!

Update: We've decided to go ahead and do the workbook whether we make $90k or not! Current backers, if you increase your pledge by $10 between now and the end of the campaign, you'll get an electronic copy of the workbook when it comes out. If you're a new backer and you want the workbook, simply pledge $10 more than the reward category you choose, or you can pledge and then increase it by $10. Send us a message if you have any trouble!

All of our other backers will receive a discount code to order the workbook through our store as a way of saying thanks!

About the Dictionary

  • How do you teach Chinese characters in a way that is as efficient as possible while minimizing the burden on the learner?
  • How do you teach them in a way that helps students to be able to recall them in the long term rather than just long enough to pass next week's dictation test?
  • How do you foster an ability to predict possible meanings and pronunciations of unfamiliar characters encountered in context?

These are the problems that we're trying to solve, and we've spent years developing a new framework for learning Chinese characters based on sound paleographic principles and the principles of effective memorization. In the process, we've studied under some of the world's foremost experts in Chinese language and pedagogy, and we're now ready to distill all that academic training and expertise into an easy-to-use dictionary that will make your character learning more efficient.

With learning anything, the more you understand it, the easier it is to learn. Our dictionary explains how Chinese characters actually work, based on the most cutting-edge research. This is information that simply isn't available in English right now, and even if you already read Chinese, you'll only find it in very specialized books that take a great deal of academic training to make sense of. We're taking ivory tower knowledge and distilling it into something that will be truly useful to learners at all levels!

How It Works

The first principle of effective memorization is understanding. You must understand what you’re trying to learn. So one of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your character learning is to increase your understanding of how Chinese characters work as a system, rather than as a bunch of disconnected single characters to be individually mastered.

To do that, you need to know what functional components are and how they work.

There are four types of functional components: form components, meaning components, sound components, and empty components.

All About Functional Components
All About Functional Components

And check out this video series on YouTube! How Chinese Characters Actually Work.

Two Flavors

Our dictionary is designed with the goal of being as user-friendly as possible. There are two editions: the Essentials Edition and the Expert Edition.

The Essentials
The Essentials

The Essentials Edition presents the information you need to know to master a character: an explanation of the structure of the character (i.e., what its functional components are and how they function), the pronunciation, the original meaning and basic modern meaning as well as a chart explaining the relationship between the two. The things that the learner needs to memorize are clearly marked, as are the things they don't need to bother memorizing. Rather than just throw a bunch of information at you, we've boiled it down to just the essentials so you never wonder, "Do I really have to know all of this?"

Expert Information
Expert Information

The Expert Edition contains a lot more information about the character's origin and evolution over time, as well as interesting linguistic tidbits and historical facts. If you don't care about such things, the Essentials Edition is for you. But if you're a language nerd, a scholar of Chinese literature, or someone who finds ancient writing systems fascinating, this is what you're looking for. Even trained paleographers will find it to be a useful reference, because we cite all of our research within the dictionary itself.

Who is this dictionary for?

This dictionary might be right for you if you want to:

  • maximize learning efficiency
  • stop forgetting characters over and over again
  • understand how characters actually work, both individually and on the system level
  • maximize recall and predictive ability
  • minimize the amount of work required for mastering Chinese characters
  • know the answer to the question, “Why does this character look like that?”
  • understand how sound components work
  • better understand character simplification

Which version is right for me?

The Essentials Edition might be right for you if:

  • you are only interested in the basics
  • you want to learn how to use the meaning and sound of the word you want to write to trigger your memory of the character forms
  • you don't want to be bothered with anything other than that which you have to know
  • your personal reason for learning Chinese has nothing to do with history or Classical Chinese
  • you already know a lot of Chinese characters, but have trouble remembering how to write them
  • you are not interested in origins and evolution of Chinese characters
  • you're not sure if you want to spend the money on the Expert Edition
  • you have been learning Chinese characters and want to increase the effectiveness of your learning

The Expert Edition might be right for you if:

  • you are an expert :)
  • you are curious about Chinese character origins and development
  • you study Sinology, Chinese History, Classical Chinese or Paleography
  • you are interested in knowing all the details
  • you want to understand character corruption
  • you want to understand more about the phonological development of Chinese
  • you want to better understand the sound variation in Chinese character sound series
  • you think Chinese characters are aesthetically pleasing
  • you are interested in Chinese culture you want to take it to the next level

The Poster(s)

Semantic Components I Poster
Semantic Components I Poster

The "Semantic Components I" poster lists 50 common meaning and form components, along with their basic modern meaning, pronunciation in both Hanyu Pinyin and Zhuyin Fuhao (Bopomofo), stroke order, variants, and a few example characters using it as a form or meaning component. It will be printed on A1 paper (59.4 x 84.1cm, 23.39 x 33.11 inches) and available with either a simplified or traditional character focus, though both versions will contain both sets of characters. The poster will feature beautifully handwritten characters by calligrapher Harvey Dam. The font you see in the image above is a placeholder — Harvey's writing is much nicer-looking! You can see an example of his handwriting on his bio page on our website.

The Semantic Components II poster adds another 50 semantic components. The layout will be the same, but you'll get an additional 50 components!

Keep these posters on your wall as a reference to jog your memory, or as a way to work on your handwriting! 

What people are saying about it

We discussed our project with Dr. David Moser and showed him the demo via Skype recently, and he had some really great things to say about it afterward:

"A very useful digital dictionary and digital tool which I think represents the next stage in the study of Chinese characters, and maybe even the next stage in the digitizing of Sinology itself." --DAVID MOSER, Academic Director at the CET Chinese Studies Program in Beijing, author of "Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard"

"I think it'll be a really great addition to Pleco. It's going to help people get into where characters come from, what they mean, how they work — really at a much more linguistically rigorous level than it's ever been done before." --MICHAEL LOVE, founder of Pleco

"The authors behind this blog know what they’re doing, which is surprisingly rare!" -- OLLE LINGE, author of Hacking Chinese

"This project is no joke. They’re out to build something I’ve wished has existed for quite a while, and they’ve got the skills and dedication to make it happen." -- JOHN PASDEN of Sinosplice & AllSet Learning

"Outlier Linguistic Solutions is developing what we think will be a revolutionary Chinese Dictionary‬ tool unlike any other....we think this could be the next big thing for helping your Chinese Language Learning" -- ChinesePod

Who are we?

The Outlier Team
The Outlier Team

We're a team of researchers based in Taipei, Taiwan and Tokyo, Japan who want to bring our expertise in Chinese characters to learners in the form of a revolutionary new dictionary of Chinese characters. It makes use of the latest research to create a system that will tremendously boost your ability to learn and remember characters.

This project has been in the works for several years. When finished (first quarter of 2016), the dictionary will be released as an add-on to the free Pleco app, the #1 Chinese dictionary app for iPhone and Android! Now we just need the funding to be able to finish it and put it in your hands!

Rewards!

We have some great rewards available for our backers! From great packages for individual learners to solutions and consultation for schools, teachers, and businesses, there's something for everyone here!

Bonus! Everyone who donates even $1 will be thanked by name on our website!

Starters

$1 — Our Eternal Gratitude

$10 — A PDF poster

$15 — Both PDF posters

Essentials Edition + Extras

$25 — Copy of the 2000-character Essentials Edition (bilingual: choose either Chinese/English or Chinese/German) with free upgrade to the 3500-character edition and all future updates.

$35 — Essentials Edition and a PDF Poster

$40 — Essentials Edition and both PDF Posters

$49 — The Essentials Package — Essentials Edition, Printed Poster, PDF Poster

$69 — The Ultimate Essentials Package — Essentials Edition, Both Printed Posters, Both PDF Posters

Expert Edition + Extras

$50 — Copy of the 2000-character Expert Edition (bilingual: choose either Chinese/English or Chinese/German) with free upgrade to the 3500-character edition and all future updates.

$60 — Expert Edition and a PDF Poster

$65 — Expert Edition and both PDF Posters

$69 — The Expert Package — Expert Edition, Printed Poster, PDF Poster

$89 — The Ultimate Expert Package — Expert Edition, Both Printed Posters, Both PDF Posters

Sponsor a Character

SOLD OUT! $99 — Sponsor a character of your choice from the 2000 that will be in the initial release of the dictionary. Plus, get everything in the Ultimate Expert Package.

$139 — Sponsor a character of your choice from the 2000 that will be in the initial release of the dictionary. Plus, get everything in the Ultimate Expert Package. Limited quantity!

$199 — Sponsor ANY character of your choice! If it's not in the dictionary, we'll add it just for you! Plus, get everything in the Ultimate Expert Package. Limited quantity!

Webinar

$149 — The Ultimate Expert Package, plus access to a 2-hour webinar with Ash (talk + Q&A)

Consultation

$350 — The Ultimate Expert Package, Webinar Access, and a 1 hour one-on-one Skype consultation with a member of the Outlier team

$499 — The Ultimate Expert Package, Webinar Access, a 1-hour initial consultation, and two follow-up consultations

Classroom Solutions

$300 — Small Classroom Package — 1 Expert Edition, 6 Essential Editions, 2 Printed Posters (each!), both PDF Posters, Webinar Access

$450 — Large Classroom Package — 2 Expert Editions, 10 Essential Editions, 3 Printed Posters (each!), both PDF Posters, Webinar Access

$599 — Small Classroom Total Solution — Small Classroom Package Plus three 1-on-1 consultation sessions with a member of the Outlier team to discuss implementation in your classroom

$699 — Large Classroom Total Solution — Large Classroom Package Plus three 1-on-1 consultation sessions with a member of the Outlier team to discuss implementation in your classroom

Sponsorships

$1000 — Silver Sponsor — The Large Classroom Total Solution, plus a 100x100 pixel image/logo linking to the website of your school or business on our Sponsors page (Please, contact us first!)

$1999 — Gold Sponsor — The Large Classroom Total Solution, plus a 200x200 pixel image/logo linking to the website of your school or business on our Sponsors page, and on our home page on a rotating basis with other Gold Sponsors (Please, contact us first!)

Appearances

$4999 — Everything in the Gold Sponsor package, plus Outlier will come to your school or place of business anywhere in the world and give a seminar on how to learn Chinese characters more efficiently. (Please, contact us first!)

Timeline

Timeline (tentative)
Timeline (tentative)

Risks and challenges

We've developed a workflow for finishing the dictionary, so the primary risk is that it takes us longer than expected to complete everything. We've tried to account for that by being very conservative with the delivery dates for our rewards, but there's always the possibility of further, unforeseen delays. However, we are fully devoted to seeing this project through, and we're committed to being open and transparent about the process. That means that if there's a delay, there's going to be a good reason for it, and you'll hear about it!

Another minor risk is that Ash might suddenly sprout hair again and decide to leave and re-form his old metal band. Realistically, the chances of this happening are approaching zero, but hey, we've got to allow for the possibility!

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    Our eternal gratitude for helping us get this project off the ground! Your name will appear on our website as one of our early supporters!

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    A PDF copy of the poster containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam!

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    A PDF copy of BOTH posters containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam!

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    THE ESSENTIALS EDITION

    A copy of the 2000-character Essentials Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades! MSRP: $30+

    NOTE: Free upgrades to all future versions will ONLY be offered to Kickstarter backers. This is a fantastic deal!

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    ESSENTIALS + PDF POSTER

    A copy of the 2000-character Essentials Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. PLUS a PDF copy of the poster containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam! MSRP: $40+

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    ESSENTIALS + BOTH PDF POSTERS

    A copy of the 2000-character Essentials Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. PLUS a PDF copy of BOTH posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam!

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    BEST DEAL!

    THE ESSENTIALS PACKAGE

    A copy of the 2000-character Essentials Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. Plus, a PDF and one printed copy of the poster containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam! MSRP: $70+

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    THE EXPERT EDITION

    A copy of the 2000-character Expert Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades! The free upgrade is available to Kickstarter backers only! MSRP: $60+

    NOTE: Free upgrades to all future versions will ONLY be offered to Kickstarter backers. This is a fantastic deal!

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    EXPERT EDITION + PDF POSTER

    A copy of the 2000-character Expert Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. PLUS a PDF copy of the poster containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam! MSRP: $70+

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    EXPERT + BOTH PDF POSTERS

    A copy of the 2000-character Expert Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. PLUS a PDF copy of BOTH posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam!

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    BEST DEAL!

    THE EXPERT PACKAGE

    A copy of the 2000-character Expert Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. Plus, a PDF and one printed copy of the poster containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam! MSRP: $100+

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    BEST DEAL!

    THE ULTIMATE ESSENTIALS PACKAGE

    A copy of the 2000-character Essentials Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. Plus, a PDF and one printed copy of BOTH posters, containing a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam! MSRP: $100+

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    BEST DEAL!

    THE ULTIMATE EXPERT PACKAGE

    A copy of the 2000-character Expert Edition distributed through the free Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on iOS and Android, with a free upgrade to the 3500-character version and all future upgrades. Plus, a PDF and one printed copy of BOTH posters, containing a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten characters by Harvey Dam! MSRP: $120+

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    EXPERT PACKAGE + SPONSOR AN ENTRY!!

    Sponsor a character or component of your choice! We'll contact you with the list of characters that will appear in the dictionary, and you can choose which one to sponsor. Your name will appear in the dictionary as a sponsor of that character. Plus you also get everything in the Expert Package! Limited quantity available!

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    ULTIMATE EXPERT PACKAGE + SPONSOR AN ENTRY!!

    Our first ($99) Sponsorship went like gangbusters, so we're adding a few more

    Sponsor a character or component of your choice! We'll contact you with the list of characters that will appear in the dictionary, and you can choose which one to sponsor. Your name will appear in the dictionary as a sponsor of that character. Plus you also get everything in the Expert Package! Limited quantity available!

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    EXPERT PACKAGE + WEBINAR!

    You get everything in the Expert Package, plus access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, including Q&A!

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    EXPERT PACKAGE + SPONSOR ANY ENTRY!!

    Sponsor ANY character or component of your choice! You can choose ANY character you'd like. If it isn't part of the 2000 or 3500 that we're already including, we'll add it just for you! Your name will appear in the dictionary as a sponsor of that character. Plus you also get everything in the Expert Package! Limited quantity available!

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    SMALL CLASSROOM PACKAGE

    You get 1 copy of the Expert Edition, 6 copies of the Essential Edition, 2 Printed Posters, a PDF Poster, PLUS access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, including Q&A!

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    EXPERT PACKAGE + WEBINAR + CONSULTATION!

    You get everything in the Expert Package, webinar access, PLUS a 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultation with an Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

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    LARGE CLASSROOM PACKAGE

    You get 2 copies of the Expert Edition, 10 copies of the Essentials Edition, 3 Printed Posters, a PDF Poster, PLUS access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, including Q&A!

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    BEST DEAL!

    CONSULTATION PACKAGE

    You get everything in the $89 Expert Package, webinar access, plus three 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultations with an Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

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    BEST DEAL!

    SMALL CLASSROOM TOTAL SOLUTION

    You get everything in the Small Classroom Package, PLUS three 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultations with an Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

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    LARGE CLASSROOM TOTAL SOLUTION

    You get everything in the Large Classroom Package, PLUS three 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultations with an Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

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    SILVER ACADEMIC SPONSOR

    You get everything in the Large Classroom Total Solution, plus a 100x100 pixel image/logo linking to the website of your school or business on our Sponsors page for one year! (Please, contact us first before ordering this package!)

    That's 2 copies of the Expert Edition, 10 copies of the Essential Edition, 3 Printed Posters, a PDF Poster, access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, a 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultation with an Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching, as well as two follow-up consultations, PLUS a logo on our website linking to yours! Wow!

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    GOLD ACADEMIC SPONSOR

    You get everything in the Large Classroom Total Solution, plus a 200x200 pixel image/logo linking to the website of your school or business in a prominent position on our Sponsors page for one year! Wow!

    Please, contact us before selecting this reward.

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    OUTLIER APPEARANCE

    You get everything in the Gold Sponsor Package, PLUS Outlier will come to your school or place of business anywhere in the world and give a one-day workshop on teaching and learning Chinese characters more efficiently!

    Please contact us before selecting this reward.

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Funding period

- (30 days)