“Isn't it a pleasure to study and practice what you have learned? Isn't it also great when friends visit from distant places? If one remains not annoyed when he is not understood by people around him, isn't he a sage?” - Confucius

English isn’t the only language you need to know in the world of business. Other languages are making headway and you’ll need to know one or several of them to really stand out in an interview. A study conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research and Opinion highlighted three important languages: German, French, and Mandarin.

If you want to learn Mandarin words and phrases, recognise a specific Chinese character, or familiarise yourself with the Chinese Pinyin system, you're probably going to need a dictionary.

So which dictionaries should you consider for learning Chinese?

We're going to look at reasons why you should invest in a dictionary, how to use it, the different types of dictionaries available, how to effectively use dictionaries to help you learn Mandarin, and which ones are the best.

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Why Use a Chinese Dictionary?

A dictionary is a valuable tool to have in your language-learning arsenal, especially if you're studying Chinese A Level or learning to prepare for other Chinese exams. This isn't just because it allows you to check the spelling of words, but because it can also help broaden your vocabulary, regardless of your age. When learning a foreign language, a dictionary is almost essential.

How do you read Chinese?
Find the dictionary that is going to help you read what you want to read. When you find a good Chinese dictionary, you can put basic Chinese characters together to form sentences. At some point, you may even become more fluent in speaking Mandarin! (Source: quillau)

If you start learning Chinese, you should make sure that you invest in an appropriate dictionary. Learning Mandarin Chinese is more difficult than other languages, especially if you have to translate your sentences from English to Mandarin all the time.

With a good Chinese dictionary, you are not just focusing on the grammar or how Chinese characters are spoken (with a series of different tones). You will also get a good grasp of the writing system which you'll need to learn if you want to achieve fluency in the language.

Can an English to Chinese dictionary make me more fluent in Chinese? 

Beginners often learn basic Chinese characters and terms and will soon start putting together their own sentences. However, once you can put a sentence together, you may find that you don’t know all the words you need. This process will take time.

Of course, if you travel to China, for example, it’ll probably take less time as you'll be surrounded by the language and use it every day.

However, a dictionary could certainly speed things up. Rather than being stuck because you don’t know the characters or sentences to express a certain idea, you just need to look it up. Looking a Chinese character up will actually help you remember it better.

So which dictionary should you choose? Should you get a paper dictionary, an app, or check an online dictionary?

Dictionaries are no longer the large paving slabs that they used to be. Apps have been developed for our smartphones and dictionaries are freely available for those learning Chinese online. You can’t use each of these tools in the same way, either.

Apps are very useful if you like to learn Chinese in the public transport on your commute to and from work, university, or school. They’ll follow you everywhere you go and some don’t even require an internet connection. Just make sure that your phone or tablet doesn't run out of battery.

Online dictionaries are very useful if you don’t want to spend any money and need to quickly find a particular term. Using an online dictionary is very much similar to using the search engine on Google. You just need to key in your targeted Chinese character online to look up its definition.

Paper dictionaries come in a variety of sizes from tiny travel dictionaries to the massive tomes we mentioned earlier. This type of dictionaries can be very useful for those travelling to China, for example, since they don't require you to have a charged portable device or access to an internet connection.

It’s up to you to decide exactly what you need your dictionary for and how you’d prefer to use it.

How Does a Chinese Dictionary Work?

To help you decide what kind of Chinese dictionary you should buy, let’s take a look at how each type of dictionary works differently.

Chinese dictionary for beginners
Similar to an English dictionary, you will notice that a Chinese paper dictionary pretty much works the same way. While the words are arranged in alphabetical order for English dictionaries, Chinese characters are arranged by Pinyin in its Chinese counterpart! (Source: hutong-school.com)

You may be familiar with the A to Z search in an English paper dictionary. If you want to look up “mouse” in the dictionary, you just need to flip the pages of the book until you reach the “M” section. From there, you just need to go through the M section until you find the word, in which the succeeding letters of “mouse” are also arranged in alphabetical order.

Similarly, paper dictionaries in Chinese arrange their Chinese characters in Pinyin alphabetical order. Even if you are not sure how to pronounce new Chinese characters, paper dictionaries give you the option of searching up a character with its radicals or base strokes.

An English to Chinese online dictionary pretty much works the same way. The only difference between an online dictionary and a paper dictionary is that you’ll need to type in the Pinyin to find any Chinese character.

This is convenient only if you have a stable Internet connection. But at the same time, most online Chinese dictionaries are free, so you won’t need to fork out any money like if you had to with a paper dictionary.

Almost every online dictionary for Mandarin to English and vice versa offers a speech-to-text feature. If you know how to pronounce a certain Chinese character but are not sure how it is written, then use your audio to search it up on the Internet.

Is it difficult to use Chinese apps?

Just like a paper dictionary, you can key in the Pinyin when you want to search for a Chinese character through any Chinese app. This may be faster than using a paper dictionary, and even an online dictionary, if you are quick and adept at using your smartphone.

Apart from also being free and having a speech-to-text feature, another helpful characteristic of Chinese dictionary apps is the convenience of using stroke order writing to search up new characters. This means you can write any Chinese character on the app - even if you don’t know its stroke order or Pinyin.

Learn Mandarin for beginners with ease when you have a trusty dictionary by your side. Take a look to our article on Chinese exams.

What is the Difference Between Using a Chinese Translator and Using a Chinese Dictionary?

Is an online Mandarin translator accurate?  

With all the digital resources available online, it’s impossible to not mention Google Translate, which most of us effectively use as a dictionary. In recent years, Google Translate has vastly improved. However, it still works better for single words than full sentences.

That said, it’s not purely a dictionary. If you are using it to understand Chinese characters, it acts as a Chinese translator and not a Chinese dictionary. It won’t give you as much information on the character, its definitions, and uses as shown in Chinese dictionaries. Instead, you'll likely get shorter answers or definitions on the character you were looking up.

How is a Chinese translator different from a Chinese dictionary

When you translate a particular Chinese character or phrase, a Mandarin translator provides you with the most widely used answer in the search engine. While this may be helpful for the general Internet audience, the translator may not provide you with an accurate term in Chinese for the context or situation you are trying to define.

A Chinese dictionary, however, contains more definitions and English to Mandarin translations. Additionally, it will provide you with a set of terms to suit particular contexts or situations. Therefore, it is more likely that you will use Chinese terms correctly with a dictionary rather than with a Mandarin translator.

It is vital that you learn Mandarin the right way, especially since learning Mandarin has become a greater challenge with the recent pandemic.

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How to Use Online Chinese Dictionaries

Online Chinese dictionaries are very useful if you’re studying your new language on your computer (either with an online private tutor or by downloading classes). You can access these whenever you want and learn new words and see them used in context with examples. Let's take a look at some of these popular online dictionaries to learn Mandarin.

How long does it take to learn Chinese?
A Mandarin translator cannot be compared to a dictionary in terms of providing accurate definitions of Chinese characters. Different types of English to Chinese dictionaries exist, namely paper dictionaries, online dictionaries, and dictionary apps that can be used on smartphones. Soon you'll be able to read Chinese. (Source: quillau)

Reverso

This is one of the oldest multilingual dictionaries available online. You can use Reverso to translate from Chinese to English and vice versa. When you look up a character, you’ll be presented with a list including a number of variants and contexts.

You can also use this site for French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, Romanian, and many other languages other than Mandarin Chinese. Easily download the app for Windows if you’d like to keep the app on your laptop or computer - that way, you can access this dictionary faster.

MDBG

Don’t let the simple design of this online dictionary’s website fool you. MDBG offers not only definitions and example sentences with Chinese characters, but there are also additional features that can help you learn Mandarin.

For instance, if you are taking the HSK 1 exam, MDBG highlights characters that are commonly assessed for each HSK level. There are also Chinese character quizzes available to help you practise using new characters.

Why Should You Use Paper Dictionaries

Paper dictionaries are obviously much heavier than an app or a website but they can be really useful if you’re travelling or just looking to improve your language skills somewhere you can’t access the internet or modern technology.

How do you write in Chinese?
Writing out the words and characters will help you to remember them better. This is ideal so that you can get familiar with commonly used Chinese characters and sentences. You can even gain new knowledge such as how to write a formal letter from the Chinese dictionary. (Source: quillau)

DK Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

If you've just started your Chinese lessons and are a visual learner, you have to get this dictionary. It's much easier to learn to speak Chinese if you know the words and it's much easier to learn the characters if you can also see what they represent.

There are over 10,000 fully illustrated items in this dictionary that are arranged by theme. This is therefore a dictionary that can help you learn everything from the names of dishes to all the seasons of the year while knowing how to use these terms in practical ways.

Oxford Chinese Dictionary

If you prefer a traditional dictionary to accompany your language learning adventure, then you should consider the Oxford Chinese Dictionary. While this hefty tome won't be able to accompany you to Beijing or on a backpacking adventure around mainland China, it's a resource that you'll keep using until you learn to speak Chinese fluently.

Being a definitive dictionary, you can even learn about the latest vocabulary from computing, business, media, the arts and more. Supplementary materials such as sample letters and emails, guides to telephoning and text messaging in Chinese, and other English to Chinese usage notes come with this dictionary.

How to Learn Mandarin with Chinese Dictionaries for Smartphones

If you want to be able to learn Mandarin and look up words wherever you are, then you should consider some of these apps.

Which are the best digital Chinese dictionaries?
Don't forget that your phone can also act as a dictionary. With apps that act as Chinese dictionaries, features such as speech-to-text and stroke writing make smartphone apps very attractive to Chinese language learners. (Source: JESHOOTScom)

Pleco

Pleco is more than just a simple dictionary. This multipurpose app can help you recognise Chinese characters thanks to Pinyin, writing, photos, and voice.

You can also use Chinese dictionaries when learning with a Chinese MOOC.

Once it’s recognised the character, Pleco will provide you with the translation as well as sample sentences, different forms of the word, a stroke-by-stroke guide on how it’s written, and other information that’ll be really useful when learning the Chinese language.

A free version is available but you’ll need to pay for some more advanced functionalities. Be that as it may, sticking to Pleco’s free version is sufficient for helping you look up unfamiliar Chinese characters and phrases.

Hanping Chinese Dictionary Lite

This is a useful dictionary that has plenty of interesting functionalities. It uses both simplified and traditional Chinese characters, includes vocabulary lists for the HSK exams, voice recognition and the free version will do the trick. The pro version includes writing recognition, pronunciation guides, other dictionaries, etc.

The Hanzi stroke animations can also teach you how to properly write Chinese characters. Most of these animations are free whereas you can access the rest when you subscribe to the pro version.

Another great advantage is that the app works entirely offline. Therefore, you won’t need to worry about not having an Internet connection when you use this dictionary app.

Skritter: Write Chinese

This app and translation system is very useful for learning how to write Chinese characters. The app offers definitions for each Chinese character and shows you how to write it. You just have to follow the strokes with your finger on the touchscreen of your device.

The app is also really intuitive and fun. Users can learn Chinese characters and other practical uses of Mandarin through “decks” (similar to a card deck) based on topics and difficulty. As an example, you can learn how to order coffee for that morning caffeine fix!

How to Effectively Use Chinese Dictionaries?

You can hardly learn Mandarin with just a dictionary. However, a dictionary is one of the best tools you can have with you when learning how to speak Chinese. It allows you to very quickly enrich your vocabulary.

You just need to know how to get the most out of it. The first thing you should know is that a dictionary works just like any other learning resource. It needs to be used alongside other resources and not in isolation. How do you use your dictionary in Chinese? 

Make full use of your Chinese dictionary when you are reading your textbooks, completing your worksheets and making notes in Chinese. Have one in hand for when you don’t understand a particular character in a text you’re reading, for example. You can put together important vocabulary lists and look them up whenever you need to refresh your memory.

To really get the most out of it, do this regularly, revise the vocabulary list, and test yourself on them weekly. Soon you’ll have the necessary vocabulary to start making conversation. You can even get better at reading and writing Chinese characters and sentences.

In addition to dictionaries, don't forget that you can also get Chinese grammar guides, flashcards for specific Chinese vocabulary, and books on aspects of Chinese writing such as stroke order, which is hugely important for knowing how to practically apply the Chinese language.

If you're still struggling with Chinese, then consider enlisting the help of a private tutor on Superprof. There are three main types of private tutorials: one-to-one tutorials, group tutorials, and online private tutorials.

One-to-one tutorials involve just the tutor and the student and are the most effective way for students to learn. Group tutorials tend to be cheaper but the students get less one-on-one time with their tutor. Finally, online tutorials are done using video conferencing software like Google Meet and are usually quite cheap since the tutor has no travel expenses for the lessons.

Mandarin class with Chinese tutor
Sometimes, you'll need more than an English to Mandarin dictionary to learn Mandarin. The guidance of a Chinese tutor can greatly benefit you if you want detailed instructions on how to improve your Chinese language abilities and even tips for taking any Chinese exam. (Source: pexels.com)

Can I Learn Mandarin on My Own?

Sure a Chinese dictionary can help you learn Mandarin, but sometimes a little more guidance is needed to help you understand the language better.

When you learn from a private tutor on Superprof, you can take a Mandarin class for as low as RM10! You can even find tutors who have an educational background in the Chinese language and are experienced in teaching Mandarin. Experienced tutors usually charge a higher price, but this is only around RM40.

Furthermore, you can have that group tutorial or one-on-one Mandarin class either in a physical or online setting. There is no harm in learning online if you are a self-taught learner, but learning in person can help you focus on the lesson and get to know your tutor.

But wait: did you know you can get to know your tutor before your Chinese lesson? 

Every tutor on Superprof has a teaching profile, and the same goes for all the Superprof Chinese tutors. Click on any profile and learn about your tutor, how they conduct the Chinese lesson, the levels of Chinese that are taught, and the specific Chinese subjects being offered.

Learn about the tutoring rates, student recommendations, and availability of free lessons provided by your Chinese tutor. You can even book a lesson for someone else who needs help with their Chinese and propose a date for the first lesson.

With Superprof and your Chinese dictionary, learning Mandarin has never felt easier.

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