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Resource for learning Chinese

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Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsoete. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.


On this page, I have collected references to a number of useful tools, some of them indispensable to learning Chinese efficiently. These tools include, but are not limited to:


Useful websites

3000 most common Chinese characters – Rather self-explanatory, being a list of the 3000 most frequently used Chinese characters. I use it to check how much effort I should invest in a given character. Make sure to check on the author’s other pages and his collection of links.

Chinesepod – This is a must for students of Chinese on any level. Chinesepod provides hundreds of hours of conversation lessons in audio, which will enable you to listen to and learn Chinese at any time. The lessons themselves are free, but there is additional material on the website that isn’t.

Chinese Pronunciation – An indispensable guide for the beginner, featuring pronunciation for all possible syllables in Mandarin Chinese, including tone variations. Make sure you learn the sounds correctly from the start!

Mandarin Chinese Phonetics – A useful guide to Mandarin Chinese phonetics for those thus inclined. The site being written by the same person as the 3000 list, make sure you check out the various other sections of his website.

Nciku Dictionary – Probably the best all-round dictionary available online (or at least the best one I’ve found). Provides not only translations in both directions, but also lots of examples and idioms. This dictionary has a lot of words I’ve had difficulties finding elsewhere.

On-line Chinese Tools – The most comprehensive collection of useful links I have encountered so far. Includes links to software, websites and much more.

Yahoo Chinese Dictionary – One of the best English-Chinese-English dictionaries I’ve found online. Sample sentences make this dictionary truly useful even when writing stories or articles in Chinese. My defualt dictionary nowadays.

Zhongwen.com – Online, free edition of a popular Chinese-English dictionary, featuring a system of hyperlinked etymology which allows the student to smoothly browse components of characters and their origin. Indispensable.

Useful software

Anki – The most indispensable of all language-learning programs. It’s a must if you plan to learn lots of words in any language in any way that can be called efficient. I use this program more than any other software on my computer, including Firefox.

Chinese Perapera-kun – A must-have plugin to Firefox that provides the user with online, automatic translation of individual characters or words; all you have to do is hover over the character/word with the mouse.

DimSum Chinese Language Tool – Java-based dictionary software with excellent character recognition. Works with Linux and OS X, as well as Windows. Comes with flashcard capability.

Pablo – A handy dictionary with the extremely useful feature of being able to recognise characters written with the mouse (or otherwise). It also offers the function to break down characters into their component parts. Free to try, small and comfortable to use; very neat indeed.

Useful hardware

Besta CD-859 mini – At some point, you should buy an electronic dictionary. It’s extremely useful and the earlier you buy it, the better. Of course, any dictionary that suits you and has a handwriting function is adequate, I just happen to have bought this one and it works for me.

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Besta CD-859 mini

Product: CD-859 mini

The CD-859 mini is an electronic tool to learn languages developed by a Taiwanese company called Besta, primarily aiming for Taiwanese students learning English or Japanese (I use it to learn Chinese and sometimes English). However, the device is highly versatile and can probably be used from any of the main languages (there are seven) to any other. There are countless of similar products on the market and here I’ll try to explain why I think this one is pretty good.

First let us consider what the dictionary can do. Officially, it states that it can handle fourteen diffirent languages, but this is only true for travel dictionaries and phrases; full dictionaries are “only” available in seven languages. It also has some software for English learning, although naturally I haven’t spent much time exploring these. For Chinese, it has, part from the usual stuff, a very useful Chinese-Chinese idiom dictionary which is quite comprehensive. It also sports functions to read text on the device and look up chaarcters as you read, store them and then transfer them to your computer for later use. The display is multicolour and also features a touch screen, which is indispensible if one wants to look up new characters (don’t buy an electronic dictionary if it hasn’t got a touch screen).

In addition to these functions, it has a number of small but important bonuses (such as zooming for very complex characters which otherwise would look blurred), but which would take too much time and space to list here.

There are few disadvantages with the Besta CD-859 mini, but there are a few nontheless. One of them is the Chinese character dictionary: it doesn’t have enough characters. I don’t know if this is common or that my requirements are set too high, but now and then I run into characters that simply doesn’t exist in the dictionary (no, I’m not writing them incorrectly). It’s possible to buy expansions to the dictionaries, but this feel more like a cheap trick to earn more money than a serious business strategy. However, don’t misunderstand me, all common characters are in there, only very rare ones are omitted. An additional disadvantage might be the price (I bought mine on a discount, but it still cost me roughly $6600 NT or $200 USD when I bought it in May 2009.

Generally speaking, I should have bought something like this a long time ago. I use it everyday I read Chinese and it’s literally worth its weight in gold (I’m not kidding). Imagine being able to download texts from the internet and read them at you leisure, with the option of looking up and storing difficult words or characters as you go along! Having something like this, although not necessarily the CD-859 mini, makes studying much more efficient. If you’re studying Chinese and haven’t bought an electronic dictionary yet, do it now, because you don’t know how much easier your studying could become and you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you have it.

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Important: I no longer use ZDT to learn Chinese. The lists for ZDT will still be here, but no longer updated. The vocabulary can and should be accessed from the Anki software, which is far superior to ZDT. If you haven’t changed already, you should do so now. Please visit Hacking Chinese to read more about how to learn Chinese more efficiently!

Since I came to Taiwan, I have been studying a series of books called Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, 2nd Edition. I have over the past three months assembled a complete list of all the new words from the first three volumes in this series. Before I present the links to the files, there are a couple of things I would like to say. To begin with, these are my personal lists, which means that they are not proof to mistakes or misunderstandings. I take no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy of the definition, although I am fairly sure they are mostly correct (most of them are identical to the book). Since this series of text books use traditional characters, I have made no attempt to type in correct simplified alternatives. Also, since the characters from book one were much too easy for me, I have not been very careful with the English translation (most of the time is straight from the dictionary). Please use with caution. If you find any other mistakes, please let me know so that I can update these lists.

Second, the format I present these lists in is the ZDT backup format. This program is a wonderful help to learn Chinese and I have spent many hundreds of hours using it (the website is here and the program can be downloaded from here). Please refer to my article about revision in order to learn the advantages of ZDT’s time filter. You can use these lists in two ways. First, simply download and install ZDT, then use File >> Restore Data and select the files listed below (please check the box name Ignore stats, because otherwise my stats will disrupt the filters you use). Second, open the backup file in a text editor or spreadsheet software, and use the lists for whatever purpose you desire; the backup format is in plain text, so the lists should be useful even if for those who do not wish to use ZDT.

Finally, here are the three word lists; I hope they will help you study Chinese more efficiently!

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 1
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 2
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 3

Link to words from book four, along with a review

Update: The word lists have been moved, but the links should be working properly now. I’ve also added a link to book four.

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Important: This post is mostly obsolete. I no longer use ZDT and I see no reason that you should either. The words for these books are now available from within Anki, a program I think far superior to ZDT. The old lists will remain here, of course, but they won’t be updated.

I have now assembled all new words from the first three volumes of Short-term Spoken Chinese into two ZDT backup files ready to be imported for revision and reference. The volumes covered are for the second editions of Short-term Spoken Chinese: Threshold/Hanyu kouyu sucheng: rumen (汉语口语速成入门) and Short-term Spoken Chinese: Elementary/Hanyu kouyu sucheng: jichu (汉语口语速成基础). Please note that these word lists contain all words necessary to understand the texts, which means that they contain more that do the lists in the books. Up to and including chapter 12 also cover new words in the grammar sections as well.

I take no responsibility whatsoever that these lists of words are correct, but I highly doubt that there are many errors, since I have used them to revise for my own exams. However, should you find anything wrong, please let me know so that I can correct the mistake.

The translations were made in many different ways. If applicable, the included “CEDICT” was used. If not applicable, I have used the excellent online dictionary Dict.cn. In rare cases when all else has failed, I have translated my teachers Swedish translations into English.

Please note that proper names are put in a separate category for Short-term Spoken Chinese: Elementary/Hanyu kouyu sucheng: jichu.

Words from Threshold/rumen (71K)
Words from Elementary/jichu (86K)

Update: The word lists have been moved, but the links should now be working properly again.

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Yesterday, I received an e-mail with the results from the take-home exam I handed in for our course about recent history and politics in North-East Asia. One of my goals for March was to earn full grades for the two exams we had, but it is only now, six weeks later, that I can conclude that the goal was actually accomplished (I had 175.5 out of 177 on the other exam). Still, four important things remain before I can focus fully on preparations for my Taiwan adventure. First, there is a project that is to be handed in next week. Second, there are three language-related exams (one translation, one general, and one technical Chinese).

As usual, I publish exams I hand in (last years take-home exam can be found here). It is written in Swedish, and focuses on five question relating to: economy in the region as a whole, opposition parties in Japan, negative aspects of Chinese growth, Chinese system of guanxi, and politics in South Korea. I received 95/100 on this course.

Download exam (597K, RTF)

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Since my studying tends to be computerised, the amount of useful material concerning Chinese has been proliferating rather fast during this autumn. Combined with the fact that I have wholeheartedly adopted the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s motto “share and enjoy”, I hereby present you with a new section on Snigel.nu, devoted to the study of the Chinese language. You can access it by the brand new link in the left-hand menu or simply by clicking here.

I hate when other people link to sites without telling me in advance what I will be able to find there, so here is some sort of comprehensive list of the yet humble features of my Chinese section:

  • Useful links to programs and web sites I use in my everyday studying
  • Resources for the text books I have
  • Exams and assignments written by me
  • A collection of blog entries related to Chinese


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