Tag Archives: dictionaries

Crowdfunding an app that teaches a true understanding of Chinese characters

Memorising a large number of Chinese characters is notoriously difficult and consumes and large amount of a Chinese learner’s time. Even after you’ve learnt a character, keeping it in memory is quite difficult. Experts generally agree that learning and understanding the functional components of characters is the best long-term, sustainable way to do this. There’s a crowdfunding campaign going on right now for a special add-on dictionary for Pleco that looks like it will be an excellent tool to achieve this.

The dictionary is called Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters, and it looks like it’s much more substantial and useful than a lot of the Chinese learning apps coming out these days (especially for those moving beyond the early beginner levels).

It includes the usual things like pronunciation, definitions, support for both simplified and traditional characters and stroke order. But some of the things it has that make it different include:

  • character form explanations,
  • original & derivative meanings,
  • component-by-component stroke order breakdown,
  • HSK/TOCFL stats,
  • character history (oracle bones, etc.) with explanations, comparisons & trivia, and
  • related characters by:
    • sound series,
    • semantic component (including corrupted components), and
    • dictionary radical

    Demo of dictionary

    You can view more details (including a demo video) and back the project on its Kickstarter page here.


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 (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 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 😉


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.


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.)