In Paper versus Electric Dictionaries, Electric Wins

It was quite a while ago now I ran a little poll asking if people preferred using Paper Dictionaries, Electronic Dictionaries, or both. Well, turns out the results were pretty much unanimously in favor of Electronic Dictionaries!

With their convenience, portability, and instantly accessible information, electronic dictionaries are probably the best option for language learners these days.

So, here’s my Top 5 Electronic Chinese Dictionaries:

#5: MDBG

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 7.37.04 AM

Why it’s a great choice:

MDBG has been around for a while, it is almost the staple online dictionary for Chinese language students. Quick, easy, and with plenty of display options for search results, it’s no wonder that it’s been around for a long time.

Easily accessible online through any browser, MDBG is a quick and easy reference that I turn to when I’m translating documents. Since I am usually at my computer when I’m translating documents, it’s much easier to pop open MDBG in another tab and reference to it when I need to. In addition, it has these other great features:

  • handwriting recognition for writing characters if you don’t know the Pinyin to type it in;
  • looking up by radicals;
  • Chinese and Pinyin typing interfaces

Check it out here: http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php

#4: LINE dict

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Why it’s a great choice:

LINE is pretty much everywhere these days, perhaps only second to WeChat, and it goes without much surprise they would also put out their own dictionary apps. LINE dict is available online, as well as for both iOS and Android. The online version seemed to me a bit slow and it had issues loading a few pages, so I would overall recommend the apps themselves.

The dictionary is fairly expansive, and it includes some nice features like a sentence analyzer, handwriting support, and stroke order animations. It also has audio throughout the dictionary. Having mobile apps put this one step above MDBG, but if you’re looking on your computer at home, stick with MDBG.

iOS version here.

Android version here.

Online here.

#3: Mengdian (萌典)

Screenshot_20160707-075119

Why it’s a great choice:

As far as pure Chinese language dictionaries go, this is one of the best ones out there. It has a smart new interface and pulls from a larger variety of sources. It’s a good resource to have when you come across any ambiguities in the English definitions for Chinese characters or phrases. I often like to pop into this dictionary to verify that I understand the meaning of the characters that I’m using. They source this dictionary directly from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education.

Included in the app are also dictionaries for Taiwanese and Hakka, which are fun to reference if you happen to encounter those languages quite often (as happens in Taiwan).

Another really great thing about this dictionary is that you can get it for Android, iOS, as well as download it on Windows, OSX and even Linux.

Check out the online version here: https://www.moedict.tw/ There are links to the mobile apps at the top right of the page.

And my number one electronic dictionary is….. actually a tie!

#1: Hanping Chinese Dictionary

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Why it’s a great choice:

I’ve already gone over this dictionary a bit in my Chinese Learning Apps for Android post, which you can take a look at here as well as in the recent tone colors post. The developer keeps the app updated regularly, and there is a whole series of related apps, including a soundboard and a Character popup reference tool (I’ll be covering these in another post).

Hanping is an Android exclusive app, but there’s a free version and a pro version available. The Pro version is totally worth the small investment, and opens up a bunch of great features, including AnkiDroid Flashcards and multi-dictionary support.

The free version is no slouch either, and includes handwriting recognition and audio pronunciation. So if you were on a tight budget, Hangping’s free version is a great option to start with (plus, no ads!).

Check it out on Google Play here.

#1: Pleco:

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Why it’s a great choice:

It’s really hard to beat Pleco in terms of overall functionality, accessibility (both on iOS and Android), and the sheer number of add-ons that you can get. The variety of dictionaries available for purchase is also a huge asset that makes Pleco invaluable to any Chinese student. However, it is a significant investment to get in all of the features you might want to use (aside from a few dictionary options, pretty much all of the other add-ons cost money. For example, the app has a handwriting recognizing but costs $10 for the enhanced version).

Find out more about Pleco here.

Either way, both of the #1 dictionaries are the best you can get for mobile devices, and I highly recommend giving them a try. Both are free to try, with add ons you can purchase later (such as more dictionaries in Pleco’s case).

What do you think? Were there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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WaiChinese – A complete tone changer

I have to preface this by saying I am extremely impressed by WaiChinese. I have absolutely always wanted an app that was able to actually track your tones as you say them and it’s finally here! So please go and try it it out!

Now onto the full review!

It all comes down to tones

First and foremost this app is specifically focused on improving your tones and, by extension, your regular daily conversation. Phrases are recorded by native speakers, and I’ve had some recorded specifically for me to focus on particularly difficult tone combinations. The app provides live-as-you-record sound charts so that you can see how the tones are actually said, both yours and the ones the teacher records.

Below are two examples of how this looks in the app. The sound chart on the top is the teacher’s original recording, while the chart on the bottom is the student’s:

kaihui

On this screen you can touch on the “translate” text at any time to see the English translation of the phrase you’re currently studying. In addition, you may notice a green book on the side with a grade on it:

Nihaograde

If you click on the green book that has the grade on it, you’ll be taken to this screen:

Archived

Here, all of the recordings done by a student for a particular word, in this case 你好, will appear on this page. What this means is that a student see and hear how they’ve progressed over time for any word submitted on WaiChinese. The student can also see the teacher’s grade and comment. This provides a great way to focus on improvement for particularly difficult tones and tone combinations.

And in case anyone is curious, the app’s designer has also provided a little peak into the teacher’s view:

Teacherinterface

From here the teacher can see the list of students and is also able to grade them very quickly. This is where WaiChinese fits into a very unique niche: not only is it a great resource for students, but it also becomes an invaluable tool for teachers as well.

Originally I wanted to point out that this is an excellent app for Chinese language teachers to be used in the classroom or in 1-on-1 sessions. But I can also see this being really helpful for learners using Skype or even just language exchange partners. Certainly, at least, the “I have a teacher that will assist me” option makes it seem like this would be a great broad use case for this app.

My Personal Experience

I’ve been using WaiChinese for about a week now and I have to say it has made me much more conscious of my tones. I find myself thinking about them on a more regular basis than I normally would. Plus, the comments from the teacher as well as the visual representation of how my tones are being said, has been particularly good reinforcing how and where I need to improve.

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So I am admittedly very impressed about how this app has made me be much more aware of the tones and how I’m actually saying them–compared to how I think I’m saying them. Especially because, after using this app, I noticed there is definitely a big discrepancy between what it actually sounds like versus what I think it sounds like.

Some Video Goodness

Below is a short demo video showing how the system works:

There is also another great demo video which you can find on Vimeo here.

Conclusions

Ultimately it’s the fact that this app is not limited to pre-configured flashcards, but rather any vocabulary word or phrase you want to learn that can be recorded is available to you.

But really it’s better if you try it out for yourself: So sign up today to beta test WaiChinese–it’s completely free! It’s available both for Android and iOS.

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A little mouse in an email address

In my previous post on punctuation, I left out perhaps one of the most interesting, creative, and perhaps most relevant to the internet, symbols: the @ symbol!

When you ask people for their email address, they’ll often answer you with:

name小老鼠gmail.com

At first this completely threw me off–until I thought it out and realized how adorable it is. Yes, indeed, the @ symbol is referred to as 小老鼠 (xiǎolǎoshǔ), or little mouse, in Chinese.

And, really, when you think about it, doesn’t it kind of look like one?

at-sign

The Art of Punctuation in Chinese

There is a certain art to Chinese punctuation, and as a graduate student, writing papers with proper pronunciation is exceedingly important.

「知漢字者智。知標點者明。」-Me, breaking traditional poetic structure.

A Little History of Chinese Punctuation

Chinese traditionally had no paragraphs, no spaces and, especially, no punctuation. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century did punctuation start to appear in Chinese, eventually being standardized into what it is today. Because Chinese punctuation was influenced by Western languages, there is some carry over in punctuation. So you’ll see the ! ? : ; ( ) [ ] that you’re likely familiar with. Still, there are some fun ones specific to Chinese so let’s take a look below!

Chinese Punctuation

punct_period
Period ( 。 )

The period in Chinese is called 句號/句号 (jùhào) and is in the middle of a line: 我很好。

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Quotation Marks  ( 「…」 ,『…』, “…”)

Quotation marks in Chinese are called 引號/引号(yǐnhào) and are different in Simplified and Traditional Chinese. Here’s how they break down:

Traditional Chinese

In Traditional Chinese,  single quotation marks are rendered as「…」while double quotation marks are『…』. Often, the double quotation makrs are used when embedded within single quotation marks, such as :「…『…』…」.

Simplified Chinese

Simplified Chinese uses the quotation marks we’re familiar with: “…” and ‘…’. In contrast to Traditional Chinese, single quotation marks are used when embedded within double quotation marks: “…‘…’…”.

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The “List Comma” ( 、 )

The “list comma” is often used in long lists, for example: 水果有很多種類:蘋果、香蕉、句子、芭樂、蓮霧、榴蓮、. It’s called 頓號/顿号 (dùnhào) in Chinese. It can be used in a list like 蘋果、三星及HTC” or  蘋果、三星、HTC (Apple, Samsung and HTC).

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Middle Dot (‧)

The fancy name for this is “interpunct” but in Chinese it’s 間隔號/间隔号 (jiàngéhào), or quite simply “gap marker”.

The middle dot you’ll often seen between Western names, separating first and last name. For example Napoleon Bonaparte is rendered 拿破崙·波拿巴/拿破仑・波拿巴 (Nápòlún · Bōnábā) in Chinese, with the middle dot separating his first and last name.

title_brackets

Title Marks ( 《》and ﹏﹏﹏)

You’ll see the two types of title marks above.  Generally, for book and film titles you’ll see《…》, while〈…〉is used more for articles and can also be embedded within the title brackets above, such as: 《…〈…〉…》. Finally, the fun little wavy underline thing (﹏﹏﹏) can also be used in lieu of the brackets to denote titles and important names.

In Chinese, these are still referred to as “quotation marks”, 引號/引号(yǐnhào). However, if you want to get fancy,《…》are called 雙尖引號/双尖引号 (shuāngjiānyǐnhào), or double pointed quotation marks. While〈…〉are called 單尖引號/单尖引号 (dānjiānyǐnhào), or single pointed quotation marks.

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The Elusive Ellipsis ( …… )

The ellipsis in Chinese has six dots instead of three, and the usage is the same as in English. In Chinese it’s called 省略號/省略号 (shěnglüèhào).

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Tilde (wavy dash) ( ~ )

This has to be my favorite one to say in Chinese because it’s the “wave mark” or 波浪號/波浪号 (bōlànghào).

The wavy dash has a few different usages in Chinese. It can show a range such as 5~8小時, especially when some numbers are estimates. It can also used to soften the ending of a sentence, or to elongate a vowel sound.

Anyway there it is!

It’s pretty straightforward, and similar enough to punctuation in English that it should be easy to get a hang of. Still, the best way to get used to the usage is to see it in the wild. Some of the best places to look are blogs, novels, and even news.

 

New Chinese Learning App Roundup!

There’s been quite a few great new apps released for both iOS and Android recently that would make a great addition to any Chinese learner’s toolbox. So in this post I wanted to highlight a few of them and share with everyone to take a look at! I’ve also included screenshots at the very end of the post.

Pinyin Browser152x152

  • Platform: iOS (iPhone, iPad)
  • Free but has in-app purchases
  • Official app website can be found here.

Pinyin Browser is a lovely little browser app that allows you to insert Pinyin or even Zhuyin above the text on any website that has Chinese text. This is a great way to practice pronunciation as you read news, blog posts, and more on the web.

In the free version, you’re limited to what websites you can visit. To get access beyond these trial sites, you need to pay $1.99 to upgrade.

You can find Pinyin Browser for iOS here.

Laowai Pro975318_larger

  • Platform: iOS (iPhone, iPad)
  • Free but offers in-app purchases
  • Official app website can be found here

A relatively lightweight app, Laowai Pro provides a selection of texts for you to read and lookup words as you go. It also has flashcards and an SRS system integrated into it, though I prefer using the app to read. The selection of texts are primarily Chinese Classics and a few news articles. Dream of the Red Mansion is also included.

The app also has the options to switch to Traditional, too. You can pay $1.99 to remove ads and $4.99 to get a stack of 30,000+ flashcards.

You can find Laowai Pro for iOS here.

Mandaread836515_larger

  • Platform iOS (iPhone, iPad); Android coming soon
  • Free but requires account
  • Official app website can be found here.

Some may remember the early stages of the Mandaread website, and while it seemed dormant for a while, they’ve come out with a rather well done app. They have a large variety of texts organized by level (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced) and offer popups for each vocabulary word in the text. I also appreciate that they have pre-defined courses to get you started.

One downside is that you can’t switch between Traditional and Simplified Chinese, with the app currently only offering the texts in Simplified.

You can get Mandaread for iOS here.

For all the Above..

I’d recommend picking them all up since they’re all free and really good at different things. Plus, the articles in both Laowai Pro and Mandaread are quite different, so you’ll always have interesting and new content to read.

Have you used any of these? Let me know what you think in the comments!

For screenshots of the apps, click below.

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“You sold me out!”

A staple of any good mafia movie is when one of the guys rats out someone for fun and/or profit.

And guess what? Chinese has an awesome phrase for a situation like that, too!

sold_me_out

你出賣我!(nǐ chūmài wǒ)

出賣 is actually a set phrase which, aside from meaning quite literally “to sell”, also means “to sell out/betray”.

You can also 出賣朋友, too, but that’s not really all that nice to do is it? 😦

It’s super fun and versatile to use, and I totally recommend you try using to joke around with your friends.

It’s also used in the name of a song, too!

The Skritter Android Beta is Out!

Good news for Skritter users with Android devices–the Skritter Beta for Android is out!

Check out the post below for a few screenshots and brief overview. Also, learn how to get a three-week free trial (instead of the usual one week) to test out the app!

With a cute splash screen to boot!

With a cute splash screen to boot!

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