Bing’s surprisingly good Chinese dictionary

A friend of mine recently showed me a new Chinese dictionary web site that’s actually really good: Microsoft’s Bing Chinese dictionary (http://cn.bing.com/dict/).

I’m not a fan of Microsoft generally but they seem to have created a very slick and useful tool here. The stand-out features are:

  • sample sentences that use the word you’re searching for in context,
  • parts of speech identification, i.e. whether the word is a noun, verb, etc.,
  • support for (some) ‘slang’ words, and
  • pinyin support for the sample sentences.

For example, a search for “八卦” yields the following:

Searching Bing for "八卦".

 

(There were some more sample sentences but I’ve omitted them for brevity.)

I think the sample sentences are where it really shines. Quite often when using other dictionaries, I would end up getting the new word I found and searching for it on Jukuu.com to see if it’s used the way I expect (for example: to check it isn’t just literary). Bing includes sample sentences from many sources (including Jukuu). Some sample sentences have audio and/or video but these just read the sample sentence in English.

Another big gripe of mine that this dictionary addresses is the grammatical parts of speech that the word can be used as. For example, it’s easy to see whether a word can be used as both a noun and a verb or only one of these.

Note that this tool is a dictionary and not a translator. They do have a translator located at http://www.bing.com/translator but I don’t think I will use it much because it doesn’t show the pinyin like Google Translate does (Google’s text-to-speech is much better too). A proper review of all the major translators out there is probably a topic for another post ;)

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Frill: A Chinese pop-up dictionary extension for Safari

Frill is a Chinese to English pop-up dictionary extension for Safari that I wrote after I started using Safari as my main web browser at home.

Previously I had been using Perapera with Chrome and loved it, but there weren’t any options for Safari (I’ve covered pop-up dictionary browser add-ons previously). Today, I’ve been able to release the first version after several weeks of sporadic development. Here’s a screenshot of what it currently looks like:

A demonstration of the Frill pop-up Chinese dictionary in action.

For those interested, a few features:

  • It uses the CC-CEDICT dictionary, which has over 100,000 definitions.
  • It supports both simplified and traditional characters.
  • There’s a toolbar button to enable/disable it.
  • It’s free!
  • It’s open source, released under a CC-BY-SA license.

DOWNLOAD FRILL HERE

Please feel free to give any feedback, especially bug reports or feature requests. I’d love to hear from anyone using it!

(Note that this extension only works for Safari on OS X. Safari for iOS (iPhone/iPad) doesn’t support extensions.)

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Classes or tutoring?

How do you decide between classes or tutoring? I was unsure whether I should join a class with other students or get one-on-one tutoring. Having tried both now, I can finally start to make a comparison.

For some background: today I had my first Chinese class. Last year I had almost 30 hours of one-on-one tutoring but then got a bit busy and put it on hold. An opportunity came up to attend a class appropriate to my level once a week after work, so I decided to give it a go.

Tutoring advantages

  • The learning is more intensive
  • A lot of attention is given to your pronunciation and tones
  • Content can be tailored to your level

Small class advantages

  • Cheaper (depending how expensive your tutoring is, it could be 30%-80% cheaper)
  • Interaction with multiple people allows for discussion and makes the language feel more alive
  • Opportunities to make friends that share a common interest
  • Gives you moments of time where you can sit and ponder things for a bit

Classes put more of the responsibility on the student to make the most of their learning, whereas a good tutor will take it upon themselves to ensure you understand everything they teach you.

I used to have my tutoring on a Sunday morning, when my head was clear and I could really concentrate. After work I’m a bit frazzled and I don’t think I could handle an hour of intensive tutoring afterwards, so a class during weeknights works well for me.

Classes or tutoring: The verdict

While there are a lot of advantages to classes, I think it’s critical in the early stages to have some kind of one-on-one time with a master of the language who can correct your pronunciation and tones. Usually this can only be found with tutoring, but maybe there are some small classes out there where the teacher can manage this.

Once you have developed good habits with tones and pronunciation, both classes and tutoring are good options. Pick the one most suitable for your situation, or even do both :)

Links

If anyone lives in Sydney and is curious about the tutoring and classes I went to, here they are!

Tutoring

Mandarin Study logo

Highly recommended!

Class

ChiFUNese logo

Originally just for kids, they have recently started adult classes.

I hope to provide a more thorough review of the ChiFUNese classes after I’ve done more.

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