RBy Ling-Ling Lisa Shih
Dictionaries are great tools in language learning. For Chinese language learners whose native language is English, a good Chinese-English dictionaries are indispensable. There are many good on-line or mobile dictionaries. How do they differ from one another? What functions do they serve other than looking up a word? We will discuss various functions on-line Chinese-English dictionaries serve and how to use a dictionary appropriately to enhance your Chinese language skills. You will also find a list of good dictionaries you can use and find out what features each dictionary has through screenshots of their main webpages.
Bookmark this page to keep these on-line dictionaries at hand for easy references.
Besides Looking up a Word, What Else Are They Good for?
A novice Chinese learner may not be aware, besides giving definitions for words, an on-line or mobile Chinese-English Dictionary can also be used to get animated Chinese characters–the e-stroke order for each Chinese character. Many dictionaries may include a sound recording for each character and vocabulary and they may even provide sentence examples with sound recordings as well. One can look up a word with Chinese, Pinyin (Romanized phonetic system), or English. Some dictionary provides etymology for Chinese characters and you can find how a word has evolved over time. Some dictionary provides definition for four-letter idioms that cannot be found in regular dictionaries.
Get Character’s Stroke Order
First of all, it is crucial that you learn to write each Chinese character according to its correct stroke orders. Writing it correctly will help you write Chinese more beautifully. The muscle memory of writing each character in a correct sequence every time you write it will help you remember how to write it. If you are not sure how to write a character, look up the ArchChinese Chinese-English Dictionary or MDBG Chinese Dictionary. After learning Chinese for a while, you won’t have to bother with the dictionary for stroke order again. You will know how to write Chinese with confidence. However, when you learn Chinese for the first year or two, you must make efforts to find out how to write each character correctly.
Click ArchChinese Chinese-English Dictionary to get eStroke animated Chinese characters and pronunciation.
You can also use MDBG Chinese Dictionary to get animated stroke order or pronunciation.
When to Use a Dictionary and How to Use it
A good tip for dictionary usage: Extract the meaning of a new vocabulary from the context of its usage before consulting a dictionary.
The best way to learn vocabulary is to learn it from the context of its usage. Please do not rush to use a dictionary whenever encountering a new word you don’t know. Try to make sense of a new word by looking at how it is used in the context. Secondly, analyzing the structure of a character and the individual meaning of each character that makes up a vocabulary may also give you clue on their meanings as well. If you cannot extract the meaning of a new word from its context or a word/vocabulary level analysis, then consult a dictionary to find out what it means. Usually a word has many definitions, select one that best suits the context. Use a dictionary to verify or clarify the meaning(s) of a word when you are not so certain about its definition.
An on-line Chinese-English Dictionary app is a pretty convenient and helpful tool to have for anyone who is learning Chinese language. I encourage all my students to download a mobile Chinese-English Dictionary to their mobile phones.
I highly recommend this free Mobile Chinese Dictionary!
This video shows you how to use Pleco:
Other On-Line Dictionaries you can use:
This tool allows you to input Chinese by mouse to look up a character or a vocabulary. This dictionary is useful particularly if you have no clue about a character and can’t look it up with either English or Pinyin/Zhuyin. It allows you to hand write a character with a mouth.
This dictionary also allows you to use a mouse to draw out a character.
WordReference (for bilingual dictionary):
WordReference.com provides free online dictionaries for Chinese, Spanish, French, Italian, German and more. It also includes audio pronunciations and forums for your questions.
Look up how a character has evolved over time.
Search with English, Pinyin, or Chinese characters. This one shows you the stroke orders
Useful Language Resources for Reading:
Assist you in reading text by adding Pinyin or Zhuyin above words and pop-up annotations with English definition of the word.
Please go to Chinese Language Tools for Reading and Writing for a more extended list of language tools（The highlighted and italicized ones are not included in the above list):
- Free Mobile Chinese Dictionary: Pleco (iOS & Android)
- Tong Wen Tang plugin for Firefox, Chrome or Safari: Traditional and Simplified Chinese Converter
- Chinese-English Popup Dictionaries:
- Mandarin Spot annotation tool
- ArchChinese Chinese-English Dictionary
- Line Dictionary Chinese to English
- MDBG Chinese Dictionary
- Yabla Chinese-English-Pinyin Dictionary
- Chinese Handwriting/Mousewriting Input
- Chinese-English Chengyu Dictionary–An English dictionary of Chinese idioms
- 2500 汉字繁简对照 (A list of 2500 Chinese Characters: Simplified vs. Traditional)
- Word Reference for Chinese <–> English
- Chinese Sentence/Text to Speech Converter
- Chinese to Pinyin Converter
- Traditional/Simplified Chinese Converter
- Practice Sheet Generator
- Vocabulary List Generator