PTP: Interactive Handwriting for the World

07 August 2017

Education, Interactive Content, Internationalization, ALL-IN Learning Objects, AZARDI, IGP:Digital Publisher

Handwriting instruction for every language on Earth. the Phonetic Training Program shows how and addresses this imbalance.

PTP Lives

In 1997 under the guidance of Dr. Shrinath Kalbag we developed a very interesting program for Vigyan Ashram to address illiteracy among Indian rural women... in their languages. The primary objective was to teach them to write their name in their language as they only used their thumbprint for legal documents.

The program was very successful. It required lugging a computer and generator into a village, the ladies sat around with pencil and paper with guidelines printed and copied the screen writing actions. Within a few hours they were writing their names. The social effect was dramatic. People who can read this article probably cannot understand the pride that comes in being able to sign your name after a lifetime of illteracy and the negatives that go with that.

The program was written in C++ and the Internet wasn't even an option. Now with the changing dynamic of computers and mobile devices and interactive learning being the future for the world, it seemed the right time to breath some new javascript life into the old C++ code.

The application is "artfully" named the "Phonetic Training Program" (PTP). Hey we are pragmatists not marketing geniuses!

Try it here

PTP is ubiquitous HTML5 interactive content. It can be used anywhere. Select a "language". Just click on a letter on the left, listen to it being pronounced and watch it being drawn. Here we have Latin/English, Hindi and Telugu to demonstrate the very different writing construction, stroke count and stroke approach used in (four) different languages, if you count Latin as English. This alphabet is of course used in dozens of languages.

The background guidelines in this demonstration are a combination of the three-line Latin and five-line Indic scripts requirements.

There are now a number of handwriting programs available for touch screens and the like but they are a bit up-market and American English locale/language specific. We also have to recognize that compared to the simple construction of Latin characters, the challenges with many other languages are both different and often have different writing motor-skill development requirements.

PTP also goes a little bit futher as it takes a shot at learning to associate phonetic sounds with character reading and writing skills for any purpose. This works better with many non-English languages because they are phonetically constructed (Eg: Indic languages are written as they are pronounced).

Because we are sure a very large part of the target user audience will be using pencil and paper (or writing with a stick in the dust) we have focused on paint strokes, aerial strokes and pen position clarity. This is relatively important with Indic and Asian languages. We have neglected touch screen cleverness at this stage, primarily because tracing a character on the screen probably doesn't help a lot in the development of real hand-writing motor skills.


Latin/English is essentially vertical strokes and loops. It tends to write forward with few aerial/paint strokes or backward strokes. It is used in dozens of languages around the world, many with the addition of diacritics.


Hindi and Marathi both use the Devenagari script. It is a vertical and horizontal language with loops. It is similar in stroke construction to English, but very different in reading because it is strictly phonetic.


Telugu is a South Indian language. It has a strongly anti-clockwise writing structure with only a few vertical strokes. One reason for this writing style is puported to be for writing on palm leaves which have a very strong horizontal grain. The core alphabet phonetics are the same across Indic languages, but when spoken as words are very different.

Understanding Handwriting Nuance

Without delving into the mysterious world of graphology, or the artistry of calligraphy, handwriting is one of the worlds' bigger early learning challenges (or illiteracy challenges). It is a combination of training motor skills in conjunction with sound and shape recognition. That's a lot of senses working together.

A technical breakdown of "how handwriting happens" is essential when creating an application that allows the assembly of playable handwriting teaching components. Our list is: 

  • Paint strokes. A stroke that creates a mark on the writing surface.
  • Aerial Strokes (forgetting "writing" or joined-letters which is a Latin special. Printing is cool). A stroke that does not make a mark on the writing surface but is an essential pencil movement inside the construction of a character.
  • Stroke direction. We grade direction into vertical, horizontal, angled-straight, curved, anti-clockwise, clockwise, angle start-point, angle distance, stroke up, stroke down and mark.
  • Stroke type. This is the noisy part of handwriting which largely encapsulates stroke direction. Line is obviously the dominant stroke type (without distinction on straight or curved) but even Latin has a dot on the i and j. Other languages have special marks such as diacritics, bindi's, matras and other specific language writing qualifiers. They all have to be included.
  • Total stroke count. This is the sum of aerial strokes plus paint strokes. Latin is relatively "stroke-cheap" as are curved languages like Telugu and Kannada (even though they look complex). We haven't done any analysis of Thai, Khmer or Middle-East character construction at this stage so cannot comment on those. Because we are into self-flagellation we have started on Mandarin and Cantonese. Interestingly no new stroke types have arisen.
  • Note. Approach and departure strokes are not counted in the construction of a character. Letter stroke counting ALWAYS starts with the first paint stroke and ends with the last paint stroke.

This stroke analysis and diversity knowledge is required to create a hand-writing application that addresses all languages competently and completely.

The basic Latin alphabet is one of the most stroke economical letter forms. For example the stroke count for "A" is five. Three paint strokes and two aerial strokes. "C" is one stroke. But the Devanagari औ has 12 strokes including aerial strokes. That is a lot of strokes to make a sound.

The PTP construction tools have captured all this human handwriting magic and translate it into an easy learning experience through the PTP presentation tools. (Remember PTP means Phonetic Training Program - sounds to lines.)


In the developed world context accessibility means making content available to those with sight or aural impairments. IGP:Digital Publisher and IGP:FoundationXHTML are defined for web-content accessibility from the ground up for the "ARIA" market.

In the context of "the world" a simple program like PTP shows a single solution can make literacy accessible to the children and adults of the world in every language at little cost. The program operated by Vigyan Ashram in hundreds of villages demonstrated this in spades.

Because of the structure of the vector program it will be reasonably easy to include audio scripting (for the blind) and colour-coded stepping (for the autistic).

The world is a big place and PTP defines a new and different accessibility journey for education, learning and training that includes everyone around the world. This is the direction of valuable digital content.

PTP Joins the ALL-IN Modules

The PTP module brings a new level of interactivity to core language learning and literacy programs for the world.

We are pleased to be able to announce PTP is now a component of the ALL-IN learning library modules. That means all the tools are included with an IGP:Digital Publisher license. Books produced books from IGP:Digital Publisher for distribution in any quantity can include the PTP Javascript and letter profiles with no additional fees.

It takes professional effort and time to create the handwriting vector outlines for the characters in a new language. But once they are complete, they are available forever, at any size due to the marvel of CSS transforms!


This concept was born in 1997 and reborn 20 years later in 2017.

The original C++ code was written by two interns (Jogesh Sharma and Vijay Kukreja - Hi guys wherever you are. Great work.) over six months. They created the vector character builder, the writing player and the bitmap character reading game. Rashmi Nerlikar was the language expert, especially for Indic languages, and Ramesh Gettiboena patiently created the interactive vector maps for the various languages.

The player application code was completely re-written but using the same  with Deepak Chandran (our CTO) doing the core vector Javascript engine conversion and Milan Bishwakarma (product development and ALL-IN lead programmer) turning it into a product. This is the result of a very long and interrupted journey. The core concepts have stood the test of time and have absorbed the new HTML5/CSS3/Javascript technology available to us today. It is approximately 214.16 times easier to develop this type of interactivity in 2017 than it was in 1997.

Stroke Authoring Tool

The authoring tool was created in 1997 for Windows 95 and a 640px x 480px monitor! Because it was created in core C++ without any funny DLLs, it still works today on Windows 7/8/10. Congratulations Microsoft. That is very, very impressive.

We have now "Javascripted" the animated vector authoring tools. That is a little more intense than the handwriting player and requires a stroke analyst to provide the direction and QC to the stroke-editor.

Moving Ahead-More letter forms

We are now working on Chinese characters with the University of Hawaii. The approach here will be "same but different" as it is not an alphabet language. Also the target audience is highly literate English speakers learning Chinese.

The stroke construction rules are very strict and fall naturally into this type of application. Also if we find the right partners we will be able to add other language character forms like Cyrillic, Greek, Thai, Khmer, Hebrew, Ahmaric and possibly Arabic.

The ALL-IN module allows the inclusion of any letter combinations in a lesson. It doesn't have to be all letters in a rigid table-like layout as in the examples above. The module is designed to exploit pedagogical creativity.

Next. Reading

PTP is a two part program. Learning to read and learning to write characters (or more correctly glyphs). While writing implicitly delivers phonetic association/reading skills this does not develop and is not the same as reading skills. These need to be taught independently. Instant letter/phoneme recognition and the ability to pronounce a letter in a reading context are different to pronouncing it while writing.

The next ALL-IN module is the character reading game. If you are into core language learning skill development or literacy training, watch this space. It only gets more exciting.

Remember. In the current avatar this is a Phonetic Training Program. The primary purpose is to allow people to associate language sounds they hear and make with the core characters of their written language. 

It is not a reading or full literacy program and does not try to be any thing except a program that allows a noise to be interpreted by a person to construct a shape on a surface.

The world calls this writing. 

Posted by Richard Pipe


Unfortunately EPub3 packaging rules make this type of education application difficult to create for distribution as ePub3. It is possible in AZARDI of course but other reading systems are too limited in their ePub3 implementation.

Fortunately this is addressed by EPUB 3.1 because the W3C insisted on full CSS compliance now that the IDPF has been sucked into the W3C. This is like a release from CSS prison after seven years.

It is unlikely the EDUPUB Conference will  consider the learning needs of the children and illiterate of the world because they are focused on tertiary eduction for developed countries. They must follow the dictates of their dominant members. Software standards are politics- Ted Nelson!

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