Phrasier: user's guide

Here's the short summary of what to do. Click to go to the relevant section of the guide.

Downloading and running starting Phrasier

Download Phrasier using the download link in the menu. Then, to start Phrasier, just run the JAR file you downloaded: there is no installation. If you want to remove it at any time, just delete the JAR file.

When Phrasier starts, it will open a window with three big buttons: one to open a vocabulary file for parsing, one to import a set of vocabylary files into a practice session, and one to open an existing session (one you have stored from previously). In the menues, you can also find a Chinese-English dictionary.


You need to have a set of vocabulary files to use with Phrasier: those for Practical Audio Visual Chinese which I have provided, ones others provide, or make them yourself. Click the vocabulary link in the menu to get an overview of vocabulary files available. The vocabulary files contain the Chinese terms, pronounciation (Pinyin), translation and possibly a comment. The VOC-files and CHPU-files used by Phrasier can be opened and edited in any editor that handles Unicode (e.g. Notepad). The same is true of vocabulary files in CEDict format which can read by Phrasier as well as several other flash card programs. I have also implemented reading of the EDict format for Japanese, but which may be used for other languages.

When you import CHPU or CEDict files, Phrasier knows that there are Chinese. The tabular format is more generic, can be used with any language, but Phrasier still needs to know if it is Chinese (or Japanese) to handle things correctly (such as the writing of tone marks). Therefore, there are three different alternatives for importing tabular files: Chinese, Japanese and a general version.

You may browse one or more vocabulary files from Phrasier: just press the Vocabulary button (or choose from the menu), select the vocabulary files, and you will get a window which shows one term at a time, allowing you to leaf through the terms. You may also open up the vocabulary in a table view showing all ther terms at once.

Vocabulary file formats supported

Phrasier supports a few different file formats. The format native to Phrasier is the tabular files (ordinary tab-separated files, I use file type VOC), and the CHPU format, but it can also read the more commonly used CEDict format (for Chinese, contains both traditional and simplified characters), and I have also added support for the EDict format which was made with Japanese in mind but should work with other languages too. For all these formats, Phrasier assumes UTF-8 encoding is used: you may have to change the encoding if you have files using another encoding.

Practice sessions

A practice session is a set of terms (phrases and their translations) imported from vocabulary files, together with information related to your practice, e.g. how well you know each term. You will typically create one big practice session to use into which you gradually add more vocabularies, e.g. new vocabularies corresponding to new lessons. If you have different categories, e.g. one with words and phrases and another with complete sentences; you may of course make as many practice sessions as you want, but the idea of Phrasier is that you should not need more than one big one. When you practice, Phrasier will then pick terms to practice from those imported into the practice session.

Starting a session

In order to practice, you should start a practice session. If you have a vocabulary loaded already, choose Make session from the menu; alternatively, press New session in the main window, then choose the vocabulary files to import into it. The terms from these vocabulary files will then be imported into the practice session.

Phrasier keeps track of which vocabulary files each term comes from, assuming these may correspond e.g. to different lessons, and allow you to select which to include or exclude. This may be useful if you need to practice particular lessons, or if you have imported all the lessons available but only include them one by one as your studies progresses (this is particularly useful with MobilePhrasier since this can be done on the phone).


A practice session is opened in a separate window. You can turn on and off the display of Chinese, pronounciation (Pinyin), translation and comments (tick the boxes or press Alt+1 to Alt+4) depending on what you want to practice.

In a practice session, Phrasier keeps track of how well you have learnt each term so that it may pick the terms you have not learnt well for you to practice. You may also adjust the importance of each term: for important terms, slide the ruler at the right hand side upwards; for less important terms, slide it downwards. Phrasier will pick terms to practice from the imported terms: more often the more important terms and terms that are not well learnt.

In order to give feedback on how well you know a term, press either of the five buttons "Don't know", "So so ...", "Know well". To skip, just press Next. Phrasier will adjust the frequency with which it picks each term according to your response.

Suggested use

I sometimes turn off Chinese and pronounciation (Pinyin) when I practice so that I just see the English text, other times I show the Chinese only. If I can't remember or want to check if I remember right do, I look at the pinyin or English/Chinese. To register how well I know the term, I press either of the response buttons. Occasionally I wish to indicate that a term is important, and slide the slide bar up to increase its importance; some terms are less important, e.g. names and western terms, so I slide the bar down to reduce the importance.

I don't consider very carefully "Do I know this term well or just so-so?" but just pick one that seems a fair response. Phrasier learns gradually, so it's not too critical. Don't waste your time considering which response is the most appropriate: spend it on learning the terms. As you get to know the terms better, you may "shift the scale" and be more strict about ticking "Know well", but that's OK: don't worry about it.

I generally suggeset practicing on the whole vocabulary. Perhaps if you are preparing for a particular test, you may want temporarily to practice only a particular vocabulary, which you can do be selecting the vocabularies you want to practice. However, normally you should let Phrasier pick terms from the entire vocabulary you have studied. As you respond that a term is known, it will pick that term less often so that you can practice the terms you don't know rather than spend time on reviewing terms you know well. It does, however, try to avoid picking the same term repeatedly, even if it is badly known; and it will occasionally pick terms that you have ticked off as well-known several times, which is usefull to make sure you still remember the previously learnt terms.

Adding more vocabularies

You may add more vocabulary files at any time, and need not worry about adding the same vocabulary files or terms twice. I you only wish to practice the vocabularies from some of the files (e.g. some lessons), you can do so from the Select menu: this will select terms to include or exclude from the practicing. but will not remove any terms from the practice session so the training information will be remembered when you later include them again. If you close and save the session and then open it again, all the terms will still be there, and the same terms will be included/excluded from practice as when you saved the session.

Saving a practice session

You may save the practice session at any time. If you quit the session, Phrasier will also ask if you wish to save any changes. All the imported terms will then be saved together with information on how well you have learnt them and how impoartant they are. It does not at present store which terms were selected for practice, so if you wish only to practice on a subset you will have to make the selection again next time you start Phrasier; I may change this in the future.

The practice session file (.chs) is a text file (Unicode text, data in XML format) which you may open in ordinary text editor (provided it supports unicode) or an XLM viewer/editor. If you wish to permanently remove terms from the saved session, as of now there is no other alternative to this from Phrasier: you will have to open the CHS-file in a text editor, search the term, and then delete it (the block from <pterm> to </pterm> containing the term).

Making new vocabulary files

I have a separate page with details on the vocabulary file formats Phrasier can read.

To make new vocabulary files, I would recomment either simple tabular format, or the CEDict/EDict for Chinese/Japanese since these are supported by a number of other programs. The main incompatibility is that CEDict and EDict do not contain a comment field, whereas the tabular format I have used does not support having both traditional and simplified Chinese.

The tabular format is simply the phrase, pronounciation, translation and comment separated by tabulators. The file should be saved using UTF-8 encoding.

I defined the CHPU format for entering vocabulary files based on the CHP format used by Chinese Practice, and the vocabulary files I have produced are in both these formats. However, I would recommend others to use the CEDict or EDict formats since these are more common.

Phrasier can read Chinese vocabulary files in the CEDict format: these may contain both traditional and simplified characters and include Pinyin using tone numbers (rather than special characters with tone marks which are somewhat cumbersome to write). Phrasier should also be able to read vocabulary files in the EDict format, which was originally made for Japanese but should also work with other languages, although I have not tested this very well. Both of these formats are text files which can be made in a text editor; for use with Phrasier, they should all be saved using UTF-8 encoding.

The CHPU vocabulary file format made for Phrasier are also quite simple: all you need is a Unicode-enabled editor. I made a template pack with template files, Word macros and further instructions. I have used Word to make CHP-files (rich text format used with Chinese Practice) which I then convert to CHPU-format; the template pack contains Visual Basic macros to help produce Pinyin with tone marks and save CHP-files as unicode text files (CHPU). Please contact me if you need help with this, or with converting CHP files to the CHPU format.

If you have other vocabulary file formats you think Phrasier should support, please tell me: I might be able to comply.

If you make your own vocabulary files, e.g. for a text book that is not yet supported, please consider making these available to others. I would be happy to post them here, and I'm sure authors of other flash card programs would also be happy to help you make them available.

Last modified April 30, 2009.