The story behind Pinhok

Before Pinhok, there was Wohok, and before pure vocabulary books there was the idea of learning languages visually through pictures. This article gives a quick introduction to how Pinhok and as a result Pinhok Languages evolved over the years into what it is today and what the future holds.

The name

As mentioned in the introduction, before Pinhok was created, I already had another site: Wohok as such is a combination of “wo” which stands for “I” in Mandarin and “hok” which means “study” in Cantonese. I, later on, used Wohok also in the name of my company in Hong Kong – Wohok Solutions – which Pinhok Languages is a part of.

Having done the heavy lifting with finding the name “Wohok” I got very lazy and created a similar name for the language learning product I was wanting to make. Pinhok is set together from “pin” which stands for “picture” in Cantonese and “hok” again for “study”.

Pinhok is a weird name, but I think it’s a good name in that it’s pretty unique. When I first googled the term, nothing showed up. The closest to Pinhok Google could find was “Pinhook” which either referred to some things or names in India or some restaurants in the US. Also, there seemed to be no bad meanings for this word, so based on that, Pinhok became the working title of the project and I used it ever since.

The product

Today (2017) the main products published by Pinhok Languages are two vocabulary books: One with 2000 words and phrases ordered by frequency of use, another one with more than 3000 vocabularies ordered by topic. The top 2000 vocabulary book is targeting beginners who want to make quick progress in learning a new language and are willing to put in the effort to do so. The more extensive vocabulary book is more thought of as a compendium for more advanced learners or people who need to quickly get to a higher level in a certain field or profession.

Now, based on the story behind the name, the question of course is, where are the pictures? They are coming – at some point in the future. The current vocabulary books are a stepping stone towards more advanced learning tools ideally with sounds and pictures in the future. Providing those, however, requires more money in that pictures need to be either created or bought and sounds recorded, so the two current products are there to build the foundation that provides the funding for further products and learning tools.

The timeline

The idea for Pinhok as being a tool available in various languages around the world was born in the beginning of 2013 while I was learning Mandarin. The idea was, that many nouns are basically bound to an object and that those nouns would be the same or very similar in any language. Of course, in Nordic countries, there might e.g. be numerous words e.g. for “snow”, but there should still be one major word for it. The same should be true for other nouns in other regions of the world. The thought that followed was that similar things might also be true for verbs and adjectives. And simple sentences could also be translated into any language without changing meaning too much.

Based on this thought, the next idea was, that if there is a basic set of words and phrases, it should be possible to simply (well, “simply” I thought at that time at least) have native speakers translate the vocabularies into their own language and build vocabulary books based on that. The initial goal was to have pictures show e.g. an apple and then only show the word in the language the learner wants to learn – either in a book or as part of flashcards.

Then the example of the corn and chessboard came into my mind (I think it was corn – but doesn’t matter). For those who don’t know the story, in short, it’s basically about somebody asking a king to get paid in corn (some time ago) as follows: On the first field of the board you would put 1 piece of corn, on the second 2, on the third 4, on the fourth 8, etc. When getting to the 64th field, you’re at a very, very large number.

What struck me at that time was, that I could do the same thing just with vocabulary books. Instead of only having books e.g. from English to German, or English to Mandarin, I could also have books from e.g Dutch to German and Icelandic to German. All I needed to do is have somebody translate the basic set of words as well as some other parts of the book and I would basically get a huge number of vocabulary books out of the basic material that would serve smaller markets that have not been of interest to the current players in the field.

Long story short, it took me 4 years and numerous failed approaches to find a viable approach to make this idea(s) become a reality. I also settled for normal vocabulary books first as properly licensed images are hard (expensive) to get and creating coloured books with images comes with some more challenges in terms of work and cost involved.

Nevertheless, in the end of 2016 I found the right combination of quality product, price and workflow and from that on I worked hard any free minute I have (this is still a side project as I write) to get more languages out.

The future

The near future is very unspectacular concerning the work involved. It’s basically all about increasing the languages offered by Pinhok Languages. The goal is to be at around 70 languages by the beginning of 2020, but that’s still a long way to go.

In the long term, I would love to have the initial vision of picture vocabulary books become a reality. Furthermore, sound vocabulary books would also be on the radar and other learning material like flashcards (print & online) would be a great fit as well.

Having said that, I’m very open as to what will come up in the future. So if you have a request for a certain product you would want Pinhok Languages to offer, feel free to contact me at any point and I’ll see what I can do.