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:

#4: LINE dict


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)


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: 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


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:


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!

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:


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:


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


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:


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.


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.


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.


A Quick Look at “Learn a Chinese Phrase”


I was recently contacted by the Learn a Chinese Phrase team from Wayne State University about a video series they put together. I must admit this was pretty surprising, considering I went to school in Michigan and had friends at Wayne State University, too. So I was quite curious to see what they had put together, and now I’m sharing with you! Enjoy.

First up, here’s some basic background on the program: Learn a Chinese Phrase was started in November 2011 by the Confucius Institute at Wayne State University. The goal they hope to accomplish is to teach Chinese through interesting and fun idioms. They take a Chinese idiom and, if it has an English equivalent, teach it by association for the student to both learn the idiom and structure as well.

As of this post, Learn a Chinese Phrase has 63 videos already online. In addition to the 2-minute idiom videos, there are 10 accompanying supplementary videos. In these videos, the teacher takes the idiom just presented and breaks it down for the student. I have to admit, the videos are actually pretty cute at times (I liked the one about being stingy) and I found them quite enjoyable to watch.

I got to talk with John Brender, Ph.D. who is in charge of the project and asked him what they plan to do in the future. He replied:

We are in the process of producing a mobile app to enable users to take these lesson on the go. The app will allow users to take our lessons on the go and test their knowledge on each lesson via the interactive in-app quizzes.

I’m a huge fan of digital apps for learning Chinese on the go, so I am really looking forward to seeing what they put together! If you’re interested, here are links to one of their idiom videos and a supplementary lesson.

You can find “Learn a Chinese Phrase” on YoutubeFacebook, or follow them on Twitter.

If you happen to check it out, let me know what you think in the comments below!

So Long and Thanks For All the Chinese

This is going to be quite a short entry, busy putting together my research proposal for my thesis! But I wanted to share this with everyone, I was super excited when I found this the other day.

I just happened across this website that has four books of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy translated into (simplified) Chinese. Since I love that book series, I thought I would share it with everyone. Just click that link and you’re set to go! Then find the book you want to read and go ahead.

Since I’m a proponent of Traditional Chinese, I like to use the Tongwen Bookmarklet for Chrome that Chinese Hacks mentioned previously. It’s super useful, and it automatically changes the characters as soon as I go to a page. I highly recommend it.

With all the lousy weather recently, I will leave you with my favorite quote from So Long and Thanks For All the Fish:


原文:”And as he drove on, the rain clouds dragged down the sky after him for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him and to water him.”

Free Bilingual Glossaries Online

This originally started out as a comment on Chinese Hacks, specifically on this post (which mentions me, so I have to thank them graciously for their retweets and mentions, thanks!), but I decided to also post it here.

In addition, most of Taiwan’s government resource websites provide a lot of Chinese<>English glossaries, especially for their particular area. Some examples:

Medical terms provided by Taipei City’s department of health (

Medical term’s from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (

Meteorological terms from Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau (

Railway terms from Taiwan Railway Administration (

More terms, both website and immigration related provided by Taiwan’s Immigration office:

Anyway, that’s already quite a lot so I think I’ll stop here for now. These are good for popping into Anki, doing a Chinese—>English card format. I would suggest just testing yourself on the phrase as a whole, learning to recognize it, not the individual characters in it (though pronunciation is important!). Many times, these will be helpful on signs or as you read through material. Or, I may Google them and get larger contexts for them for cloze deletions.

I’m using these two methods and if it isn’t apparent yet I haven’t quite decided which one I prefer!

As you can tell, looking for “雙語詞彙” on a website will bring you to these pages. You can also try popping it into Google to see what comes up, though I have not tried it myself yet.

Feel free to share your finds—Chinese or any other language that interests you in the comments!

Chinese<—>Chinese Online Dictionaries

Just a few links for my (and potentially your) reference for some online Chinese to Chinese dictionaries. The links are in increasing order of difficulty (e.g. Children’s Concise, to Children’s, to regular [with a lot of literary references to some entries; really interesting!], idioms, and character variants).

Kids Mini (GREAT place to start!):


Regular dictionary:


Chinese Character Variants:

Hope they’re helpful!